Best of Connecticut 2012: Diversions
Brownstone Exploration & Discovery Park
Portland, (866) 860-0208 (brownstonepark.com)
Fun, fun, and more fun . . . that’s what’s in store for you at Brownstone Park. Gather up your crew and head straight there for all the excitement you can handle—swim, snorkel, scuba, rock climb, cliff jump, zip line or kayak at this 29-acre park, nestled in a brownstone quarry in Portland. And the park keeps on expanding: This year saw the addition of two more System 2.0 wakeboard runs, new zip lines (making the total 10) and a new volleyball area.
bed & breakfast
The Inn at Kent Falls
Kent, (860) 927-3197 (theinnatkentfalls.com)
This gracious 1700s inn/home-turned-bed-and-breakfast offers a lovely balance between homey old (building and decor) and sophisticated new (amenities). What owner Ira Goldspiel is most proud of is the uniqueness of the six guest rooms and luxurious baths, the pool and spa, and “a romance of (common) rooms,” including oversize living and entertainment rooms and a cozy library/study.
bookstore: new books
R.J. Julia Booksellers
Madison, (203) 245-3959 (rjjulia.com)
The stated mission of this celebrated independent bookstore was, is and (we hope) always will be, to be “a place where words matter.” After all, as you might imagine, words happen to mean an awful lot to a magazine as well. R.J. Julia is our go-to for “just the right book”—and, as is often the case, the talented and dedicated staff here knows just what that is even before we ask. Better still, R.J. Julia hosts more than 300 (!) events a year and we get to meet some of the authors of those books. Long live the written word.
bookstore: new books
The Hickory Stick Bookshop
Washington Depot, (860) 868-0525 (hickorystickbookshop.com)
The Hickory Stick Bookshop’s been a fixture in the Litchfield Hills for more than a half-century—but that doesn’t mean the folks here are unwilling to embrace a bit of change. Yes, Hickory Stick has a quite impressive collection of books to browse, a knowledgeable staff with more than 100 years of collective experience in the book biz, and a welcome number of signings by the many talented authors and illustrators living and working in them thar Litchfield Hills. Now, however, Hickory Stick also sells more than three million Google ebooks via its website—most for the same price you’ll find in the big-box stores.
bookstore: used books
The Book Barn
Niantic, (860) 739-5715 (bookbarnniantic.com)
Warning: a visit to The Book Barn may pose a serious threat to your storage space—or lack thereof. Yes, the Book Barn is indeed a barn, a three-story barn, in fact, stacked floor to ceiling with books, books and more books. But there’s not just a barn here. There are sheds full of books, wagons full of books, garages full of books, even a “haunted house” full of books. So very many books (more than 350,000 at last count) that a mile down the road from the main barn you’ll find The Book Barn Downtown and The Book Barn Midtown. Don’t be afraid: Titles are grouped by genre, making it pretty simple to find what you’re looking for—which leads us right back to that pressing need for more storage.
The Study at Yale
New Haven, (203) 503-3900 (studyhotels.com)
Literature, art, music, and design are central themes of this oh-so-sophisticated boutique hotel in the midst of, well, all of the above on Chapel Street. Each of its 124 guest rooms features a lofty feather bed, Italian linens, glass-enclosed shower, flat-screen TV and a nice comfy leather reading chair to settle into and take in stellar views of the Yale campus. Dinner at Heirloom and the chance to experience chef Carey Savona’s celebrated “coastal farm” cuisine is simply the cherry on top.
Copper Beech Inn
Ivoryton, (860) 767-0330 (copperbeechinn.com)
Enjoy country-inn charm in spades at this lovingly restored inn, with four rooms in the 1889 manor house, and nine each in the restored carriage house and newer Comstock House. Settle into your gracious room (period antiques, Oriental rugs), wash your cares away in your luxe marble bath and relax over dinner at the inn’s award-winning Brasserie Pip, the place for bistro classics and inspired locally sourced fare.
Seven Angels Theatre
Waterbury, (203) 757-4676 (sevenangelstheatre.org)
All communities in Connecticut should have a place like Seven Angels, where talented local amateurs of all ages can gather to learn, work together and put on a show—a really good show. Community-based programs include a summer theater camp and the Halo Awards for regional high school productions. A highlight every September is a big Stage II Community production—this month’s is How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying, running Sept. 7-16.
Pilobolus Dance Theatre
Washington Depot, (860) 868-0538 (pilobolus.com)
The innovative dance troupe named after a phototropic fungus continues to grow and amaze again and again. For the past 41 years, Pilobolus has stayed on the cutting edge of its craft by pushing the boundaries. The playful group’s latest accomplishment: winning multiple awards at the 59th Annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in Cannes, France, in June for its part on the music video ‘“All Is Not Lost,” a collaboration with the band OK Go, choreographer Trish Sie and Google (the video was also nominated for a Grammy Award). For their next trick: The tango “Pilobolized” in a live stage production of Sie’s new video for OK Go’s “Skyscrapers.” In the meantime, the troupe will continue on a world tour with its classic “Shadowland” repertoire.
Long Wharf Theatre
New Haven, (203) 787-4282 (longwharf.org)
Now undergoing a $3.8 million mainstage renovation, this Tony-winning forerunner of the regional theater movement—founded in 1965—is about to debut a can’t-miss 48th season that’s challenging, thought-provoking, perhaps shocking, yet always inviting. In other words, just what you’d expect from the steady guiding hand of artistic director Gordon Edelstein. The recipe, in detail: Take two guest artists (Kathleen Turner, who will direct and star in November’s The Killing of Sister George, and Judith Ivey, in Long Wharf’s first production of a Sam Shepard play, The Curse of the Starving Class). Add in two world premieres: the weight-loss “horror comedy” January Joiner, and Ride the Tiger, a dramatic reflection on the relationship between Frank Sinatra and John F. Kennedy leading up to the 1960 presidential election. Top off with the 2012 Tonys must-see Best Play Clybourne Park. Come on—you weren’t really planning to stay home, were you?
family amusement: indoor
Connecticut Science Center
Hartford, (860) 724-3623 (ctsciencecenter.org)
If the 78 mile-per-hour winds in the hurricane simulator don’t do it, the chance to make a train levitate surely will. The 150 hands-on exhibits at this too-cool-for-school science center pull kids of all ages (yes, that includes you) into the center of the action almost immediately. There are galleries for “Exploring Space” and the “River of Life,” understanding the “Forces in Motion” and the “Picture of Health,” and delving into the “Invention Dimension” and the miracles of “Sight and Sound,” a 3-D digital theater with a 40-foot screen and four specially equipped educational laboratories—including a forensic science lab for future Dr. Henry Lees. In other words, plan on a long and full day here.
family amusement: outdoor
Bristol, (860) 583-3300 (lakecompounce.com)
The country’s oldest continuously operating amusement park is celebrating its 167th season with a new addition: Riptide Racer, a wild, plunging, water-drenched race to the finish that takes competing riders through deep, dark intertwining tunnels and steep vertical drops. The OMG head-first ride is the first completed attraction of a multi-million-dollar waterpark expansion The Lake began last year. It just may join Boulder Dash, the Rev-o-lution and Thunder N’ Lightning on thrill-seekers’ list of favorites. Just promise not to laugh when you see us livin’ it up on the 1911 Savin Rock Carousel—hey, it goes pretty fast.
International Festival of Arts & Ideas
New Haven, (203) 498-1212 (artidea.org)
There’s nothing quite like our winner in this category: the unparalleled International Festival of Arts & Ideas, held for two weeks every June in a wide array of New Haven venues, celebrating the most original artists and thinkers around. From live music and thought-provoking lectures to film screenings, dance performances, classes, foodie workshops and more, the festival offers something for everyone, of any age, with almost any interest. We love it because it’s known for promoting serious fun.
Danielson, (860) 774-8038 (logees.com)
One hundred twenty years in business and still going strong. Witness the Ponderosa lemon tree, ordered by mail in 1900 by great-grandfather William Logee, planted in the first greenhouse and today producing melon-size lemons. Beyond that, Logee’s now grows 1,500 varieties of plants (hybridized begonias and scented geraniums are specialties), the majority rare tropicals that flourish here.
White Flower Farm
Litchfield, (800) 503-9624 (whiteflowerfarm.com)
What started as a mom-and-pop operation in the 1940s has grown into “the premier American source for plants, shrubs, bulbs and garden accessories.” Today White Flower Farm is known nationally for its extensive greenhouses and five acres of test and display gardens, as well as three seasonal catalogs offering plants from around the world that the farm collects and evaluates on an ongoing basis.
Brookfield, (203) 775-2214 (shakespearesgarden.net)
A good garden center (like a jam-packed hardware store) inspires action and gets the creative juices flowing. We admit to a fondness for both. But when it comes to gorgeous greenhouses, fabulous flowering plants, decorative pots and all manner of garden ornaments, we go weak at the knees at Shakespeare’s Garden at Burr Farm in Brookfield. We can literally lose ourselves amid the greenery there in May—but we promise you’ll find something to love whenever you visit. And did we mention how uplifting it is at holiday time? Wreaths and trees and garlands . . . oh, my!
Lake of Isles
Ivoryton, (860) 767-0330 (copperbeechinn.com)
One of golf’s greatest pleasures is to play on a course that seems to exist in a world of its own, where each hole presents great visual pleasure as well as a distinct challenge to your game. Such is the case at Lake of Isles, designed by Rees Jones and opened for play back in 2005 when the folks at Foxwoods were feeling flush and ready to spend. You’ll have to be feeling the same way to play here (green fees run from $150 to $200 through mid-October), but here’s betting you’ll think it was worth it.
Trail of Terror
We’ve been to the Trail of Terror countless times, so you’d think by now we’d know what to expect, yet we still get scared silly every single time. That’s the beauty of this outdoor haunted attraction—the scenes and scares change every year, so there’s no preparing for who (or what) might be lurking around that corner as you take the terrifying 45-minute walk through three acres of elaborate frights that you just have to see to believe. Enter if you dare . . .
Quassy Amusement Park
Middlebury, (203) 758-2913 (quassy.com)
Quassy’s life as a summer resort began in 1908, when the new trolley line that ran from Waterbury to Woodbury passed right by the southern end of Lake Quassapaug. As the years went by, the original picnic area, carousel and paddleboats were augmented with rides (for little kids and big), water features (“Saturation Station”) and even the new “Wooden Warrior” roller coaster. A game arcade (Skee-Ball, anyone?), swimming in the lake and frequent live entertainment fill out the bill.
Mystic, (860) 572-5955 (mysticaquarium.org)
We can’t quite imagine Connecticut without Mystic Aquarium—it truly is a beloved fixture of our state. It’s always a joy to marvel at the creatures of the sea, including beluga whales, jellies and those adorably cute sea lions. You can even sign up for an up-close animal encounter, view a feeding, watch educational videos or enroll the kids in a weekend or summer camp. There’s so much to see, learn and enjoy here that we can’t even begin to cover it all in one visit—lucky for us, we can return again and again (and we do!).
movie: big screen IMAX theater
the maritime aquarium at norwalk
South Norwalk, (203) 852-0700 (maritimeaquarium.org)
With a screen six stories high (and eight wide), astonishing picture clarity and 10,000-watt surround sound, the IMAX shows nature documentaries by day, Hollywood films many weekend nights. Note: The theater is closed Sept. 4 to Oct. 18 for the final part of the aquarium’s $4.5 million refurbishment. The Rocky Horror Picture Show begins Oct. 27; reserve by phone or online, and check the fall schedule online.
Mansfield Drive-in Theatre & Marketplace
Mansfield, (860) 423-4441 (mansfielddrivein.com)
This ’50s-era drive-in may have vintage charm aplenty, but as of this 2012 season it also boasts thoroughly up-to-date digital-projection technology that has resulted in pictures “so clear and so bright they’ll knock your socks off,” says owner Michael Jungden. Three big screens show first-run double features nightly in June, July and August and on weekends only in April, May and September—so hurry! Bring the kids: A family film is always in the mix. Just follow the dancing popcorn to the snack bar and you’ll be good to go.
movie: independent cinema
Hartford, (860) 297-CINE (cinestudio.org)
A classic case study in “who woulda thunk it possible,” Cinestudio overcame extremely modest beginnings (in 1970) on Hartford’s Trinity College campus to become the long-lived superhero of indie movie houses. (Despite its 1930s-style movie-palace decor, its mild-mannered alt-identity is simply a lecture hall in the college’s engineering building.) Seven nights a week (and Sunday afternoons), cineastes from all over come for new releases, foreign flicks, film fests, Hollywood golden-age favorites and lately, National Theatre Live broadcasts from Britain in state-of-the-art digital projection, at a theater largely—and expertly—managed by community and college volunteers.
movie with dinner
Gilson Café Cinema
Winsted, (860) 379-5108 (gilsoncafecinema.com)
Owner Alan Nero has always called his cinema a “niche business,” but we feel he’s underestimating its appeal. There’s no doubt it’s a novelty, but once something has run successfully for more than 25 years, we’d say it outgrew its “niche-iness” long ago. One big draw here is the full bar and high-quality, reasonably priced food: everything from popcorn with real butter to an appetizer plate of pâté and Brie to sandwiches, salads, pasta and desserts (the hot fudge brownie is a runaway favorite). Lately, we’ve noticed that the Gilson is shifting from its strictly second-run movie schedule, incorporating some first-run releases, and we couldn’t be happier. Two movies are screened six nights a week (one in the upstairs lounge); on weekends, when the small waitstaff serves as many as 200 customers, reservations are advised.
New Britain Museum of American Art
New Britain, (860) 229-0257 (nbmaa.org)
The museum was transformed from an area treasure to a museum of national stature when its $26 million expansion was completed in 2006. Today, its 10 galleries showcase art dating from Colonial times to the present, with highlights including Hudson River School landscapes, Thomas Hart Benton’s “The Arts of Life in America” murals and works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol and New Britain native Sol LeWitt.
Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center
Mashantucket, (800) 411-9671 (pequotmuseum.org)
Not only will you learn everything you always wanted to know about the Mashantucket Pequots, you’ll have fun doing it. The tribally owned and operated Pequot Museum depicts the rich history of the tribe, as well as the history of the region and other area tribes, all through life-size walk-through dioramas, stunning exhibits—including permanent fixtures “The Arrival of the People” and “Life on the Reservation”—films and videos, live performances and two libraries, including one for kids. Talk about a cool way to spend an afternoon.
night at the ballpark
New Britain Rock Cats
New Britain, (860) 224-8383 (rockcats.com)
The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, hot dogs and Cracker Jack—there’s nothing like a night at the ballpark, especially in New Britain, where the Rock Cats have been entertaining baseball fans since 1996. In addition to the action on the field (Jeff Bagwell, Curt Schilling and Joe Mauer all played on the New Britain diamond), there’s plenty going on at the park—promotions every night (including fireworks after every Friday night game), The Fun Zone (with interactive games like Home Run Derby, Guitar Hero, Speed Pitch, an obstacle course and a moon bounce) and, of course, Rocky the Rock Cat, who meets and greets fans throughout the game.
Morris, (860) 567-9600 (winvian.com)
Fulfilling fantasies doesn’t come cheap at the quirky-yet-ultraluxurious Winvian, but the experience of staying at one of the resort’s 18 themed cottages will probably bring a sparkle to your eye every time you think of it. For $1,350 a night, you can pretend to be “Tarzan” and “Jane” in The Treehouse, a rustic two-story playhouse suspended 10 meters up in the trees, outfitted with a state-of-the-art bath, two fireplaces and full bar. Drinks and four-star cuisine by executive chef Chris Eddy are included. Prices vary by package.