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.
Glasses lift into a treble-laden symphony of toasts and from a distance, many of the elixirs they contain seem nearly the same. Up close, 28 wines by the glass and more than 75 unique varietals by the bottle span a rainbow of hues, from reds deep and earthy enough to appear almost black to white wines barely kissed with a delicate straw color. In The Hidden Vine Wine Bar and Lounge's dedicated room for tastings and classes, guests further hone noses and taste buds to make nearly imperceptible distinctions in flavor and bouquet.
Drawing upon family recipes held close to their hearts, culinarians fill two dining areas with inventive dishes including bruschetta draped in paper-thin soppressata, peach honey, and hanger steak. Beneath diamond-shaped burgundy paintings, forks chatter against plates of fresh pasta and patrons sidle up to the marble bar for a chilly cocktail. A patio begs diners to let the warm sun aid in digestion or in calming outraged bulls delivering pamphlets to the eatery's crimson ceilings.
Inside Cork & Brew, a husband-and-wife team infects customers with their passion for brewing, judging, and, of course, drinking wines and beers. Primarily, they hope to de-mystify home brewing and winemaking with classes, winemaking parties, and even homebrew get-togethers at a residence or office. They stock all the necessary equipment, including fresh hops, grain, and malt, as well as wine must from all over the world. The duo’s hookup with a custom-labeling source allows their clients to brighten up bottles before giving them away as gifts, displaying them on wine racks, or using them to christen newly-purchased ocean liners. Guests also may mingle through the newly opened banquet and party facility, which hosts soirees of 10–80 people.
At Club 19 Restaurant, two lobster rolls can function as a free-weight—the hearty sandwiches, drizzled in melted butter, come in quarter- and half-pound varieties. Nestled in Hawk's Landing Country Club near a verdant golf course, the eatery boasts other American classics, too. There's juicy burgers crowned with toppings such as bacon and onion rings, plus three-tiered club sandwiches, and glasses (or pitchers) of beer to wash it all down.
Dotcom Wine & Spirits, winner of the 2010 Best of Hartford award, is fully stocked with bottle buddies for all shapes, sizes, and species of wine. Its staff of expert sommeliers helps weaves wine wayfarers through the extensive collection of oenophilic ornaments. Grape-stompers can tiptoe through the glassware selection, which includes the Stolzle Burgundy receptacles ($9.99) and the Riedel Vinum Bordeaux two-pack ($69.99). Remove sediment from older wines with a Ravenscroft Omega decanter ($59.99), or pick up a six-bottle wood wine box to ensure that your wines will never feel lonely at night again ($39.99). Pop open a bottle's gob with Dotcom's Gattorna corkscrew ($50) and reward well-behaved blends with a slide down the aerating funnel ($19.99). Ample outdoor parking means that grape enthusiasts can amble through Dotcom's warmly-lit, wood-paneled aisles to remind the more than 5,000 wines on the shelves to play nicely with their accessories.