Little River Restoratives is the ultimate hole in the wall. Sitting innocently on the corner of Capitol Avenue and Babcock St, there are only a few hints of what is in store for you. As you walk by you'll notice a rather dashing badger painted on the wall, with the latin phrase 'Panem Et Circenses' literally meaning bread and circuses, an old Roman saying for the perfect combination for entertainment. This unusual doorman was courtesy of local graffiti/graphic artist Claire (IG: subysquirts), a well-respected artist in the community. The badger (or weasel?) welcomes and points you toward the door, which sits on the corner of the building (which is architecturally incorrect- quoting Kramer from Seinfeld...). We visited on a bright (yet gloomy) afternoon which gave off the right amount of light that let us see through the large arched windows, and see people inside enjoying cocktails in a dark space. We were intrigued and headed right in.
Inside the space was very dimly lit and cozy. The entire place was decorated head to toe like we were just transported into a different era. The 46 seat bar was warm and eclectic, with patterned wallpaper, exposed brick, even snake skinned chairs to add a little
diversity to the mix. And all over the room, random knick-knacks adorned the space, like a mannequin perched towards the end of the bar checking everything out, or a squirrel dressed up in a Santa suit. There was a 12 seat bar all facing their amazing array of liquors. HOLY CRAP there's a lot of booze! Behind the bar, a deer head hung overhead decorated with Christmas lights! A friendly reminder for everyone to stay festive in the crappy month of April! And it seems like it was working, people were happily enjoying their cocktails engrossed in each other's conversations (instead of TVs, like in most bars...). By the rear of the room, next to the bar, was an old dial phone (which I was totally playing with), and the ceiling was covered with intricate tin tiles as well as several 'antique looking' chandeliers hanging overhead in this very small cocktail bar.
The bar was filled when we got there, so we sat at a hightop and our bartender, Ben, came over full of smiles and offered us some happy hour cocktails- oh man! I forgot there's happy hour here! Being from MA my whole life- I always forget other states are a lot more fun than ours...Now I'm all excited to get my happy hour drink - a manhattan (my all time favorite) I even have a dedicated 'manhattan' table at home, with different decanters for rye, whiskey, and bourbon all with different corresponding bitters, as well as sweet & dry vermouth since I like my manhattans 'perfect', I even got some fancy glassware- I swear, I don't have a problem. Ben brought over our drinks, and talked to us for a little bit, even explaining some of the cocktails in full detail for us. One of them being 'Coffee & Cigarettes' scotch based single malt cocktail that went down smooth- almost too smooth. With single malt scotch, coffee liquor, & sweet vermouth, made by the other bartender working, Clarissa.
Ben excused himself back to his bar, while me and Chris sipped on our cocktails and started a lively game of cribbage (yes, we're 80 years old, but we love cribbage..) just as the sun was setting, and just as I was winning, the sun began beaming through my cocktail like a spotlight- photo opportunity! I needed to call 'pause' on our game before the light went away!
When we were done playing our game of cribbage (Chris lost bad), Ben came over again and I mentioned how I noticed the
different bitters they carried, and I asked about these little glass bottles by the service station. He explained a lot of those bottles are house-made syrups to add flavor as well as authenticity to each of their drinks. And honestly that's the key; as a bartender myself, having house-made syrups is what puts those flavored vodkas, gins, whiskeys, & rums that are flooding the market to shame. We were overjoyed to hear that this cocktail bar actually has the dedication to take the time to make their main attraction, the cocktails, shine. Ben even showed us behind the bar to see how user- friendly it is. The bar had two stations for bartenders to make the drinks, and each was a mirrored image of the other, EVEN the liquor is mirrored! That just blew my mind- why? Well, I've worked in 4 different bars, all with at least two people working behind it. And not one of them is mirrored, and that's so important because when it's busy, two bartenders working will always bump into each other, possibly even causing some fatal damage (like breaking a glass in the ice- every bartender's worst nightmare). At Little River Restoratives they are less likely to have that problem because there's no need for them to cross each other's path. And that means less time trying to work around your co-worker- thus, meaning drinks are made faster, and in the end, the customer gets faster service. That's just better for everyone now, isn't it? They even had different types of ice! In the same
ice bin! (one for mixing, one for 'displaying' on the rocks- or one giant ice cube) I'm a little overly excited about the different types of ice, but little details like that can really make a huge difference. I felt like I was overstaying my welcome behind the bar, I mean they had drinks to make. So we scurried away back to our table, but I couldn't help feeling a bit jealous that they get to work in such a well-designed bar.
Little River Restoratives ("The bar's name has historical significance as a reference to an early moniker for the city's Park River" (from article, CTNOW) recently opened in 2015 by Chris Parrot and Patrick Miceli, they clearly knew what they were doing designing this bar. Just as the bar was deliberately constructed, the location was not by accident either. "Parrott said the capital city was "the most logical place" for the new concept, and chose the Capitol Avenue spot because he loves the architecture of the buildings in the city's Frog Hollow neighborhood. "I love the industrial history of it, which ties into the turn of the century, which is kind of our inspiration for our drinks," he said." (from article, CTNOW).
That being said, it also looked like Ben & Clarissa really enjoyed working there, which is very good for the customers. They genuinely want to be here making amazing cocktails, which in turn, consumers enjoy being here even more. This little hole in the wall gem in Hartford Connecticut will have me coming here time and time again- even though its an hour away. Everyone should stop in at least once just to experience some finely made drinks, the weirdly awesome atmosphere, the staff, and maybe even sneak in for happy hour!
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