Golden-fried clam strips, fantail shrimp, and bay scallops anchor the tables at J’s Crabshack (formerly Tinker’s), sending up clouds of steam next to hearty steak and lobster dinners. Founded by chef and scallop fisherman James Tinker more than 20 years ago, J’s Crabshack has grown into a bustling seafood hotspot, where an aquarium teeming with eels and tropical fish overlooks the dining area. The shack’s market counter dishes out freshly snagged raw shrimp and scallops, earning recognition as runner-up for best fish market in Hartford from the Hartford Advocate in 2011. The restaurant’s culinary team, which includes James Tinker II in its ranks, works diligently to serve guests in the ocean-themed catering hall, then sticks around to burp everyone postmeal.
Rich Hicks and Todd Istre are the masterminds behind many a national food concept—from Rich's southwestern taco at Tin Star to Todd's spicy seafood dishes at Boudreaux's Cajun Kitchen. When the duo joined forces to create Mooyah, however, they cleared the tortillas and crawdads from their mind in order to focus on formulating a quintessential American burger.
Today, within scores of Mooyah locations throughout the nation, chefs bustle behind counters, grilling up burgers in accordance to Todd and Rich's formula. Cooks pile beef, turkey, and veggie patties onto white or wheat buns before loading on cheeses and toppings of bacon, fried onion, and avocado. Meanwhile, freshly cut potatoes simmer in fryers, and blenders whirl with ice-cream shakes. Out in the dining room, tabletops and booths sit atop checkered floors beneath walls of chalkboards, where customers can write messages or draw portraits of what they wished they looked like, could they only grow a beard.
Floor-to-ceiling mirrors reflect 2,700 square feet of glossy, hardwood floors ringing with the staccato of dancing high heels. Brass poles sprout from the floor, supporting whirling women as they learn sensual routines and build upper-body strength by suspending themselves skyward.
Pole Control Studios' owner, a seasoned performer with a BA in sports science, designs programs that scale up in difficulty while centering around fitness. The studio inducts exercisers in the flirtatious art with an introductory class, where each dancer learns correct posture, transition work, and how to use high heels to tap out Morse code. From there, guests foray into more than 75 types of empowering fitness classes that build on the basics, imparting techniques for climbing, controlled spins, or inversions. Pole Fit and Sensual Stretch supplement pole-dancing prowess with intense cardio, squats, lunges, and body-elongating posework.
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.
On any given night, Damon's Tavern is bound to be showing every patron's favorite sport. That's not just because the double-sided bar alone is outfitted with 43 high-definition TVs, but because each of the tavern's booths come with their own television, too. The TV setup has earned Damon's raves from Hartford Magazine, which named the tavern the Best Sports Bar in 2012 and 2013.
The tavern's dining options are equally praiseworthy. Its extensive menu includes upscale twists on bar food classics, from macaroni and cheese tossed with lobster and shrimp to house-roasted pulled pork topped with barbecue sauce and carolina vinegar slaw. Twenty-four draft beers complement hearty feasts, as can wines by the glass and bottle or classic cocktails like whiskey sour and tom collins.
From alongside steaming ceramic coffee pots, gluten-free Ethiopian and Eritrean dishes at Abyssinian Ethiopian Restaurant radiate imported spices. In the golden glow of wall sconces, sautéed beef and chicken morsels marinate in butter, cardamom, and fresh ginger. Patrons sop up savory remnants with warm injera, an East African flatbread made from high-protein teff flour that lets fingers grab food, unlike trying to grab a frustratingly realistic painting of fruit. Meals flanked by complimentary portions of collards parade to tables, and caterers cruise past with brimming portions for meetings and shindigs.