DAY 3: Wadsworth Atheneum, Riverfront Plaza and the Connecticut Convention Center
This morning, we're headed to Hartford's premier cultural institution, the Wadsworth Atheneum, home to one of America's foremost art collections. Named after the Athenaeum in Rome, the Wadsworth dates to 1842 and is the nation's oldest public art museum. Its permanent collection of fine and decorative arts is particularly strong in Hudson River School landscapes, Old Masters, American furniture, French and American Impressionist paintings, European art of the Baroque era, German and French porcelain and African-American works. The Wadsworth has also gained a stellar reputation for mounting special exhibitions.
For a late lunch, change gears from high brow to good beer at the City Steam Brewery, located adjacent to the Residence Inn. You'll know you're in the right place when you spy a restaurant with five large fermenting tanks in the front window. Yes, the beer is made on the premises, and there are often more than a dozen brews from which to choose. Casual, reliable lunch fare includes tasty sandwiches such as cheddar chicken, stone-baked pizzas and omelets all day.
There's one more stroll to enjoy before bidding Hartford adieu. Located on Columbus Boulevard on the east side of the city, Riverfront Plaza represents the city's successful restoration of public access to the Connecticut River. This body of water has played an important role in the city's development since the first European settlers arrived on its banks in 1635. The insurance industry that still dominates Hartford's business scene arose in 1810 to provide protection for Connecticut River shipping interests. Now, thanks to the efforts of the non-profit group Riverfront Recapture, Riverfront Plaza is a scenic destination that is often home to weekend outdoor festivals and performances. You can meander across the river on foot for spectacular views. The Founders Bridge Promenade serves as a pedestrian link between Hartford and East Hartford. Notice the sculptures? They are part of the Lincoln Financial Sculpture Walk: a series of 16 works of art that honor Abraham Lincoln's life and legacy. In the summer months, Riverfront Plaza also serves as the launch pad for Hartford Belle and Lady Katharine boat cruise, which takes passengers on leisurely, sightseeing cruises of the Connecticut River. Cocktail, dining and themed cruises are also available on select dates.
The Connecticut Convention Center, which anchors Hartford's riverfront development, draws large, diverse groups to town for all sorts of shows and conventions. The Connecticut Science Center, with its unmistakable "flying carpet" roof, has also become a major downtown attraction for visiting families, and the Liquid Lounge events the museum hosts periodically are the hottest grown-up parties in the city.
Since it's your last night in town, you might as well go out with a bang—a fiery, spicy one. Black-Eyed Sally's Bar-B-Que & Blues is Hartford's premiere location for both mouthwatering barbecue and live blues. Sally's slow-smoked ribs are a must, but opt for the half-rack so you can sample the jambalaya as well. And if you think the food is hot, wait until the band arrives or the jam session.
Hartford may always be regarded as "that city between New York and Boston," but once you've spent some quality time in this likable little capital, you'll think of it as much more than a pit stop.