For everyone who has ever wished they could shortcut a long meeting with a simple “Yes” or “No” answer, meet your hero. John Pierpont Morgan, Hartford native, globe-spanning financier, and one-time savior of the U.S. economy, could often dodge drudgery with a single word. This escape ability was almost as legendary as his escape from death as an almost-passenger on the Titanic — Morgan owned both a ticket and the company that owned the ship — and earned him the “Yes-or-No Morgan” nickname.
The moniker was recently brought back to life at his one-time home, The Goodwin hotel in Hartford. The pop-up dinner event which bears his name is an immersive experience with clues and Easter eggs about Morgan’s life woven through a three-course meal created by chef Tyler Anderson. The owner of Millwright’s in Simsbury and High George and Hamilton Park at New Haven’s Blake Hotel, Anderson operates Terreno restaurant and Bar Piña at The Goodwin. It’s where Morgan — the billionaire behind J.P. Morgan & Co., U.S. Steel, General Electric, AT&T and two dozen railroads — lived when visiting his hometown and entertaining friends. The hospitality begins when guests step through the door and are greeted with a welcoming drink by the evening’s host, Belle da Costa Greene (played by actor Alexis Semevolos), Morgan’s personal librarian, as the 21st century begins to meet the 19th.
Yes-or-No Morgan starts with a key card, as each party is given its own room in The Goodwin. From there, it’s up to each guest to decide how interactive they would like the night to be. Put your heads together to work the puzzles, or relax on your night out as you see fit. Courses of the meal arrive with just a knock at the door, with drinks — and there are plenty of them, including handcrafted cocktails and wine pairings — and snacks always close at hand. Each room is provided with a Bluetooth speaker guests can use to fill the room with a Spotify playlist specifically created to set the evening’s mood. Each space is its own dining room, and its own mystery.
“We created this balancing act,” Anderson says. “People have been sort of trapped at home this winter, and we wanted them to be able to go out, but do it safely, in their own space. We thought the way to do that would be to make it interactive, to give people a game to play if they want to, but we didn’t want to make it like an escape room, because that stress is the opposite of what you want a meal out to be.”
We were sworn to secrecy with a firm “no spoilers” rule, but I can tell you the clues and rewards are titillating without being taxing: each progressing to the next alongside food that’s as memorable a part of the evening as the theatrics.
The night’s first knock reveals its first dish: a wedge salad (purportedly Morgan’s favorite), given the Tyler treatment. Each half of tender Bibb is dressed with Roquefort cheese, tomatoes, pickled onion, and pork belly lardons a considerable step above the mere “bacon” they’re called on the menu. Placed next to the first course, a tuile of Parmesan and black pepper, folded to resemble ... a fortune cookie? Hmm ...
Our story can’t be a mystery without a little deception, and your simple choices of entrée (beef, chicken, fish or vegetarian) may as well be check boxes on a wedding invitation until, that is, the second rapping on your chamber door.
“Beef,” in this case, was shorthand for short rib Wellington, the fork-tender cut hidden within a crust of pastry so plump and round it almost seemed a pity to break. Break through your own hesitation, if it exists, apply the accompanying black truffle bordelaise sauce, and taste your own sliver of opulence. Consider a clue if you like, between forkfuls of this, or crab-crusted filet of sole, or roast tranche of heirloom squash, but there’s really no need, since the game is effectively paused for the main course. Talk, relax, decide on that next drink, and listen to the music play. The next knock is on its way.
Like so much of the evening, the fare is designed to transport you to a different time, as well as feed into the production’s story and clues. “The menu is based on turn-of-the-century opulence,” Anderson says. “We wanted to cook food from that era, something Morgan would have served his guests.”
Your after-dinner course includes dessert (the chef’s take on another of Morgan’s favorites, but we can’t give away more details), and a fresh set of clues as the night reaches its climax. The clues themselves are scattered through with Easter eggs of Morgan’s legacy, his successes, as well as heartbreaks, scandals and a note to you from another of Hartford’s favorite luminaries (sorry, but the identity also falls under the “no spoilers” dictum).
Anderson, alongside Lumi Hospitality/WeHartford, have created a truly memorable experience, weaving together who we were with who we are in Connecticut, and how meaningful it is when we’re able to share a space.
Each room is limited to one seating per night and four guests per meal, and all rooms and props are sanitized or replaced between seatings. Reservations are staggered to minimize contact between guests to the hotel.
Tickets to Yes-or-No Morgan are $124.42 per person, including tax and service charges, with a portion going to Hands On Hartford, a social nonprofit serving Hartford’s most vulnerable residents in food, housing and health. Guests are invited to stay at The Goodwin for a reduced rate of $120. The one-of-a-kind experience runs through March, and possibly beyond.
Yes-or-No Morgan dinner
The Goodwin, 1 Haynes St., Hartford
Open Thu.–Sun., running through at least March