Image by Hartford Prints
Recently, USA Today published “An insider’s guide to Hartford” – a slick piece of branded content (paid for by Hilton Homewood Suites) highlighting a tour of what to do in Hartford for someone who has never visited before. Now, I’m all for branded content. I WORK in advertising – I believe in the power of a good story to enhance your brand, and I don’t see any shame in selling your brand. But I – and I believe I am not alone in this – DO take umbrage with insider tips offering up such unbelievable gems as: “stay out of Downtown Hartford,” whilst writing an “Insider’s Guide to Hartford.”
I don’t consider myself to be, in any way, a “Hartford insider.” I know Harfordites who are born and raised and bred in this fine city but, real talk, I’ve only lived here four years. I’m a global person, born and raised all over the world, and I am very, very proud to call Hartford home. Sure, I live in the “suburbs” (technically the country). Sure, the city has problems with income inequality, urban blight, and oh, many other things. But this is a city alive with heart, history, and art, and it has oh so much to offer:
Mark Twain House. Oh nothing – just you know ONE OF THE MOST CLASSIC AUTHORS OF AMERICAN LITERATURE HAD A SWEET ASS HOUSE ON FARMINGTON AVENUE, AND YOU CAN TOUR IT. Totally not worth a mention, USA Today. Sheesh.
Real Art Ways. They currently have cats. Also, nice parties every third Thursday. And all kinds of cool art house cinema. Among other things. Highly recommended.
Dish and Sorella Two sisters restaurants nestled on main, serving up classic American favorites (Dish) and yummy wood fired pizza (Sorella). Locally owned and operated and really, really good. Dish just added brunch if you’re looking to brunch it up downtown also.
Wadsworth. Oh I don’t know. Only the oldest art museum in America. No big deal. Home to several stories of art, rotating exhibits (Caravaggio was a recent favorite of mine), First Thursday art parties, and a HUGE year in 2015 including a cool new Coney Island Exhibit. Within walking distance of Dish – so maybe brunch and then an art gallery? There are worse ways to spend a Sunday.
Max. Yeah, Max Fish is pretty neat (especially the bloody mary bar on Sundays – woohoo!) but you really can’t go wrong with Trumbull Kitchen for small plates and happy hour, or Max Downtown for a more formal and classic dining experience. Oh hey, both are located downtown. In Hartford. The city, you know, not the county. Look at that!
Comerio. If you want authentic, delicious Puerto Rican empanadas with every sort of shell imaginable (potato, pie crust, corn meal, etc all stuffed with delicious meats and cheeses): go to Comerio. Bring cash and be amazed at how much you can get for just a little coin. And enjoy the friendly locals who will be happy to help you find a selection if you’re not familiar with Puerto Rican counter cuisine.
Bushnell and Elizabeth Park. Oh sorry, did you just eat your own weight in empanadas? Happens to me all the time. Walk (or run!) them off at the Bushnell park, located in the heart of the city. It’s a wee park but the way that the paths are set up, you can do a decent circuit. And you can also enjoy laughing children skating on a free ice rink provided by the city during Winterfest in a couple weeks: adorable. Elizabeth Park is nestled in the west end, and featured miles of trails, tennis courts, a kick ass rose garden, and The Pond House Cafe. Both also host regular festivals and free movies and the like. Fun.
Hartford Stage. An award winning professional theater, currently showing a gritty reboot of Hamlet, directed by Darko Tresnjack, which I am very excited to see later on this week. Very cool.
Pratt Street Shopping. More than one place to stop here folks. Get some amazing Hartford postcards (or Holiday cards!) at Hartford Prints. Shop for something avant garde, edgy, and affordable at Niro. Or pick up a sleek, tailored suit at Stackpole, Moore and Tyron. Step into the Tobacco Shop and purchase a quality cigar or two. Point is, masculine or feminine, there is a fun shopping experience to be had here.
Bushnell Center for Performing Arts – a truly stunning performing arts center – hosting dozens of musical and events every year and home to the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. A wonderful spot to get a fix of pop, classical, or modern culture on the stage. I recently saw Wicked here and it was fantastic.
Front St/On 20 – Front St’s bar scene is growing better and better every day. Have a cocktail an Nixs and go see a movie. Have a cocktail at Nixs and catch a show at infinity bistro. Have a cocktail at Nixs and catch a movie at Spotlight (and also, have a cocktail in the movie theater too, yay). Have several cocktails and then drunk BBQ at Bears Smokehouse. Ok, I like cocktails – it’s obvious yes? Another good and close by to Front St hot spot – On 20 Their new happy hour menu is matched by stunning vistas of the city and the Connecticut River. Oh and last, but certainly not least for Front St? The Capital Grille. Steaks and Stoli Dolis. You can’t go wrong.
Tisane. A favorite of Hartford’s underground scene, Tisane is right up the road on Farmington Avenue. A vibrant tea bar, free wifi, and a lush, hip atmosphere are balanced against a euro-asian food menu and – wait for it – really good cocktails. This is my favorite meeting spot/work away from the office spot/I don’t really need an excuse to go here, ok, I don’t. I spend a lot of time at Tisane. You should too!
Tangiers. Falafels. And falafels. And more falafels. And some of the nicest, most gracious wait staff you’ll ever meet. This amazing family owned business offers Middle Eastern specialties and also stocks grocery items. it’s always a delight to go here, and Tangiers is also on Farmington Avenue, so stop by after Tisane perhaps?
CONNetic Dance/Trashion Fashion/Sea Tea Improv/Hartford Hot Several: There are too many amazing arts associations to name all of them (hello! Open Studios!) but three stand out to me for offering so much in the way of visual and performance art. CONNetic produces a hip version of the Nutcracker and also offers modernistic twists on ballet classics. Trashion upcycles your clean waste into amazing gowns. Sea Tea Improv will make you laugh and pops up in the most unexpected places and will help you with your pop up wedding if you’re so inclined. And the Hartford Hot Several somewhat defy description, but if you’ve never seen a WNPR personality banging on a trash can in the name of glorious, silly, marching band music, you haven’t really lived. Yeah, Hartford has all that. And we also have our own hashtag! #Hartfordhasit
So sure, in all fairness, perhaps it helps that I am NOT a road warrior, dashing from place to place, enamored with questionable margaritas. I do indeed, through my job, get a chance to savor, appreciate, and experience all the arts, culture, food, and fashion that Hartford has to offer. But the point is: it’s all there. Go out and enjoy it. Leave the suburbs at the weekend and enjoy the city – catch an improv class, a puppet play, a great meal, and tour an art gallery or two. There’s nothing stopping you from appreciating all this and more. I’m sure I missed a bunch of cool stuff, so please add in the comments if you’re so inclined.