Charge your phone to 100 percent before heading to The Place 2 Be, the new Instagram-ready restaurant in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square. You’ll be taking a lot of photos.
This isn’t your average, staid breakfast-and-lunch joint — it’s a riot of colorful and decadent fare, like strawberry cream cheese-stuffed French toast drizzled with Nutella; fried chicken and waffles; pancakes sprinkled with Fruity Pebbles; beef burger Benedicts; and egg-topped fried chicken sandwiches on black activated-charcoal buns. Drinks are just as indulgent, with seasonal lattes and espresso beverages, creative milkshakes, champagne cocktails (and bottomless mimosas), sangrias and bacon-topped Bloody Marys.
This is the third location for owner Gina Luari, who opened the original restaurant on Hartford’s Franklin Avenue in 2016. As the breakfast, brunch and lunch eatery grew in popularity, thanks to its prolific social media presence, Luari began looking into expansion opportunities. The second location opened in downtown Hartford in October, taking over the former Spectra Wired cafe at Constitution Plaza.
Like its sibling restaurants, The Place 2 Be in West Hartford goes all-in on trendy decor and selfie opportunities: neon light signs, swing chairs, a full-size bathtub filled with plastic pearls and drinks topped with rubber duckies. Luari also brought her love of greenery to the space, with palm fronds and succulents as accents, as well as a ceiling-height tree that adds a verdant look to the center of the dining room.
The restaurant has embraced particularly cheeky branding at the newest location, which opened in June and took over the space formerly occupied by The Cook & the Bear. While its “go bottomless” tagline refers in part to unlimited refills on mimosas and bellinis, it has another connotation at the West Hartford restaurant. A black-and-white mural of derrieres adorns the bathroom wall, and the “Booty Call” large-format cocktail, with tequila and blue raspberry, is served in a vessel shaped like a rear end. “The butts just took on a life of their own, because of the ‘go bottomless’ theme,” Luari says. “I love to do things that are on brand.”
Other large-format drinks, intended for sharing, include a “Drink My Bathwater” with sangria, rosé and prosecco and tiny rubber duckies served in a small ceramic bathtub, decorated with dessert sauces and cotton candy puffs. The “Big Ass Mimosa,” with two full bottles of sparkling wine and your choice of juice or flavor, arrives in a giant champagne glass with straws, fruit and more rubber duckies.
Luari says she’s hired “highly skilled bartenders” who will work on a cocktail list that goes beyond the signature bubbly and sangrias.
The breakfast menu offers “eggs 4 dayz” with omelets, breakfast sandwiches, burritos, quesadillas and Benedicts; “carbs,” including fruit-topped waffles and apple cinnamon pancakes, oatmeal and fruit parfaits, and avocado toasts. Lunch options include bar-fare appetizers like mozzarella sticks, wings, curly fries and nachos; salads, burgers, panini, melts and wraps.
Though the menu offers plenty of indulgent food, Luari says she’s looking to add healthier options in West Hartford, as customers have been asking for them. “We sell way more fruit cups than home fries here,” she says. They’ll be rolling out more versions of avocado toast, for example, and implementing the health-conscious items at each location.
The Place 2 Be is also set to expand outside of greater Hartford. Luari has signed a lease in New Haven, at the former Box 63 on Elm Street, where she plans two bars and a second-floor patio in the two-level space. She says she’s also been approached about a potential new location in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The expansion plans are driven by customer data, she says. The Place 2 Be doesn’t take reservations, but guests can put their name on a virtual waiting list. On the weekends, when the list fills up quickly, Luari says that about 90 percent of the guests’ phone numbers have a non-860 area code. “It’ll help alleviate the crowds; it’ll help accommodate the customer base,” she says. “Because maybe somebody came here once a month, and then now they’ll come twice a week.”
The Place 2 Be
50 Memorial Road, West Hartford