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Bar for Retro Drinks: Park Central Tavern
Hamden, (203) 287-8887 (parkcentraltavern.com)
Called “Speak Easy cocktails”—because the recipes date from the 1920s, and (most likely) because after a couple, you’ll be telling strangers at other tables your family secrets—Park Central’s rotating repertoire of vintage potables are the epitome of mixology finesse, a salute to what general manager Pete Pugliese calls “the Prohibition Era effect, which turned the social event of having a cocktail into an underground adventure.” Being Manhattan devotees, we love PCT’s variation, a mix of High West Double Rye, Carpano Antica Formula vermouth and Angostura bitters. But we’ve yet to brave the Corpse Reviver #1640: Broker’s Gin, Salers Gentiane Aperitif, Luxardo Triplum, Prado Pastis and a touch of lemon.
Beer Garden: East Side
New Britain, (860) 223-1188 (eastsiderestaurant.com)
Grab your lederhosen and enjoy old-fashioned family cooking at East Side Restaurant—a destination for fans of German culture and cold beer. Family-owned and –operated for more than 70 years, East Side was inspired by the famed Hofbrauhaus in Munich. Granite tables have snow rails to keep your beverage ice-cold; they’re distributed by a state-of-the-art beer dispenser that pours a perfect 32-degree beer. With a festive atmosphere and waiters in traditional attire, you may think you’ve been transported to Germany, but no need to worry—no passport required.
Brew Pub: Willimantic Brewing Co.
Willimantic, (860) 423-6777 (willimanticbrewingcompany.com)
Located in a granite-and-limestone U.S. Post Office building from 1909, Willibrew is not only a brewing company, restaurant and bar, it’s also a historic landmark. The brew pub has a reputation far and wide for its award-winning beer, and brews over a dozen handcrafted blends every month—while serving over 20 different microbrews on tap. On the menu: Certified Gold, Salacious Saison, Saison Noir and Workingman’s Wheat.
Cocktail (creative): 116 Crown
New Haven, (203) 777-3116 (116crown.com)
With names like the Glitterati, Bunny Hug, Thom Collins and Purple Curtain, this is a cocktail connoisseur’s dream. This classy bar offers an extensive menu of wines, beers, and food, but enthusiasts come for their specialty drinks and atmosphere. Not content with simply serving some of the best creative cocktails in the state, they also offer classes to teach eager students the art of mixology. Cheers to that.
Cocktail (margarita): Viva Zapata
Westport, (203) 227-8226 (vivazapata.com)
Viva’s been doing its thing in Westport since 1969, back when there was sawdust on the floor and a barrelful of shelled peanuts. One of the things they still excel at here is the margarita. There are seven blended ones—strawberry, mango, peach, blue Curaçao—but we like ’em the old-fashioned way, made with fresh-squeezed lime juice. Order it on the rocks and you get 16 ounces served in a Ball jar, with salt around the rim, of course. Perfection.
Cocktail (martini): The Chelsea
Fairfield, (203) 254-8200 (thechelseaff.com)
It’s not all that surprising that The Chelsea has few peers when it comes to martinis—its sibling The Loft, in South Norwalk, was one of the first martini bars in the state. The martinis change with the season but memorable concoctions include Pear Pomegranate (Hangar 1 spiced pear vodka, pomegranate liqueur, and a splash of cranberry), Filthy (house cucumber-jalapeño vodka and olive juice) and the Bikini (house-infused pineapple, clove and allspice vodka shaken with strawberry-scented Chambord).
Comedy Club: The Bijou
Bridgeport, (203) 332-3228 (thebijoutheatre.com)
Comedy is no mere laughing matter at this 100-year-old jewel-box venue: On its slate for this fall is “Connecticut Comics for Haiti,” a Nov. 8 benefit for the St. Mary Parish 2014 Medical Mission to Haiti. Other performers will include Rich Vos, a veteran of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” and Ray Harrington, whose debut CD The Worst Is Over topped sales at Amazon and iTunes. Keep an eye out for “Vaudeville at the Bijou,” featuring laughs, dance and drag.
Craft Beer Selection: MiKro Beer Bar
Hamden, (203) 553-7676 (mikrobeerbar.com)
Eighteen rotating taps and an extensive bottle list put MiKro on the must list for craft beer connoisseurs. Pilsners, porters, stouts, lagers and more are all represented at this cozy beer bar. With just 53 seats in the chicly designed space, the atmosphere is intimate and friendly, with none of the raucousness that accompanies the typical bar experience. Also atypical is the sumptuous menu of small and large plates designed to complement the beer selection. We love the fried chickpeas with curry spices and fried herbs and the Yukon gold potato grilled flatbread—accompanied, of course, by a tall, frosty brew.
Cruise Night: Sycamore Drive-In
Bethel, (203) 748-2716, (sycamoredrivein.com)
If you’re looking for cruise-night heaven, you’ll find it in Bethel. The Sycamore is one of those magical Connecticut places, seemingly frozen in the happy days of the 1950s, from the glowing Wurlitzer jukebox spinning doo-wop tunes and curbside service to the homemade root beer and simple burgers-fries-and-shakes menu. Every summer Saturday night, classic-car enthusiasts are drawn here like moths to a neon flame, showing off and ogling dozens of lovingly preserved and restored examples of the coolest muscle cars, trucks and vehicles ever to grace American roads: Corvettes and Cadillacs, Mustangs and GTOs, deuce coupes and roadsters.
Happy Hour: Christopher Martin’s
New Haven, (203) 776-8835 (christophermartins.com)
After a hard day at work, who isn’t ready for Happy Hour? Since 1989, CM’s has been doing its part to make customers happy pub-side five days a week (there’s fine dining on the other side), from 5 to 7:30 p.m., with discounted seasonal drinks and great food. At quitting time, gather here with your workmates and friends and raise a glass or two to a job well done. Monday through Wednesday the menu ranges from pasta to Irish nachos and make-your-own tacos; on Thursday there’s always a roast-beef carving station with fixin’s for sandwiches; and Friday is Raw Bar Night with clams on the half shell, shrimp and other tasty treats.
Hotel Bar: Crush
Hartford Marriott, (860) 760-2340 (crushhartford.com)
If your vision of a hotel bar is a stuffy place sparsely frequented, then clearly you haven’t been to Crush in downtown Hartford. A chic, modern space dotted with white leather booths and circular bench seats, it’s the place to be for happy hour drinks during the week (with frequent martini specials) and one of the hottest parties in town on Friday and Saturday nights. DJs spin the latest hits, packing the dance floor with revelers who often celebrate far into the wee hours. As they say, “Feel the rush . . . of Crush.”
Irish Pub: The Black Sheep
Niantic, (860) 739-2041 (theblacksheepniantic.com)
Don’t wait for St. Patrick’s Day to stop in for a Guinness and a plate of bangers and mash at The Black Sheep in Niantic. Offering a selection of both Irish and American cuisine and 15 draft beers, this pub has everything you want after a long day. In nice weather there’s an outdoor patio; when the weather turns cold, there’s a fireplace to keep you warm (if the beer isn’t doing the job). To top it off, the dark mahogany bar and sleek tin roof add to the experience of being at a true pub.
Karaoke: Black Duck Café
Westport, (203) 227-7978
Revelry unleashed comes bellowing out of ‘the Duck,’ Westport’s ever-popular barge restaurant, Monday and Tuesday nights after 9:30. In an atmosphere that invites people to get up and belt it out solo, singer Leigh Henry emcees the boisterous blast. Pop in and you might hear an impressive regular like Ken, a lawyer who does amazing Sinatra. This casual café with windows on the Saugatuck River has welcomed all comers for decades, serving up good times and tavern fare several notches above the rest: well-made, fresh and tasty, with generous portions.
Live Jazz: Firehouse 12
New Haven, (203) 785-0468 (firehouse12.com)
Taking in some live jazz at Firehouse 12 is intimate, impressive and—simply put—cool. The performance space holds a small audience of 75 and doubles as a recording studio, meaning that what you hear is aurally perfect. That engineering, combined with the indisputable talent Firehouse 12 attracts, makes for an unforgettable night of music. Stay out a little later and visit the full-service bar downstairs for classic cocktails or specialty beers after the show. Firehouse 12’s annual fall jazz series begins Sept. 14.
New Haven, (203) 495-1111 (barnightclub.com)
Friendly crowds and popular trendy music—featuring live bands and regular house DJs Noelle and Norbs—make BAR’s nightclub a welcoming atmosphere most any night of the week. It all sounds best when paired with BAR’s own micro-brewed beers (get there early for the outrageously popular Toasted Blonde and AmBar Ale) and thin-crust brick-oven pizza (the signature white mashed-potato pizza is so good it may inspire you to try out, well, the Mashed Potato on the dance floor).
Open Mic: Acoustic Café
Bridgeport, (203) 335-3655 (acousticafe.com)
Open mic night at Acoustic Café is every Tuesday at 8, and sign-ups begin promptly at 7. Low lighting, funky wall art, a full-service bar, performers from all genres—it all adds up to “good music, good vibes,” the Black Rock café’s motto. This fun, low-key environment is perfect for experiencing new, local talent from a seat in the audience or sharing your own musical chops on stage. Encore!
Outdoor Bar: Elbow Room
West Hartford, (860) 236-6195 (theelbowroomct.com)
Located in vibrant West Hartford Center, Elbow Room is the place to go to sit outside on a beautiful day. The bar has rooftop seating overlooking the town and a full bar offering a wide selection of draft beers on tap, wine and cocktails. With live music and a menu of all-American favorites—seafood, sandwiches and burgers—you may find yourself fighting for elbow room at this popular bar.
Place to Go Dancing: Shish Restaurant/Lounge
West Hartford, (860) 986-7698 (shishlounge.com)
Shish opened in 2009 and has been making quite a splash in the state’s nightlife scene ever since with its cool design, spacious dance floor and lively event schedule. There are swing dancing classes on Wednesdays, salsa classes on Thursdays, and DJ parties on Friday and Saturday nights. A full bar, Middle Eastern menu and comfy alcoves provide refuge from the dance floor—though at Shish, you may never want to sit down.
Place to Hear Local Bands: The Space
Hamden, (203) 288-6400 (thespacect.com)
Celebrating its 10th birthday this year, this tiny (150 capacity), funky (check out the wall decorations) listening room showcases local and regional bands. Artists of any genre and experience level are invited to perform, and music lovers of all ages are welcome to enjoy not just the local sounds, but also the café, arcade room and vintage boutique upstairs. As the owners put it, The Space is “a venue run by musicians, for musicians.” The lighting is low, the stage is big . . .
and the music is loud.
West Hartford, (860) 218-2100, and other locations (barcelonawinebar.com)
Looking for great sangria? Barcelona has it, and in three ways: white (made with white wine, rum, peach schnapps, brandy and white peach nectar); red (red wine, brandy, rum, tequila, triple sec, amaretto, orange juice, sugar and soda) and sangria flora (French rosé, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, soda and fresh fruit). Even better, Barcelona has six locations in Connecticut—West Hartford, New Haven, Stamford, Greenwich, South Norwalk and Fairfield—so a refreshing pitcher (along with some of Barcelona’s trademark cuisine) is always at hand.
Sports Bar: Chicago Sam’s Sports Bar & Grille
Cromwell, (860) 635-1860 (chicagosams.com)
A true sports bar, Chicago Sam’s takes pride in its impressive amenities: a 120-foot bar with more than 20 different beers on tap, 80 TVs (45 of which are big-screen), and a pub menu with over 70 items available till midnight—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The 10,000-square-foot building itself hosts live entertainment three nights a week, and if that’s not enough, Chicago Sam’s also has two 100-square-foot high-def movie screens. Add in pool tables and a wide selection of imported and domestic beer, and it’s safe to say any sporting event will be a home run.
Tattoos: Hope Gallery
New Haven, (203) 467-1622 (hopegallerytattoo.com)
Got ink? Looking for some? The talented designers at Hope have a long waiting list of those who want Hope Gallery artwork on their bodies. Featuring a number of different styles, the team has definitely made their mark as a trusted tattoo parlor and art gallery. The subject matter of the tattoos is as diverse as the techniques used—Kat Von D herself would be jealous. Some of the young ink masters here also practice in other mediums—from watercolor to oil painting—setting a high standard for tattoo art in Connecticut.
Tequila Bar: Geronimo
New Haven, (203) 777-7700 (geronimobarandgrill.com)
This great New Haven spot is a destination for tequila lovers. They have 350-plus blancos, reposados and anejos on the menu, and they do daily flight specials. The owners make regular trips to Mexico, and usually celebrate their return with an all-day barrel-launch bash complete with pig roast, tacos and cocktail stations (mascot Cuco the donkey is usually in attendance). They do an excellent margarita here—made with Antiguo Blanco tequila, curaçao, fresh lime juice, agave nectar and “lots of love.” Get ’em by the pitcher for $45.
Wine Bar: Vinted
West Hartford, (860) 206-4648 (vintedwinebar.com)
Whether you’re a big wine fan or not, you’re guaranteed an exciting, fun time at Vinted. There are 68 wine stations here, each dispensing a different wine from around the world, in 1-ounce, 3-ounce or 6-ounce portions. (There are also four sparkling wines and eight dessert wines.) A sommelier is on hand to suggest the best pairings to go with the long list of small-plate delicacies, such as steak tartare (Paraduxx zinfandel-cabernet-merlot), pork belly tacos (CrossBarn pinot noir from Sonoma), pan-roasted mussels (Chalk Hill sauvignon blanc) and seared sea scallops (Migration Chardonnay from Russian River Valley).