`If it was good enough for Babe Ruth, it's good enough for us," says Don Mancini, explaining why he changed the name of his Capitol Avenue bistro from Kenney's to the Red Rock Cafe.
He restored the exterior of the late 19th-century Italianate building, a great urban structure with the cafe on the first floor (which was a speakeasy during Prohibition) and apartments on the upper two floors. But in redoing the building he wisely saved the faded but iconic 1940s-era Red Rock Cola logo painted on the building's east side.
These painted advertisements are themselves a fading glimpse of Hartford's past; only a handful remain on downtown buildings. They now seem a minor art form. This one uses strong and elegant typography and an image that makes good use of the space. It's held up over time and is a Matisse among increasingly junky outdoor advertisements.
Mancini wanted a new name for the newly restored building. When he learned that the Sultan of Swat once hawked Red Rock Cola, he found one.
In addition to saving the wall painting, Mancini and partners created an outdoor patio that seats 40 and is surrounded by a wrought iron fence, and topped it all off with some attractive canvas awnings and attractive lighting.
They've also added a grid of vertical and horizontal beams to the building's stucco ground floor exterior. While not exactly in keeping with the structure's architecture, the gold, brown and green accents serve to pull all the renovations together. One quibble: the new sign looks like something dropped off by a beer distributor.
Some hold-outs may mourn - in fact are mourning - the loss of the Kenney's name and miss its sign with the notorious drooping "n," but this new incarnation of an established city business hits it out of the park.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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