At City Steam Brewery Cafe, the owners concoct some of the area’s finest beers, scoring “best of” awards from Hartford magazine and Connecticut Magazine. They also brew potent batches of laughter inside their 200-seat comedy show-room theater. Ensconced in the historic Brown Thomson and Co. building, which was the state’s largest department store in 1877, Brew Ha Ha once was known as the Last Laugh Comedy Club, where fledgling unknowns such as Ray Romano and Kevin James vied for laughs in the smoky rathskeller of a restaurant.
Reborn in 1997 under a new moniker, the standup speakeasy keeps its calendar packed with nationally touring comics and local joke slingers. During shows, guests can toast with mugs of handcrafted beer and make edible sculptures of their favorite comedian using menu’s custom burgers, pizzas, and omelets.
The Russian Lady's two locations, one in Hartford and one in New Haven, straddle the line between tradition and modernity. In the midst of Victorian wall sconces, orthodox church windows, heavy wooden doors, and neoclassical gilded gratings, guests dance to live music under the glow of neon lights. At both locations, a stone sculpture of Catherine the Great watches over the entrance and checks IDs as revelers peruse an extensive menu of red wines, single-malt scotches, and dozens of variations on a Russian staple: vodka. At the New Haven outpost, small plates from an internationally inspired tapas menu are paired with 40 draft beers, including eight local Connecticut brews.
In every production, TheaterWorks aims to create a safe space for voices of all kinds in the midst of bustling downtown Hartford. Banners outside its newly restored Pearl Street home base playfully symbolize this mission with a lion bearing a live mouse within its jaws as tenderly as a child carrying a frog that’s probably magic. The company specializes in high-stakes dramas with social implications from playwrights such as Moises Kaufman, Richard Greenberg, and David Mamet.
Step into Angry Bull Saloon, and you might just start seeing red?literally. Besides its exposed brick walls, the country-themed establishment is often aglow in atmospheric red lighting, and a red plastic bull's head overlooks the bar. Luckily, the bull's stern demeanor doesn't spill over into the kitchen, where a dedicated culinary team crafts a menu of pub favorites. They top beer-battered-whitefish tacos with carrot slaw and avocado pur?e, and they complement homemade mac-and-cheese bites with bacon aioli.
As chefs man the griddle until 1 a.m. nightly, Angry Bull's bartenders keep brews flowing in both draft and bottle form. They even mix cocktails with Western inspirations such as the Smoking Bull, a spicy blend of tequila, orange juice, and hibiscus syrup.
Thirty high-definition TVs airing sports games make Black Bear Saloon a destination for fans, who fuel up for fist pumps with a menu of American pub favorites. Beef, chicken, and salmon sliders, paired with crispy onion rings, are a pintsize alternative to burgers topped with a selection of gourmet ingredients such as roasted red peppers or avocado. Homemade marinara crowns flatbread pizzas and also serves as a sauce in which to slam-dunk deep-fried nuggets of mac 'n' cheese.
Hosted events are still another reason to visit: on Tuesday nights, the voices of karaoke singers wash over the bar's exposed-brick walls, and Wednesday trivia challenges guests to unearth factoids from their cerebral nooks and crannies. On the weekends, live DJs spin records as guests tap toes and shout requests for favorite Raffi songs from the pub's deep-brown booths.
Spotlight Theaters? screens enrapture audiences with first-run movies. In each movie house, digital sounds and visual projections of fresh Hollywood films alight inner emotions of audiences resting in plush, high-backed seats?each outfitted with a coin-operated mustache comb?or thrown directly into the action through 3-D technology. As eyes and ears relish motion-picture pursuits, soda, candy, and bounties of salty, crunchy popcorn emerge from the concession stand to occupy chatty mouths or catapult towards the screen to feed the hungry actors. Front Street?s brand new Spotlight Theater also houses a full-service restaurant and will soon feature themed movie-and-food pairings, such as French cuisine with French films.