Known for years as the heart of America's insurance industry (a dull legacy if ever there was one), Hartford has more than 300 years of historic and distinctive architecture, ranging from 17th-century Colonial house-museums to the 1919 Art Deco 527-foot Travelers Insurance Tower, which looms over downtown - you can tour the observation deck for free by reservation.
Must-sees here include the Wadsworth Atheneum, an immense repository of art and artifacts spanning five millennia that brings in some of the best traveling art shows in the northeast, and the grandiose 1879 State Capitol Building. Also, be sure to visit the Mark Twain House & Museum and Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, which are around the corner from each other in the city's historic West End, a neighborhood where quite a few lesbians and gay men live. Like New Haven, Hartford also has a fine arts scene, with several good spaces for music, dance, and performing arts, including the acclaimed Hartford Stage. Real Art Ways shows cutting-edge art films, many of them gay-themed, as does Cine Studio on the campus of Trinity College. Real Art Ways also has a gay happy hour, GAZE, on the first Friday of every month.
Hartford Gay Bars
Hartford's only full-time gay bar, Chez Est (458 Wethersfield Ave., 860-525-3243), is in the city's South End, also known for having one of New England's most colorful Little Italy neighborhoods.
It is a popular video bar with a great jukebox that draws a diverse crowd for many of its parties, including regular drag shows and karaoke on Wednesdays. For many years the area supported an additional gay bar, the Polo Club (678 Maple Ave.), but this has closed.
On Friday nights, T's Cafe & Lounge (330 Ledyard St., 860-558-9881) hosts the party Karma Latin Fridays, which includes plenty of drag performances and dancing.
T's has a large outdoor patio and hosts plenty of other fun nights as well.
Gay-Friendly Restaurants and Cafes in Hartford
Although it's not an explicitly gay bar, the hip and friendly Tisane Euro-Asian Cafe (537 Farmington Ave., 860-523-5417) - in the city's trendy West End (near the Mark Twain house and close to the border of the attractive neighboring community of West Hartford) has a substantial gay following and sometimes has GLBT events, including a Tuesday "Boyz Night" and karaoke on Thursdays. The Sunday brunches are also well-attended in the community. Anytime, this is a good spot for tasty Pan-Asian food, tea, coffee, and colorful cocktails and martinis.
For lunch or delicious fresh baked goods, stop by the Kitchen at Billings Forge (559 Broad St., 860-727-8066), part of a downtown historic complex of buildings that includes Thursday year-round farmers market, a community space with regular event programming, and about 100 apartments. Also part of this complex, and adhering to a farm-to-table ethic, chic yet easygoing Firebox Restaurant (539 Broad St., 860-246-1222) turns out terrific modern-American fare and is a fine choice for a meal or cocktails. Check out the daily-changing charcuterie plate, and famed cast-iron duck with chickpea gnocchi.
The charming Pond House Cafe (Prospect and Asylum Sts., 860-231-8823), in leafy Elizabeth Park, has seats overlooking one of the most breathtaking rose gardens in the country; it's popular for lunch, brunch, and dinner.
Elsewhere in the Connecticut River Valley - Middletown, West Hartford
Just a few miles outside of downtown Hartford, the dapper and attractive suburb of West Hartford, known for its handsome early-20th-century residential architecture, has a lively downtown filled with sophisticated, gay-friendly eateries and coffeehouses. Community favorites include Restaurant Bricco (78 LaSalle Rd., 860-233-0220) and its sister establishment, Grants Restaurant & Bar (977 Farmington Ave., 860-236-1930); gay-date favorite Arugula (953 Farmington Ave., 860-561-4888) for great Mediterranean fare; and the artisan-coffee roaster, J. René (320 Park Rd., 860-461-7858), a handsome storefront brewing top-notch java.
About a 25-minute drive south of Hartford and home to the progressive liberal arts college Wesleyan University, the small city of Middletown has a number of downtown hangouts with a discernible gay following, including elegant Luce Restaurant (98 Washington St., 860-344-0222), for mod American fare; and long-running bar and restaurant Eli Cannon's (695 Main St., 860-347-3547), which has 36 beers on tap (a good, rotating list), and tasty pub fare. Sweet Harmony Cafe & Bakery (330 Main St., 860-344-9646) is a nice option for lunch, serving terrific sandwiches and desserts; and Klekolo World Coffee (181 Court St., 860-343-9444) is a source of fine coffee and has a strong following in the LGBT community. Middletown also has an outpost of the excellent Hartford-based pizza chain First and Last Tavern (220 Main St., 860-347-2220), which also has two locations right in Hartford as well as others in nearby suburbs.