Old Corner Café
Naugatuck, (203) 729-3640 (oldcornercafenaugatuck.com)
Sometimes a bar can earn a “Best” designation for the way it transports you back to an earlier time and place. The Old Corner in Naugatuck does just that—to 1911 to be exact, when cold-beer lovers Philip Behlman and Edward Fahey invested $1,760 (over $40,000 in today’s dollars) in an innovative refrigeration system and threw open their doors to the thirsty hordes. Today, the bar shows its age in some ways, but the inlaid tile floor, tin ceiling, gorgeous back bar and big windows hold up pretty well. There are even a wall-mounted match striker and a gas jet at the bar for lighting cigars, both signifying activities now lost to the ages. And the beer is still cold.
Redding, (203) 285-3583 (reddingroadhouse.com)
The taproom at the Redding Roadhouse is in a class by itself. It’s certainly one of the most atmospheric spots around. Located in the heavily wooded wilds of upper Fairfield County, it feels as if it’s been here forever. Indeed, the roadhouse opened in 1985, but before that it had been a stopping place for weary travelers as far back as anyone can remember. The interior, hunter green and lots of pine, has wagon-wheel chandeliers with little foxes, a long oil mural of a Colonial scene, and a big old stone fireplace hung with a portrait of Mark Twain (reputedly a regular when he lived in town). It’s a big friendly room, and packed to the rafters on weekends for live bands.
The Griswold Inn Tap Room
Essex, (860) 767-1776 (griswoldinn.com)
The Gris’ heart beats to the rhythm of revelry that fills the historic bar each night. Patrons forget theirs cares in the lived-in wooden tap room by tossing back chilled mugs of house-brewed Revolutionary Ale and singing sea chanteys and favorite old songs with the band. The place remains so true to its Colonial American roots, you can easily imagine the spirit of George Washington himself there with an ale in hand.
Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts
Storrs, (860) 486-4226 (jorgensen.uconn.edu)
Topflight musicians, chanteuses and comedians let their hair down in this intimate club’s setting. From sophisticated divas to cutting-edge improv groups, they make you feel like an invited guest in the comfortable room filled with candlelit tables. Food and drinks are available and highly recommended. Coming up this season are Al Jarreau, piano virtuoso Chucho Valdés, Bernadette Peters, the Pink Floyd Experience and 80 Jim Henson puppets (uncensored!) in Stuffed and Unstrung.
Thomas Hooker Brewing
Bloomfield, (860) 242-3111 (hookerbeer.com)
Although we do (responsibly) enjoy the occasional beer or two, and know what tastes great, we can look to the experts to back us up on this selection: Thomas Hooker Brewing consistently turns out 11 award-winning lagers and ales, and has been named one of the top microbreweries in the nation by Beer Advocate. Handcrafted in Bloomfield from the finest malts, hops and other ingredients, Thomas Hooker beers are delivered immediately to bars and package stores across the state, allowing the distinctive, great taste to stay fresh. From the tap, frosty mug or ice-cold bottle, it’s then a short—and rewarding—trip to your mouth.
Shelton, (203) 929-8425 (jonesfamilyfarms.com)
Sixth-generation farmer Jamie Jones and veteran winemaker Larry McCulloch (he helped Chamard Vineyards get started in Clinton nearly 30 years ago) have teamed up to grow grapes on the slopes at Jones Family Farm in Shelton and produce wines that are quickly winning favor. White-wine lovers would do well to sample the Pinot Gris or Stonewall Chardonnay, while the Cabernet Franc is a good choice for those who prefer red. There’s a rosé and dessert and fruit wines as well. And Christmas trees—let’s not forget the Christmas trees.
Willimantic Brewing Co.
Willimantic, (860) 423-6777 (willibrew.com)
Willimantic Brewing Co., located in a historic 1909 U.S. Post Office building, gets top honors again, due in part to the 14 hand-crafted beers they brew each month—including Late Night IPA and Smokey the Beer—plus the 20 craft microbrews on tap, many from New England. Add in a menu of post office-themed delights, like Parcel Post Pizza and Return to Tenders, and the fact that you can view the seven-barrel brewery from the dining room, and you’ve got a winner.
Wine by the glass Uncorked
West Harford, (860) 216-2620 (uncorkedct.com)
Like a stylish, upscale automat for wine, Uncorked has walls lined with dozens of compartments, each holding a bottle of wine and a tap system that delivers servings of 1 oz. (Taste), 3 oz. (Half Glass) or 6 oz. (Full Glass). There were 68 wines available the night we visited, all selected by steward David Ruchman and ranging from $7.75 to $75 a glass. Uncorked occupies an attractive space in West Hartford Center, but don’t go just for the wine. The food is very good, too, and the many, many possible pairings are fun to contemplate and even more fun to sample.
Brew Ha Ha at City Stream Brewery Café, Hartford,
(860) 525-1600 (citystreambrewerycafe.com)
Brew Ha Ha Comedy Club opened in 1987, hosting relative newcomers at the time such as Denis Leary, Kevin James, Ray Romano and Sarah Silverman. The place has been going strong ever since, presenting up-and-coming comedians as well as nationally known stars in its 200-seat showroom Thursday through Saturday nights. Crack up, dine and enjoy one (or more) of the seven ales and lagers brewed on site using “city steam” at the 15-barrel brewhouse.
Partners Café, New Haven,
(203) 776-1014 (partnerscafe.com)
The state’s liveliest gay bar has something going every night: Karaoke on Sundays, male dancers on Tuesdays, a Down & Dirty Dance Party on Thursdays with $2 well drinks in the Underground Lounge (the club’s on multi levels) and, on select Saturdays, Leather Parties featuring a special drink called “The Black Strap.” What’s more, Partners is home to various live performances, including shows by Robin Banks, New Haven’s friendly neighborhood drag queen.
Christopher Martins, New Haven,
(203) 776-8835 (christophermartins.com)
Since it opened in 1989, the pub at Christopher Martins has seen approximately 16,000 Hours of Happiness—and counting. Five days a week, from 5 to 7:30 p.m., the welcoming State Street restaurant with “Cheers” ambience on one side and white-tablecloth dining on the other offers special treats. Monday through Wednesday you might find wings, pasta or tacos; Thursday there’s a carving station; and Friday is Raw Bar Night, with littlenecks at two for $1 and jumbo shrimp at $1 each, plus other munchies. Discounted drink prices, too.
L’escale Lounge at the Delamar
Greenwich, (203) 661-4600 (lescalerestaurant.com)
We’ve loved L’escale’s Lounge since the day it opened. Elegant but unpretentious, sexy but not in-your-face, it’s got an appealing offhand chic all its own, with pewter-topped bar, Louis VI-style chairs covered in bright linens, and Parisian music wafting from the speakers. Now it’s better than ever, thanks to the hot new Miami-style terrace lounge that opened in July. Right on the water, with bottle service and DJs on Friday and Saturday nights, it’s been packed from day one. On the bar menu, inside and out: croque monsieur, pissaladière, burgers and grilled-shrimp brochettes.
McKinnon’s Irish Pub, Hartford,
(860) 524-8174 (mckinnonsirishpub.com)
Have a hankering for a pint and some Guinness lamb stew? Head straight to McKinnon’s, a quintessential Irish pub offering live entertainment (the weekly Irish jam sessions are a hit), drink specials and, naturally, great food and beer. Even cooler, it’s housed in a brownstone building constructed in 1861 to house the Charter Oak Bank and features the original bank vault (now home to McKinnon’s kitchen), complete with two massive doors and encased in 18 inches of concrete and rebar.
The Blue Point Grill, Stratford,
On Friday nights at 10 p.m. the hottest
karaoke party around gets started at the Blue Point Grill in Stratford. More than a dozen talented (and a few not-so-talented) singers sign up to sing their favorite songs with DJ Bill Richards for a spot on the show’s coveted roster. By 10:30, the place is packed with new singers eager to add their names to the lineup and friends who come to cheer them on and enjoy the entertainment. Participants range in age from 21 to 80, and all get a chance to croon at the mic. Songs run the gamut of musical genres from rock to the American Songbook, and the singing goes on until the wee hour of 2 a.m.
Firehouse 12, New Haven,
(203) 785-0468 (firehouse12.com)
Experience live jazz a completely new way at Firehouse 12. This uniquely designed space with wooden ceilings and bamboo floors not only provides live music—it’s a recording studio! The acoustically balanced, soundproof room seats 75, offering a cozy venue and a pleasantly close listen. After enjoying the smooth sounds of jazz, head to the full-service bar and grab a cocktail, wine or one of the specialty beers. Don’t miss the fall jazz series beginning in mid-September (visit their website for a list of shows).
Grand, Stamford, (203) 323-3232 (stamfordgrand.com)
Shiny, happy people and a sleek, sophisticated decor make a trip to this happenin’ downtown Stamford club a grand journey indeed. Those in the know report nights that start off sexy and sophisticated for the late-night dinner-and-cocktail set and move right into late-night grooves that inspire dance floors (and some questionable dancers) around the world—take a trip back in time to the ’80s or learn all the latest moves. Have a blueberry mojito, that should help.
Elbow Room, West Hartford, (860) 236-6195 (theelbowroomct.com)
Featuring the largest outdoor patio in Connecticut, Elbow Room is a hot spot all summer long. Though this popular hangout offers the best of both worlds—an outdoor bar for daytime and Sidebar for some nighttime fun—the outdoor bar is the place to be on a nice day to have a drink while overlooking the buzzing streets of West Hartford Center. Enjoy an ice-cold beer on tap or sip a watermelon martini while you enjoy the breeze, heat lamps and a trendy crowd.
Keys to the City, New Haven,
(203) 624-6200 (terminal110.com/keys)
How fun could a dueling piano bar be? Answer: TONS of fun. Keys to the City, located in New Haven’s Terminal 110, features nightly performances by some of the best dueling piano players in the Northeast, who will dazzle you with their ability to spontaneously play, at your request, the top pop and rock ‘n’ roll hits. Combine with tasty drinks and delicious food and you’ve got one heck of a night.
Miya’s Sushi, New Haven,
(203) 777-9760 (miyassushi.com)
Beware of owner Bun Lai’s original sakes: Not only are they intoxicating, you may fall under their spell—especially the Cherokee Sumac Love Potion or the rare Magic Garden (made from a mountain of “wild dandelion love petals”) or the Ultraviolet Kisses. The Chinese Firecracker Sake, made with aged hot chili peppers, may be the only antidote. Walk on the wild side—try Miya’s Sake Sampler with a certain special someone.
Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant
South Norwalk, (203) 899-0088, and other locations (barcelonawinebar.com)
Pair an array of tapas and other Spanish goodies with a refreshing Barcelona sangria and—ta-da!—you have created the perfect partnership. Try a glass of white (made with white wine, rum, peach schnapps, brandy and white peach nectar) or red (red wine, brandy, rum, tequila, triple sec, Amaretto, orange juice, sugar and soda). Better yet, go for the pitcher and enjoy this fruity drink long after the food is gone.
Sliders Sports Bar & Grille,
Plainville, (860) 747-4477, and three other locations (sliderssportsbar.com)
Despite the comings and goings of many a sports bar in Connecticut, the original Sliders in Plainville (1993) has not only stayed true to its roots, it has grown branches in Wallingford, Berlin and Plantsville. Keeping customers first, Sliders has, for example, done away with pool tables in its Plainville location to allow more room for family seating. As for the food, the wings are the longtime favorites (we recommend Parmesan Garlic and Hot and Spicy). The layout may change, but the wings better stay just as they are.
Best of Connecticut 2011 Nightlife