For two hours on a rare sunny evening recently, close to 75 members of the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau cruised downtown Hartford in British style, aboard a right-hand drive, open air double-decker bus.
The purpose of the upscale pub crawl was to expose six restaurants to folks who are influential in local group event planning, explains Michael Van Parys, GHCVB president. The food and free-flowing wine and beer helped introduce hoteliers to local restaurants. It was the second year the trip had been offered.
“One of the big selling points of Hartford is the variety of restaurants we have near the convention center,” said Van Parys. “A program like this gets everybody on the same page.” He added that the tour sold out in 20 minutes of being advertised. Attendees paid $20 to be on the tour.
Larry Hangland, founder of Spectrum Printing in East Hartford, said the tour was a good networking opportunity for him. “You get to meet a lot of people you wouldn’t normally see,” he said.
Hot Tomato’s, the second-to-last stop on the tour, was probably the most important because it demonstrated the popular Union Station eatery was still open. “We’re trying to get goodwill back. [This tour] gets us back out there. It’s amazing how many people don’t know we re-opened,” said Michael Picard, general manager.
The restaurant had closed for a while. As Picard pointed out, some people didn’t know it had closed either.
The bus tour kicked off at Morton’s, 30 State House Square, with the crowd packed into its small bar as it sampled menu items and networked. The rolling party then left on a serpentine route to Hook ‘n’ Ladder at 207 Main St., where manager David Blanck and servers came onboard with samplings from its American menu.
At the next stop, The Hartford Club, 46 Prospect St., general manager James Fisher extolled his private club’s historical roots in Hartford and past members such as Mark Twain while servers passed out lobster macaroni and cheese as well as beef Wellington. He also passed out brochures to encourage membership and use of his facility, which was almost shuttered a couple years back before undergoing a revival.
After a unplanned stop to restock the dwindling wine stores at The Society Room on Pratt Street, the bus chugged its way west to Black Eyed Sally’s BBQ & Blues at 350 Asylum St.
Owner James Varano promoted his club’s nightly menu of blues while guests munched on pulled pork and warm cornbread. Varano didn’t look at being on the tour as a way to drive business. “It’s good for Hartford. It spreads the goodwill and shows all the good stuff downtown,” he said before putting a pitch in for his restaurant. “We’re unique. There’s nothing like us around here. We’re glad to show it to potential conventioneers.”
The final stop for the tour was City Steam Brewery, 942 Main St., Hartford, where the crowd continued to sample the beers it had downed on the tour.