Bluto's Bar and Grill's flame masters sizzle up a menu brimming with hearty appetizers, pizza, sandwiches, and salads within an activity-abundant nosh haven. Avoid gabbing about presidential candidates at the dinner table and instead argue about the electability of thin-crust pizza toppings, such as roasted red pepper, meatball, mushroom, or the inarticulate yet photogenic eggplant ($12.99 for a small with 4 toppings). Or create your own 100% Angus beef burger ($8.99 for a half pound), which flaunts your choice of cheese and sauce—such as honey mustard, garlic parmesan, or teriyaki— and nestles up to a side of sweet-potato fries. Cooks submerge bare or breaded chicken wings ($9.95 for 12) into a dunk tank of teriyaki, garlic parmesan, honey mustard, or barbecue before setting them free to roam the esophageal plains.
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.
Black Bear Saloon may have all the wood paneling of a Wild West watering hole, but it boasts many modern amenities, including plasma televisions that deliver sports from around the globe thanks to a DirecTV sports package. It’s inside this lively space that cooks keep stomachs fueled for the action with a selection of wraps, sandwiches, and Angus-beef burgers.
After a game has aired, the staff dims the lights, cranks up the volume, and turns the stage over to a live DJ every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
It’s considered normal for a restaurant to enter a float or banner in a town parade, but in general, these contributions are all made by humans. Corner Pug breaks this tradition each year during West Hartford’s Park Road Parade, gathering local pugs to march down the street with their owners, each pup dressed to the nines in an attempt to win an award for best costume or most flattering hemline.
This annual spectacle is in keeping with the whimsy that surrounds the pub all year long. Framed photos of pugs brought in by devoted owners line the walls to form a canine shrine, and these pups peer enviously at the endless line-up of thick burgers, organic strip steaks, and English pub classics that parade to tables. In between sips of 20-ounce draft beers, visitors should keep their eyes peeled for sightings of Corner Pug’s mascot—Mac, the pug—whose likeness graces everything from the menu to T-shirts, mugs, and bottles of housemade dressing.
Despite the pub’s jocular ambiance, the kitchen staff takes its job seriously—albeit with a wink and a nod, reportedly employing a macaroni technician to make sure each noodle is standing upright. But Corner Pug’s attention to detail (they even serve the fish ’n’ chips on London newspaper print) has paid off, earning the eatery a perennial spot on the Hartford Advocate’s Best-Of list.