Friday Happy Hour Review: McLadden’s Irish Publick House (Restaurant & Pub)

Hot … Or Not?! 
Can McLadden’s Hold Its Own Against The Heat of Tough
Competition In West Hartford?

March 20, 2019

Last Friday, it seemed fitting that I should do a Friday Happy Hour Review of an Irish pub (short for publick house) for the St. Patrick’s Day weekend, so I opted to check out McLadden’s in West Hartford (one of three McLadden’s with Simsbury and Northampton, MA being the other two). Having seen their Happy Hour menu online, I admit going in with somewhat low expectations. However, the fact they also bill themselves as a whiskey bar gave me some hope. In the end, my experience was about as mixed as my emotions going in.

THE VIBE:

Welcome To The Dark Side

Exterior of McLadden’s Irish Publick House
37 LaSalle Road, West Hartford, CT


McLadden’s announces its presence with stylized lettering on a dark wood background, several large windows along the sidewalk and a bright red door. With all the windows, I expected it to a bit lighter inside, but I found the opposite. Inside, it was almost oppressively dark at first glance. That was partially due to all the dark wood everywhere, including the bar, shelves, tables, etc. The long bar occupied the wall to my right with bar tables to the left. There was a surprising amount of room between the tables and the far. I suppose it makes a bit easier to maneuver when the place is crowded, but it seemed a little too open with the small number of folks there when I arrived a little before 4 pm.

Now, while dark wood is a staple of the pub image, this lacked that warm, cozy feeling of a place where one goes to relax and share some cheer, like my favorite pub (Penny Lane) back in Virginia where a low-beamed ceiling, light paint to offset the darkness of the wood, and lots of pictures and memorabilia on the walls created a warm, inviting coziness. At McLadden’s, it felt dark … and a bit cold. It’s all subjective, of course, but that was the vibe I got.

Additionally, there were no purse hooks under the bar, which I find inexcusable.

Needless to say, I was not particularly enthralled with their Happy Hour vibe.

SCORING:
THE VIBE
(ATMOSPHERE –
Maximum of 20 Pts.)
Style _4_(1-5)
Layout _4_(1-5) 
• Cleanliness _5_ (1-5)
Mood _3_ (1-5)
TOTAL VIBE SCORE _16_

THE HEARTBEAT:

Service Has A Strong Pulse

Rachel
My bartender at McLadden’s


Good service is essential to the life of a bar. It can overcome a host of other shortcomings, as in this case. When I arrived, it was moderately busy with groups at opposite ends of the bar and several people popping in to pick up food for to-go orders. The lone bartender, Rachel, was quite busy. She still greeted me fairly quickly, got me my drink and was attentive when I wanted to ask a question or order something. Even as it got busier, she handled it in stride with a very pleasant disposition. This was the one true bright spot of my visit.

Thanks to Rachel, the Heartbeat was strong enough to rate a perfect score.

SCORING:
THE HEARTBEAT (SERVICE –

Maximum of 20 Pts.)
Attitude _5_(1-5)
Attentive/Responsive _5_(1-5)
Helpfulness _5_(1-5)
Efficiency _5_(1-5)
TOTAL HEARTBEAT SCORE _20_

THE SIPS:

At Least The Prices Are Competitive

McLadden’s Happy Hour Cocktail Menu

I guess this could fall under the heading of “damning with faith praise.” This is not to say that the four $5 mixed drinks on McLadden’s Happy Hour menu are bad. Rather, it is more about the lack of inventiveness and variety which leaves them behind in competing with the other Happy Hours in West Hartford. At least the Emerald Manhattan, which I tried, uses Irish Whiskey instead of rye. But the Moscow Mule, for instance, could have been so much more, especially for Saint Patrick’s Day weekend. They could have renamed it the Dublin or Galway Mule and used Black Bush or Jameson Black Barrel in place of vodka for a little variety.

In any event, my Emerald Manhattan was good. However, since the other drinks did not offer anything to get excited about, I decided to see how McLadden’s fared as a whiskey bar. Now, I had reviewed the extensive list of their whiskey offerings online, so I was prepared to check them out. Since I was in the midst of extensive Irish Whiskey tastings for my social media outlets and my You Tube channel, I thought this would be a good opportunity to sample an Irish Whiskey I hadn’t tried before, like Knappogue 12-Year. Unfortunately, they were out of it, so I tried the Jameson Black Barrel instead, which convinced me not to buy a bottle of it.

So, while trying the Jameson Black Barrel ended up saving me money in the future, the overall impression was not good. How does an Irish Publick House “whiskey bar” run out of an Irish Whiskey it’s supposed to carry, especially on the Friday before Saint Patrick’s Day? Sure, anybody can run out of anything for a variety of reasons beyond their control. But, seriously, running out of an Irish Whiskey before the celebrations begin is not a good start.

As a final note, I overheard the staff discussing all the kegs they had stocked, especially Guinness, for the weekend. Judging by the number of taps, each marked for a different beer, McLadden’s is first and foremost an imported and craft beer bar. So, if beer is your thing, you should probably check them out.

All in all, it wouldn’t be my first (or second or third) choice for Happy Hour cocktails in West Hartford.

SCORING:
THE SIPS

(DRINKS –
Maximum of 20 Pts.)
Selection _3_(1-5) 
Unique Options _1_(1-5)
• Pricing _5_(1-5)
Quality/Taste _5_(1-5)
TOTAL SIPS SCORE _15_

THE BITES:

Is That All There Is?

McLadden’s Happy Hour Food Menu

Like the song made popular by Peggy Lee, my first look at the Happy Hour food menu online left me asking, “Is that all there is?” Sure, there were a number of choices, like warm chips, fried pickles, pretzel bites and a few other items, but nothing really comparable to the other Happy Hours in West Hartford, which offer calamari, tacos, oysters and lots more on their menus. McLadden’s could at least put chicken wings on the menu. I did try the warm chips, which were nice and crunchy, but hardly exciting, especially if you’re billing yourself as a gastropub

As with the Sips, it wouldn’t be my first (or second or third) choice for a Happy Hour Bites in West Hartford.

SCORING:
THE BITES
(FOOD –

Maximum of 20 Pts.)
Selection _2_(1-5)
Unique Options _1_(1-5)
Pricing _5_(1-5)
Quality/Taste _5_(1-5)
TOTAL BITES SCORE _13_

OVERALL IMPRESSION:

McLadden’s Takes A Lukewarm Approach 
To Being Competitive Among
West Hartford Happy Hours

Frankly, this is not the kind of review I enjoy doing. I much prefer it when a Happy Hour earns a top review like each of the other bars I’ve visited so far in West Hartford have done. In fact, they have continually raised the bar for what it means to be a Top Shelf place for Happy Hour. At the same time, I find that my standards for evaluating each Happy Hour have also become stricter. 

For my money (and I do spend my own money to do these reviews), if you’re looking for a Happy Hour with interesting cocktails and an impressive appetizer selection, McLadden’s would not be in my top 10 of recommended places to go. On the other hand, if you’re primarily a beer aficionado and just want some munchy type snacks, it would probably suit you just fine.

TOTAL SCORE _63_ 
RESULT

TOP SHELF (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) ___ (72-80) 
GOOD CHOICE (WELL RECOMMENDED) ___ (64-71) 
• DECENT (STANDARD) _X_ (52-63) 
AVERAGE (LAST RESORT) ___ (48-51)
AVOID (THE BOTTOM) ___ (<48) 

If you’d like to check out McLadden’s in West Hartford and judge for yourself, you can visit their website for hours and more information!

As always, I welcome your comments about this review or any of my blog posts, especially your own experiences at Happy Hours I have reviewed and suggestions about which Happy Hours I should check out next.

Friday Happy Hour Review: Division West Bistro & Bar

Raising the Bar or Falling Flat
in a Competitive Market?

Division West Bistro & Bar

Having reviewed a number of Friday Happy Hours in West Hartford, I can tell you that the bar has already been set pretty high. With each new review, the challenge becomes tougher to make a unique impression that makes a place standout. This past Friday, Division West Bistro & Bar ended up under The Dark Diva’s microscope. Plus, Division West has the distinction of being the first to have their Friday Happy Hour judged with my new scoring system. Read on to see how they fared.

“A Community Gathering Place …”

Taking its name from the original 1670’s designation for what is now West

Your Review Crew: (L to R) my son’s girlfriend, my son and me

Hartford … “West Division of Hartford,” Division West was created by owners Jimi Brahimi (Executive Chef) and Ermal Caushi (General Manager) as “a community gathering place” where all could “feel comfortable and cared for …” That’s what we were about to test. I say we, because my son and his girlfriend were visiting from Florida and had picked Division West (from a list of links I had sent them) as the place they wanted to “gather with me” for one of my reviews.

THE VIBE:
Contemporary, Cool & “Mostly” Comfortable

I arrived first and ordered a drink while waiting for my son and his girlfriend to arrive. I got there around 4, so there was still daylight which spilled into the bar thanks to all the glass in front. There was also glass separating the bar from the main dining area. This made it a feel a bit cozy without being confining. The bar stools were comfortable and had backs, which I find essential (although some places inexplicably have stools without backs). The bar itself is quite long with seating on 2 sides of an “L.” Overall, it had a coolly sophisticated contemporary vibe that was also quite welcoming. The welcoming extended to include a fairly large crowd as Happy Hour progressed. The crowd was friendly and genial. In fact, we had a nice conversation with a couple sitting next to us at the bar.

Those were the good points. On the slightly negative side, the bar stools were crammed in a bit tight. As the bar filled up, we were lucky that a group of ladies beside us pulled their stools in a semi-circle, which opened up a little more space for us. Also, there were no purse hooks underneath the bar on our side. They should be mandatory!

SCORING: THE VIBE (ATMOSPHERE – Maximum of 20 Pts.)
• Style _5_ (1-5)
• Layout _4_ (1-5) (Minus 1 point for crowded bar stools and no purse hooks)
• Cleanliness _5_ (1-5)
• Mood _5_ (1-5)
TOTAL VIBE SCORE _19_

THE HEARTBEAT:
Upbeat, Positive & Almost Steady

Division West HH Bartenders: Brianna, Deanna, Jackie, Jose & George (It was noisy, so some of the names or spellings may be off)

For those of you who are familiar with my reviews, you know that service is one area that I focus on heavily. To me, it is the heartbeat of any Happy Hour and the key to making a bar attractive to customers. In general, there was a lot to like with the service at Division West. José was my bartender when I first arrived. He was very quick to greet me, happy to answer my questions about the Spicy Margarita and instantly responsive in offering to leave out the sour mix when he saw my expression. (The sour mix adds nothing, in my opinion, while giving me heartburn!)

After my son and his girlfriend arrived, the bartenders switched around, but drinks were quick and well made. The only problem occurred when our first food order (Steak Tacos) was delivered from the kitchen. At the time they were delivered, two of the bartenders were waiting on tables and one was handling service bar (which was at the opposite end of the bar from where we were sitting). This meant that it took what all three of us considered an unacceptable amount time to attract the attention of the one bartender so that we could get napkins, extra plates (we were sharing) and silverware.
*(This also serves to illustrate one of my pet peeves with having servers bring bar food orders directly from the kitchen to the bar guests. Having the bartenders deliver the food to guests at the bar means they are right there to make sure the order was prepared right, and anything overlooked or needed is immediately addressed right then.)

Aside from this skip in the heartbeat, service picked right back up and was excellent to the end! I would have deducted more for the time lag, but it felt like this was an aberration and that it was a management fault by not allocating staff appropriately at the time – which is problematic because you can’t always anticipate sudden surges in the crowd. If it happens when I’m reviewing the next time, it will cost more points because then it would no longer be an isolated incident.

However, overall it was a friendly, attentive group of bartenders!

SCORING: THE HEARTBEAT (SERVICE – Maximum of 20 Pts.)
• Attitude _5_ (1-5)
• Attentive/Responsive _3_ (1-5) (Minus 2 points for wait time for napkins, plates, etc.)
• Helpfulness _5_ (1-5)
• Efficiency _5_ (1-5)
TOTAL HEARTBEAT SCORE _18_

THE SIPS:
Intoxicating, Intriguing and Impressively Priced

The Happy Hour Drink Menu

The drinks portion of the Division West Happy Hour Menu offered lots of

Cold Snap & Effen Cucumber Vodka Collins

choices for beer, wine and interesting $5 specialty cocktails. My son opted for the Cold Snap Sam Adams seasonal beer, while his girlfriend and I took checked out the mixed drinks. First, she tried the Effen Cucumber Vodka Collins, which she said was good, but not her favorite. For her second, she ordered a Moscow Mule, which definitely got a thumbs up.

Spicy Margarita

As for me, I started with a Spicy Margarita featuring Teano Jalapeno Tequila and lime juice without any sour mix. It was quite good and hot enough to satisfy my taste without overkill. For my next drink, I opted to try their Negroni.

Negroni

It was the first time I had seen this particular drink on anybody’s Happy Hour list because it’s not one that typically comes to mind. Made with Campari (a very bitter Italian liqueur), gin, sweet vermouth rosso, and orange peel, it proved to be a very refreshing cocktail in which the bitterness of the Campari was made pleasantly palatable by the gin, vermouth and orange peel.

Overall, we were “happy” with all aspects of our Happy Hour drinks!

SCORING: THE SIPS (DRINKS – Maximum of 20 Pts.)
• Selection _5_ (1-5)
• Unique Options _5_ (1-5)
• Pricing _5_ (1-5)
• Quality/Taste _5_ (1-5)
TOTAL SIPS SCORE _20_

THE BITES:
Tempting, Tasty and Totally Affordable

The Happy Hour Food Menu

Steak Tacos

The food part of the Division West Happy Hour Menu easily kept pace with the drink portion for a wide variety of distinctive and familiar offerings at very affordable prices to satisfy just about any taste. We started with the $5 Steak Tacos, which came 2 to an order. Consisting of soft and light corn tortillas filled with delicious bits of steak, tomato salsa, onion and lettuce, the tacos disappeared rather quickly.

We followed up with the $5 Calamari,

Calamari, Cold Snap & Moscow Mule

which came with cherry peppers and roasted pepper aioli. As something of a Calamari connoisseur, I truly appreciate Calamari that’s lightly breaded and not overcooked. Division West’s was perfect.

Overall, the food was excellent!

SCORING: THE BITES (FOOD – Maximum of 20 Pts.)
• Selection _5_ (1-5)
• Unique Options _5_ (1-5)
• Pricing _5_ (1-5)
• Quality/Taste _5_ (1-5)
TOTAL SIPS SCORE _20_

OVERALL IMPRESSION:
The Bar For Happy Hour in West Hartford
Has Just Been Raised

While there were a few opportunities for improvement, because no place is absolutely perfect, Division West’s Friday Happy Hour delivered on making us “feel comfortable and cared for.” It’s easy to understand why it’s a popular spot.

TOTAL SCORE _77_
RESULT
• TOP SHELF (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) _X_ (72-80) (Equates to Uniquely Recommended)
• GOOD CHOICE (WELL RECOMMENDED) ___ (64-71) (Equates to Recommended W/O Reservations)
• DECENT (STANDARD) ___ (52-63) (Equates to Recommended W/Caveats)
• AVERAGE (LAST RESORT) ___ (48-51) (NEW RATING)
• AVOID (THE BOTTOM) ___ (<48) (Equates to Not Recommended)

Visit their website for more info, then check them out for yourself

Tell them The Dark Diva sent you!

New Friday Happy Hour Review Scoring System

After all the bar reviews of 2018, I feel like there needs to be some refinement of how I rate each Happy Hour. It has occurred to me that the four existing categories — Uniquely Recommended, Highly Recommended, Recommended W/ Caveats and Not Recommended –need to be reworked based on a scoring system. Of course, it’s a work in progress so I will be phasing in the new system side-by-side with the old system for the next few months, especially for fairness in comparisons, since many of the bars are in areas where their competition has already been reviewed by me under the original system.

The main reasons for this change are: (1) to better identify where a particular bar/happy hour excels or falls short so you can better decide on which ones to try first, and (2) to help bar owners/managers understand what could be improved and what is actually working well (from a consumer perspective).

Even as the categories and numerical measurements may change as I further refine my rating system, there are several points to keep in mind whether you are reading my reviews from a consumer perspective or an owner/manager/bartender perspective:

• Perception is a reality for a consumer, and I do my reviews primarily as a consumer who happens to enjoy mixed drinks.

• Currently, my reviews are based on my experience at a certain time on one Friday night, so your experience may vary more than typical. Once, I start going back to places for a second review, there will be a better baseline for determining consistency of the experience.

• My goal is not to make news with bad reviews. My goal is to honestly review a Friday Happy Hour and let people know if I think it’s worth their time and why. Undeservedly bad or good reviews could destroy my credibility, so my key focus is to give my unbiased opinions based on actual experience.

NEW SCORESHEET

A. THE VIBE (ATMOSPHERE – Maximum of 20 Pts.)

(Is the environment inviting, comfortable, clean, easy to navigate, etc.?)

• Style __ (1-5)
• Layout __ (1-5)
• Cleanliness __ (1-5)
• Mood __ (1-5)

B. THE HEARTBEAT (SERVICE – Maximum of 20 Pts.)

(Is the service prompt, efficient, accommodating and pleasant?)

• Attitude __ (1-5)
• Attentive/Responsive __ (1-5)
• Helpfulness __ (1-5)
• Efficiency __ (1-5)

C. THE SIPS (DRINKS – Maximum of 20 Pts.)

(Are there interesting and tasty choices at a good price?)

• Selection __ (1-5)
• Unique Options __ (1-5)
• Pricing __ (1-5)
• Quality/Taste __ (1-5)

D. THE BITES (FOOD – Maximum of 20 Pts.)

(Are there unique options for a variety of tastes at a reasonable price?)

• Selection __ (1-5)
• Unique Options __ (1-5)
• Pricing __ (1-5)
• Quality/Taste __ (1-5)

E. Overall Impressions

(Summation of points rating along with a plus or minus based on any good or bad things encountered not otherwise rated, Overall Recommendation and Summation)

TOTAL SCORE ___
PLUS/MINUS ___
RESULT
• TOP SHELF (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) ___ (72-80) (OLD Uniquely Recommended)
• GOOD CHOICE (WELL RECOMMENDED) ___ (64-71) (OLD Recommended W/O Reservations)
• DECENT (STANDARD) ___ (52-63) (OLD Recommended W/Caveats)
• AVERAGE (LAST RESORT) ___ (48-51) (NEW RATING)
• AVOID (THE BOTTOM) ___ (<48) (OLD Not Recommended)

Miss Bri Is On Christmas Vacation

December 11, 2018

Thanks for checking in, but yours truly is taking some time off from blogging for the holidays. I’ll still be posting new drink ideas and any hot news updates I run across through the season on my Facebook page, my Twitter account and my Instagram. But come the new year, I’ll be back prowling the Friday Happy Hours and local New England craft distillers to bring you more reviews and news you can drink to! In the meantime, I wish you and your families a very liquid (wink), happy and safe holiday season!!!

Friday Happy Hour Review: When It Comes To Popping The Cork On Happy Hour, Vinted in West Hartford Takes It Seriously

December 4, 2018

Well, after taking the past 4 Fridays off from the Happy Hour circuit to focus on the Holiday Social & Survival Guide for my blog, I got back into my reviewer mode with a visit to Vinted, a wine bar and kitchen, in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square. It came highly recommended from a variety of sources, so I was anxious to see if it would live up to its reputation.

Good Impressions Always Start With A Smile

As regular followers of this blog know, I put a lot of emphasis on the attitude of the bar staff when it comes to my Happy Hour Reviews. And that’s only natural since it’s hard to enjoy a “Happy” Hour when you’re being served by grumpy people. Fortunately, friendly service has been a pleasantly consistent factor in almost all of my Happy Hour visits to this point … and Vinted was no exception.

Victoria, the bartender who took care of me at Vinted, smiled throughout the evening and was a delight!

As I walked in, I was greeted by a smiling hostess who informed me that I could partake of Happy Hour anywhere in the restaurant (a nice touch more places should adopt). Opting for a seat at one of the two bars, I was quickly welcomed by Victoria, the bartender, with menus and a smile. After giving me a few moments to peruse the menu, she returned to take my order.\

When I inquired about special Happy Hour mixed drinks beyond the standard cocktails for $5 (using the specifically listed Happy Hour liquors), she immediately said that she could use these liquors to make a range of more involved drinks, such as a Margarita or Cosmo, for a $2 up charge. Those were the words I wanted to hear! Throughout my time there, Victoria was attentive to my needs and genuinely made me feel like she (and Vinted) appreciated my choosing Vinted for Happy Hour. From the first smile on, Vinted scored perfect marks for service (and attitude)!

Simply Put, It’s All About The Drinks

It kind of goes without saying that the drink menu (and the bartender’s skill at mixing the drinks) can make or break a Happy Hour. Sadly, not every place gets the message as I have discovered. Thankfully, Vinted gets it with quality liquor brands on Happy Hour and the ability to upgrade your drink selection beyond the very basic cocktails. (I should note, of course, that Vinted is primarily a wine bar with an extensive collection. Yet, while I do love good wine, my focus as a mixologist is mixed drinks.)

A Perfect Margarita!

For my first drink, I asked Victoria to make a Margarita ($5 + $2 Upcharge) for me using real lime juice instead of the popular sour mix so many places use. I was thrilled, however, when she informed me that they never use the mix for their Margaritas! That scored points with me right away! What Victoria delivered was an absolute perfect Margarita – refreshing with the tartness of lime and just the ideal touch of sweetness to complement the smooth warmth of the Aztec Azul Silver Tequila (a brand I had not tried before).

An excellent Gin & Tonic!

After savoring every drop of the Margarita, I ordered a Gin & Tonic ($5) to sample the Broker’s Gin. A traditional London Dry Gin done very well, Broker’s embraces the juniper flavor typical of this gin type but with a smoother, more subtle approach that made my Gin & Tonic quite enjoyable,

Apparently, Vinted understands very well that what goes in the glass has a direct correlation to the degree of happiness in Happy Hour.

Not All The Joys of Happy Hour Come From A Glass

Vinted has a fairly extensive Happy Hour Menu with something for everyone!

While it might sound like heresy coming from a mixologist, another major component of Happy Hour enjoyment for many of us is the opportunity to sample a restaurant’s cuisine as well as its attention to the finer details of food preparation. In many instances, I have discovered extraordinary delights, such as the Pork Ribs ($8) on Vinted’s Happy Hour Menu. On the menu, it simply reads Pork Ribs and then underneath … Hot & Sour Sauce/Mango/Lime/Mint.

What actually arrived was nothing short of heaven on a board – four meaty ribs generously coated with the hot & sour sauce, pieces of mango and mint leaves. Victoria advised squirting the lime on the ribs to get the full enjoyment of the sauce, which I did. Fall off the bone tender with just the right amount of surface crunch, these ribs were spicy hot, satisfyingly savory and absolutely fabulous.

Vinted just kept racking up points!

Ambiance Can Make Any Place Feel Inviting … Or Not

The final piece to determining if a Happy Hour stands out as welcoming or as something to be avoided is the overall atmosphere. Admittedly, I have walked into some places and immediately walked right back out because it was obviously not a place I’d feel comfortable. On the other hand, some aspects of ambiance can only be judged while you’re sitting at the bar. Beyond the attitude of the bartender and the quality of the drinks and food, the style of the bar, its cleanliness level and the overall vibes from the other folks around you can make a bar feel very comfortable or ruin your whole experience.

Again, Vinted has created a very inviting space that’s warm with a modern vibe and just cozy enough to allow for conversation without being confining. While there I happened to meet a wine rep, Alli, and we spent most of my visit chatting about the business and occasionally chatting with Victoria.

Check off ambiance as another winner for Vinted.

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

As you may have guessed, Vinted has earned my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***!!! And while many Happy Hours in West Hartford have also earned this distinction, each one has its own unique personality that makes it worth experiencing. Vinted distinguishes itself on a number of levels which combine to create a Happy Hour that stands on its own for superior service, drinks, food, and ambiance.

Learn more about Vinted on their web site at vinted.com then go see Victoria this coming Friday for Happy Hour and tell her The Dark Diva sent you!

The Dark Diva’s Holiday Social & Survival Guide Part 3: Gifts For Drink Lovers Made Easy, Fun & Unique

November 20, 2018

So now we’ve reached the final part of our Holiday Social & Survival Guide with tips on unique gift ideas, including custom cocktails, for your favorite drink lovers, from those who just appreciate drinks and alcohols with new and intriguing flavors to those with discriminating taste for distilling excellence to serious mixologists.

Share The Joy (literally):
Take Them Out To A Craft Distillery
Or A Top Happy Hour

Kelly, our tour & spirit guide at Hartford Flavor Company in Hartford describing the various liqueurs we are about to sample!

What better gift to give than one you can share like a tasting at a local craft distillery or a top reviewed Happy Hour. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t love this gift. It’s thoughtful, fun and can be fairly reasonable, especially a distillery tasting.

Craft Distillery Tours & Tastings

The Tasting Bar of Wild Moon(R) Liqueurs that’s part of the tour at Hartford Flavor Company.

If you’re in Connecticut, there are a number of craft distillers across the state, although not all offer tours and/or tastings. You can find a list of craft distillers here with links to more information. Create a nice, formal invitation for the recipient(s) to be your guest(s) for a tour & tasting, as your Christmas gift to them, on a specific date over the holidays (or after).

Melissa, our bartender/spirit guide, pours samples for guests at the Tasting Bar of Waypoint Spirits in Bloomfield, CT!

I have visited and reviewed two of these craft distillers in the greater Hartford area, which I can personally recommend: Hartford Flavor Company in Hartford and Waypoint Spirits in Bloomfield. Both offer affordable Saturday and Sunday afternoon tours

Connor was our enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide at Waypoint Spirits.

and tastings, although hours may vary during the holidays. (Click on their respective names to visit their web sites for details and contact information.) It’s a great way to get acquainted with the distiller’s art and try something new. The guides do a great job of engaging guests and conveying a lot of information in an entertaining manner.

Top Reviewed Happy Hours

Grant’s Flirtini

Check through local reviews online (such as Miss Bri’s Fresh & Twisted Blog) to find fresh, interesting Happy Hours, and treat special friends to a visit during the holidays. You’ll find some recommendations for Happy Hours to visit in the greater Hartford area listed here with links to my reviews. Going out for Happy Hour at some place new can be a really nice treat for everyone.

Click on the name to read my review, which also includes a link to the location’s web site:

Bloomfield

The Republic Gastropub

Manchester

Bistro On Main
Plaza Azteca

South Windsor

Burtons Bar & Grill
Mill On The River
Red Heat Tavern
Ted’s Montana Grill

West Hartford

Blue Elephant Trail
Grant’s Restaurant & Bar
Max’s Oyster Bar
Zohara Mediterranean Kitchen

 

Pour On The Thoughtfulness:
Give Them Craft Distilled Liquors & Liqueurs
As Well As Distinctive Barware

 

Want to wrap up your Christmas shopping with a twist? Then surprise your
favorite drink lover with something different – a bottle of liquid goodness from a local craft distiller. Here are just a few suggestions from craft distillers in the greater Hartford area.

The Wild Moon® Liqueurs Variety Pack

Featuring 100ml bottles of six different Wild Moon® liqueurs (Lime, Cucumber, Lavender, Rose, Birch and Chai Spice), this is a great introduction to these all-natural, gluten-free spirits that are crafted in Hartford by the Hartford Flavor Company. The variety pack and a range of other Hartford Flavor Company/Wild Moon® themed products (barware, shirts and more) are available at the Hartford Flavor Company. Visit their web site here for more details.

Waypoint Spirits

Waypoint Spirits Craft Distilled Honey Habanero Flavored Whiskey

Show your friends that you are a thoughtful and perceptive person with excellent tastes by giving them one of Waypoint Spirits’ locally crafted liquors (distilled in Bloomfield), such as Labrador Noon Vodka (a very smooth, premium-style vodka), Wintonbury Gin (botanically infused, more in the mold of Hendrick’s with less juniper flavor), and Small Batch Honey Habanero Flavored Whiskey (the spice is right for those who like a little firewater). Visit their web site here for details.

Barware

A set of 4 initialed or monogrammed Old-Fashioned or On-The-Rocks glasses makes a beautifully distinctive and highly appreciated gift for any mixologists. A bar mat for mixing, a good quality shaker and durable bar tools also make nice gifts for your favorite mixologist. You can find them online at Amazon and Bar & Vine as well as locally at places as diverse as Williams Sonoma and Target.

Give A Gift That Is Totally Unique:
Their Own Custom-Crafted Cocktail Recipe
From The Dark Diva

Whether you want a truly one-of-a-kind gift for someone very special or a perfectly themed cocktail to take a special holiday event to the next level, nothing compares to the cocktail crafting wizardry and backstory creativity of The Dark Diva.

Here’s what a recent client said of the three custom-crafted cocktails I created for an event she planned:

“I wanted to let you know that last night was a great success especially with the signature cocktails! The ranks were split between the Velvet Voodoo Martini (… my favorite) and the Purple Magic Martini. I think the Autumn Paradise would have done better but for the literal heat wave that hit us yesterday afternoon (!) which made it hard to get in the groove for fall LOL …”

And her guests concurred:

“What a wonderfully fun evening!  How clever to have a signature cocktail tasting.  That Velvet Voodoo Martini was so sweet and smooth – I wanted to slip into a bathtub full of it!”

“Purple Magic Martini – this was simply scrumptious! Fruity without being too sweet, and I like sweet!

“Autumn Paradise Martini – As someone who hates Autumn, I wasn’t even going to try this one between the pumpkin and butterscotch, BUT, the flavors blended well, and it truly was a treat, not a trick!”

Created for a party of stressed out executive assistants, these colorfully named custom-crafted cocktails also included a short story with them. (I don’t share the recipe specifics publicly, however, since they now belong to the client which assures they will remain unique.)

The Velvet Voodoo Martini
(AKA The Karma’s A Bitch Martini)

Sometimes when you’re at the end of your rope, all you want to do is make a noose out of it and hang your boss. For anyone who is overworked and underappreciated by a ridiculously demanding boss, The Velvet Voodoo Martini is made with dark magic (Irish spirits, exotic spices and sneakily irresistible flavors) that will give you sweet velvet dreams of the moment when you just walk out and leave your boss completely helpless. And, just maybe, your boss will have the same dream. If it doesn’t scare him/her to death, it should at least scare them into showing more appreciation for all you do. (Just for fun, look up poisons on Google frequently so your boss can see it. Later, tell him/her you have to meet the exterminator at your house about poisoning some rats and ask if he/she wants you to pick up lunch for them – be very insistent. That should give them pause. Haha!)

The Diva’s Purple Magic Martini
(AKA “Beam Me Up Scotty,
There’s No Intelligent Life down Here!” Martini)

This concoction is made for those days when everyone you have deal with is an ill-tempered, impatient moron who couldn’t find their butt with both hands and directions. No matter how simply and patiently you try to explain to them that what they want is not what they need, not reasonable or just simply impossible, they have all the comprehension of a two-year-old, so they pitch a fit. While you can’t do what you feel like doing to them (unless you have lots of money, access to the dark web to hire a hitman, and an ironclad alibi), you can make them all magically disappear for a while with this deliciously sweet escape that will let you boldly go where no where no boss can find you!

The Autumn Paradise Martini
(AKA “The Leaf Me Alone, I’m Having A Moment” Martini)

Like a walk through the woods on a glorious autumn afternoon, with the fresh crispness of a cool fall breeze as the bright sunshine brings nature’s spectacular palette of scarlet, gold, yellow, green and rust to vivid life, this is a moment to savor in a New England paradise. No demanding bosses. No uncooperative co-workers. No screaming kids. No annoying spouse. Now that moment is yours in a glass with The Autumn Paradise Martini. Just forget everything and chill with every sip, after warning everyone that they might encounter the Grim Reaper if they disturb your moment (or moments) in Autumn Paradise!

Learn more about my custom-crafted cocktails for events and gifts here. You can also email me: MissBri@thedarkdivarules.com.

Act now! Don’t wait, because I expect to get booked out fast!

Hopefully, you’ve found some ideas here that will make your holiday gift-giving experience easy and fun!

Hope you have a wonderfully enjoyable and safe holiday season!

The Dark Diva’s Holiday Social & Survival Guide Part 2: Stocking Your Holiday Bar & Drink Suggestions

November 17, 2018*


*(This post was originally slated to be online yesterday, but I was a bit under the weather. My apologies for the delay.)

Welcome to Part 2 of our Holiday Social & Survival Guide, which covers stocking your bar as well as drink suggestions for entertaining to help you and your guests beter enjoy your Holiday 2018 parties and gatherings.

Two Critical Rules To Celebrate By

Whatever else you do this holiday season, here are some critical rules for a safer and happier holiday.

1) DRINK & SERVE ALCOHOL RESPONSIBLY!

This should be a no-brainer, but almost all of us have violated this rule at some point. The problem arises from continuing to do it just because you got away with it before. Eventually, it’s like playing Russian roulette – somebody’s going to get hurt. Don’t take the risk this holiday!!!

• If you suspect a guest has consumed too much, don’t let them get behind the wheel. Call them a cab, an Uber or have them sleep it off in your spare bedroom or the sofa in the den. (Not only could they end up in an accident or arrested for DUI, but you could be liable as well!)

• When serving punch, don’t make it too strong! Often when alcohol is mixed in a punch, people don’t realize how much they’re drinking.

• Carefully consider your guest list and avoid inviting “problems” if you can.

• Pace yourself! You can’t be a very good host/hostess if you’re wasted!

2) CELEBRATE WITHIN YOUR MEANS!

We all tend to overspend during the holidays and usually end up regretting it later on. So, this year, plan to stay within your budget when stocking your bar and hosting get-togethers. It’s actually easier than you think.

• Instead of a multitude of expensive parties, invite friends, neighbors and co-workers to a single holiday open house with appetizers, snacks and a punch, themed drinks or wine.

Don’t use expensive liquors in making punches. It’s a waste because very few people will ever know the difference.

Avoid offering an open bar unless you’re entertaining a very small group (1 – 3 couples). Otherwise, it becomes an expensive hassle.

• When stocking your holiday bar, think about who you will be entertaining and how much you can really afford to spend. You don’t have to buy the most expensive brands. In most cases, there are more affordable options that will easily fit the need.

How To Stock Your Holiday Bar

First of all, there are as many options for stocking your holiday bar as there are holiday traditions. However, here are some basic guidelines you can follow to get started. Every decently stocked personal bar/liquor cabinet should contain the following:

 Whiskey/Whisky
(Watch my video on this here.)

Bourbon
(Maker’s Mark®)

Scotch
(Johnnie Walker® Black Blended and/or
Glenfiddich® 15-Year Old Highland Single Malt)

Irish Whiskey
(Black Bush®)

Vodka
(Watch my video on this here.)


(Svedka® and/or Ketel One®
 depending on budget and usage)

(Tito’s® if you need gluten-free)

Gin

(Tanqueray® or Bombay Sapphire®)

Basic Liqueurs & More

Irish Cream

Kahlua®

Cognac

Dry Vermouth

Additional Liqueurs
(if available)

All-natural and gluten-free, the following liqueurs are made locally in Hartford, Connecticut, and gaining ever-increasing distribution around the country.

Wild Moon® Lime Liqueur

Wild Moon® Cranberry Liqueur

These alcohols offer a good basis for making a wide variety of popular drinks as well as providing a good flavor where it is especially critical. From this base, you can expand your bar to include rum, tequila, flavored vodkas and various liqueurs as budget and taste allow.

In addition, you will need tonic water, limes or lime juice, and olives. Various fruit juices also come in handy for mixing with the vodka.

***NOTE: I have omitted Tequila and Rum from the basics for stocking your Holiday Bar, because they tend to be more appropriate for spring and summer drinks.  At the same time, if you or friends enjoy Tequila (it’s frequently a liquor of choice for me), then I recommend 1800® Silver as a reasonably-priced, good quality brand. As for Rum, which tends to be more frequently used in seasonal punches and eggnog than in holiday cocktails, I recommend Bacardi® Gold.)

Holiday Drink Tips

Here are some time-saving and enjoyable drink options for various holiday situations.

For a holiday brunch:

• Set up a Bloody Mary bar where guests can make their own drinks with vodka, low-sodium V8, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco® sauce, lime wedges, black pepper and celery stalks.

Mimosas are popular and easy to make with orange juice and champagne, prosecco, or an Asti.

Screwdrivers (OJ and vodka) are easy to make in advance so you can just shake/stir and pour as needed. (I recommend that you mix them at a ratio of 4 or 5 parts OJ to every 1 part of vodka so that no one gets “surprised” by the effects.)

For large parties/open houses:

A red fruit-based punch with vodka or rum
(I typically use Ocean Spray Diet Cran-Mango and Diet Cran-Pineapple in equal parts with a liter of lemon-lime seltzer and Svedka® vodka in the ratio of 4 or 5 parts of non-alcoholic punch mix to 1 part of vodka. The size of your punch bowl will determine how much to make at a time. Also save some of the punch before adding alcohol for anyone who prefers their punch unleaded.)

• Depending on the weather in your area at this time of year, mulled wine or warmed apple cider with brandy can be tasty options.

Small sippers are shot glass sized servings of something smooth and sweet like my Twisted Pilgrim
(Mix equal parts Bailey’s® Pumpkin Spice Irish Cream and Pinnacle® Whipped® Vodka.)*
I suggest that you serve these early and limit the quantity.
*(I have not seen Bailey’s® Pumpkin Spice Irish Cream in my area this year so far. If it’s not available in your area, try mixing a ratio of 1 part Irish Cream with 1/2 part Captain Morgan™ Jack-O-Blast Pumpkin Spiced Rum and 1/2 part Pinnacle® Whipped® Vodka. If you prefer it less sweet, replace the whipped vodka with vanilla vodka.)

• And, of course, there is the traditional eggnog which you can spike in advance with either whiskey (usually bourbon), rum or brandy/cognac. Again, I recommend a ratio of around 4 or 5 parts eggnog to 1 part alcohol if you’re serving guests.

Hopefully, this will help make your holiday entertaining easier and more enjoyable.

Also, look for a unique gift-giving idea in Part 3 of our guide which should be online Tuesday 11/20!

Friday Happy Hour Review: Red Heat Tavern Looks to Fire Up The Local Happy Hour Competition In South Windsor/Manchester

November 6, 2018

***Today is Election Day in the U.S., so please go vote!***

This past Friday, I visited Red Heat Tavern at Evergreen Walk in South Windsor. While aware that it was relatively new, I hadn’t realized they had just opened in June of this year until talking with Manager Taylor O’Neill at the end of my visit. If I had known beforehand, I might have elected to postpone my review. However, based on my experience Friday, they didn’t need a break.

Part of the Burtons Bar & Grill chain , which also has a location in Evergreen Walk, Red Heat Tavern has four other locations (all in neighboring Massachusetts) while positioning itself as a place where “… passion for great food is fueled by fire, flavor and friends.” So, how did they do when the Friday Happy Hour heat was on?

Sparked By Smiles,
Service Was Smokin’

Upon arriving around 4 PM on Friday, the seats at the Red Heat Tavern bar were already starting to fill up. Fortunately, I found a few empty seats at the far end next to the service bar area. (The décor was a somewhat similar to that of The Cook and the Bear in West Hartford – what I call urban rustic. It’s an eclectic mix of modern, industrial and classic BBQ joint all rolled into one that actually works well.) Nikki*, my bartender, was bubbly and enthusiastic during my time there. She easily answered all my questions about the drink and food choices (the Happy Hour menu doesn’t elaborate enough on the offerings —  a point I raised with the manager), cheerfully responded to my request to make my Margarita with lime juice instead of the mix, and made an excellent suggestion for my second drink by recommending the Jim Beam Black Mule.
*(Unfortunately, her shift ended, and she left before I could get a picture or the correct spelling of her name.)

Red Hot Deals,
Icy Cool Drinks

The $5 Happy Hour Margarita at Red Heat Tavern. (Made to my order with lime juice instead of mix.)

A $5 price point for mixed drinks is essentially the popular Happy Hour standard. What makes the price hot or not is what you get for that price. Red Heat Tavern offers Sangrias, Margaritas and Mules that have some telling differences. While I ordered my Margarita with lime juice instead of the mix to avoid heartburn, you can get various flavors of the mix. (My Margarita was a bit tart and could have used either a touch more Triple Sec or some agave, but it grew on me.)

The Jim Beam Black Happy Hour Mule for $5 at Red Heat Tavern. (A surprisingly different and tasty mule.)

The Jim Beam Black Mule, on the other hand, was a totally unexpected pleasure. While I’m normally not a big fan of base bourbon brands like Jim Beam* and Jack Daniels, the Jim Beam Black is extra aged compared to regular Jim Beam (8 years vs. 4 years) which results in a smoother taste that works very well with the sweetness of the Mule to create an intriguing and enjoyable libation.
*(I should, in the interest of full disclosure, note that my typical bourbon of choice – Maker’s Mark, is a small-batch bourbon made by Jim Beam.)

If You Love The Heat,
Order From This Kitchen

Whether you call them bar bites, appetizers or small plates, the food offerings at Happy Hour should serve two purposes. First, they soak up some of the alcohol, so it doesn’t make you too buzzed too quick (assuming you are limiting your intake and not pouring drinks down). Secondly, depending on the offerings, it can be a good (and cheaper) way to test a restaurant’s menu to see if you want to eat a regular meal there.

The Happy Hour Dry-Rubbed Boneless Chicken Wings ($1 each) at Red Heat Tavern. (Nice heat and the meat was tender!)

At Red Heat Tavern, the mesquite-marinated wings are the best example of what they mean by fire and flavor. Priced at $1 each, your wing options consist of bone-in or boneless with a choice of Dry Rubseasoned with 11 herbs and spices, Buffalo, and Sweet Thai. I selected 3 of the boneless Dry Rub wings, which came out with a nice coating of seasoning that was flavorful with a slow-building heat. The slow heat lets you savor it and enjoy it longer versus the immediate fire of a Buffalo-style sauce. The chicken wings themselves were tender and moist, from first bite to last.

Happy Hour Fried Pickles at Red Heat Tavern. (A lot fried pickles for $5, so it’s plenty for 2 people.)

For my second choice, I tried the Fried Pickles for $5 served with a sriracha aioli. As soon as they arrived, I realized that this is an option best suited for two or more people because they do not skimp on the quantity. I ate and ate, but it still looked like I hadn’t even made a dent in the number of fried pickle chips in front of me. These house-made, battered bread and butter pickles were nicely fried for a crispy texture and brought the heat both from being freshly fried and from the batter itself.

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

While I do feel like the Happy Hour menu could use some additions and some better descriptions of the offerings, Manager Taylor O’Neill said they are planning to make some enhancements now that they’re been up and running for a while. However, that discussion really didn’t factor into my evaluation. At this point, based on my experience, I feel the Friday Happy Hour service, drinks and food offerings at Red Heat Tavern worthy of my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***!

Visit the main web site at redheattavern.com for more information, including the full menu, hours, etc. Then drop by this Friday from 3 PM – 6 PM to check out their Happy Hour for yourself and let me know what you think!

Tell them The Dark Diva sent you!

Friday Happy Hour Review: Bistro On Main In Manchester Gives Happy Hour A Delightful French Twist

October 23, 2018

The international part of our Happy Hour Tour continues this week with a review of Bistro On Main in Manchester. As you might infer, it features a French influence. It’s also unique from the standpoint that it’s actually “a social enterprise owned and operated by the Manchester Area Conference of Churches (MACC).” In addition to striving to create a unique guest experience, Bistro on Main also supports MACC Charities through its profits and helps at-risk individuals break the cycle of poverty “through transitional employment and work readiness training.” In fact, its theme is “Eat Good. Do Good.”

We applaud their efforts, but we don’t give anyone a free pass as far our Friday Happy Hour Review is concerned. Fortunately, as you may have gathered from the headline, they didn’t need one!

“Joie de vivre” May Not Be Listed On The Menu,
But It Was Served With Everything We Ordered

The wall behind the bar offers a unique welcome!

While I always hope for a good experience, I honestly have no idea what to expect when I visit a new Friday Happy Hour. Usually, my first impression comes from a quick scan of the environment and the bartender’s initial expression. The two combine to give a pretty accurate read of what the Happy Hour experience will be like. At Bistro on Main, the one thing that consistently came through, from first glance until I left, was what the French call “joie de vivre” or “the joy of living.”

Mary (L) and Amanda (R) lit up the bar with genuine smiles.

Perfectly aligned with my mental image of a bistro, it felt cozy and inviting with a nice wooden bar and open kitchen. That image extended to the radiant smile that Mary (my initial bartender) greeted me with as I sat down at the bar. Later, Amanda took over the bartending duties with just as big of a smile. (Sadly, we live in an increasingly angry world, so I truly appreciate smiling faces, especially when they may be the first smiles I’ve seen all day.)

I spent a good deal of time chatting with Mary about mixology before my friend Suzanne arrived to join me. Mary, and later Amanda, was extremely attentive and took exceptionally good care of us. Executive Chef Ben Dubow even came out and talked with us for bit. The whole time, they all gave the impression that they really liked being there and doing exactly what they were doing. That made Bistro On Main one of the most welcoming establishments I have visited.

A Good Selection Of “L’heura de l’apéro” Drink Deals
Deserves A Toast – “á ta santé!”

It was hot hot in the bar and my Chocolate Martini evaporated before I could take a picture. (I also have some swamp land for sale … haha)

Normally, I would have tacked on my usual toast of “Cheers!” However, that is bad luck in France, where the preferred toast is the informal “á ta santé!” which means “to your health!” And, in reality, that’s what you get when you have a relaxing drink that won’t unduly stress your budget. At Bistro On Main, Happy Hour well drinks are $5 as are select wines and the cocktail du jour, which in our case was a Chocolate Martini (made with New Amsterdam vodka, Crème de Cacao and milk). Of course, it was delicious (c’mon, it’s chocolate!)!

My friend’s Naughty Nurse IPA!

Suzanne and I had one Chocolate Martini each before diverging in our drink choices. She opted for the Naughty Nurse IPA ($5), which she rated highly, and I chose a well bourbon (Four Roses) and water (a 50/50 mix since I planned on having a glass of the Happy Hour red wine as well). Both drinks, as well as my wine, were enjoyable. I would, however, like to see Bistro On Main feature a few more special cocktails for Happy Hour, since they have some very intriguing options on the regular menu. It would be a great opportunity to further display their mixology creativity as well as complement their extraordinary Happy Hour food offerings.

 

“Délicieux plats de bar“ Is French For Delicious Bar Food,
But Rich Flavor Speaks A Universal Language

Escargot & Truffle Fries! YUM!

Under normal circumstances, I look at the drinks as the stars of Happy Hour, although good Happy Hour food is also important. At Bistro On Main, the Happy Hour menu selections were the main attraction! My friend Suzanne and I started off by sharing the $8 Escargot (Roasted snails with garlic herb butter) and the $6 Truffle Fries. Both were simply outstanding. While I had tried snail salad (and liked it) many years ago, this was the first time I had tried Escargot, and it was amazing with an interesting texture and an irresistible flavor. At the same time, the seemingly endless Truffle Fries were light and oh so addicting.

So we were hungry! At least I got a picture of one salmon roll!

Since everything was so good (and as a reviewer I like to be thorough), we tried two more selections from the Happy Hour menu – Salmon Rolls ($8) plus Mussels & Fries ($6). The three Salmon Rolls consisted of pieces of smoked salmon rolled up with arugula, microgreens and a rouille sauce. They disappeared very quickly.

The Mussels & Fries was basically a meal in itself!

The Mussels & Fries came in a large iron skillet with meaty mussels in a rich coconut red curry sauce that was to die for and topped with a huge mound of light, flavorful French fries. Together with the drinks, they provided the perfect accompaniment for spending quality time with a dear friend.

According to their web site, Bistro On Main is committed to using the freshest, highest quality ingredients from local, sustainable sources. From what we ate, I have no reason at all to doubt the veracity of that commitment. Based on my Happy Hour experience, I definitely want to return to Bistro On Main sometime soon for dinner. (As an aside, French bistros are noted for serving their version of comfort food. If this is French comfort food, then all I can say is “Viva la France!”)

***UNIQUEMENT RECOMMANDÉ***

Okay, so pardon my French, literally, but it seemed appropriate as a way of saying that Bistro on Main has easily earned my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***! The atmosphere, service, drink menu and fabulous food, as well as its unique mission, elevate Bistro On Main to a unique level for Friday Happy Hour.

I totally recommend that you visit their web site at bistro-on-main.com to learn more and then check them out this coming Friday for Happy Hour to judge for yourself!

Tell them The Dark Diva sent you!

Friday Happy Hour Review: Grant’s In West Hartford Reigns Supreme In This Bar Exam

October 9, 2018

The Best Bars Know There’s No Lifetime Appointment,
You Have To Make Your Case Every Day

Bartenders Harris (L) and Jackie (R) set an extremely high standard for service!

Really good bars know that success depends on never resting on your reputation. Instead, it has to be earned every day. Apparently, Billy Grant and his managers at Grant’s Restaurant & Bar in West Hartford understand this, starting with the most important keys to their success – the bartenders. As I often repeated in my reviews, your bartenders can make or break a Happy Hour (and the bar). Fortunately, I have consistently encountered good bartenders since starting my reviews. However, Jackie and Harris (my bartenders at Grant’s) took it to an even higher level. And, to be honest, it was all little things done right, which added up to a big impression.

They both greeted as soon as I walked in and saw that I had my choice of seats (it was the very beginning of Happy Hour). It was all smiles and friendly attitude as Jackie took my initial drink and food orders. When I asked Jackie if they put parmesan cheese on their Truffle Fries, she said they did, and I reacted negatively (cheese and I do not get along), so she immediately offered that make it without the parmesan. So, I ordered them that way. (Admittedly, that’s a small thing, but the fact that she said they could leave the parmesan off before I could ask was an astute, very customer-oriented approach which I truly appreciated.)

Later, when Harris was the bartender taking care of me, I asked whether they fried their Calamari lightly or very crispy. Without hesitation, he answered that they could fix them however I wanted. Again, it was answering my real question before I could ask it. I ordered them lightly fried and that’s how they came out.

As a result, I got exactly what I wanted, and I left with a very high opinion of Grant’s that can only come from experience.

Verdict: I give Grant’s a winning judgement for service based on the bartending evidence!

In The Case of Happy Hour Cocktails:
Liberal Selection Rules

As a mixologist, I expect a good Friday Happy Hour to feature a decent selection of interesting cocktails or at least a really good deal on well drinks. Again, Grant’s appears to understand this well with one of the best Happy Hour cocktail selections I’ve encountered to date. It’s telling that there were a number of them I wanted to come back just to try. Sadly, it will be a while since I have so many bars to review and so little time (as well as only one liver).

Grant’s Flirtini

For my first drink, I chose the Grant’s Flirtini (made with Absolut Raspberry, Lime & Cranberry Juice & Prosecco). Quite intriguing, it was an excellent mix of sweet and tart without being overpowering in either direction.

The Lady Pink was an interesting and very refreshing Happy Hour libation!

Needing to sample as many different drink options as possible (yet still drive home safely), I opted for the Lady Pink as my second and final cocktail.  The strawberry basil combination piqued my interest since I tried (and enjoyed) something remotely similar during my visit to Waypoint Spirits craft distillery back in July. This proved to be a different animal (strawberry infused Beefeaters Pink Gin, muddled basil, fresh lemon juice, club soda) that was still very refreshing and a nice departure from the usual cocktail.

Verdict: The case for superior drink selection and quality is supported by evidence that’s very easy to swallow.

In The Case of Happy Hour Food Selection:
Good Taste Prevails

While I have enjoyed some excellent food options at the various Happy Hours I’ve reviewed, Grant’s took it to a new level with everything I love – Oysters, Truffle Fries and lightly fried Calamari. I normally never order more than two food options at Happy Hour, but there were just too many irresistible options on Grant’s menu

I started with three perfectly large and tasty Oysters to go with a huge serving of to-die-for Truffle Fries (no parmesan). I swear that I could have made those my dinner. However, I also have a weakness for good Calamari (which is lightly fried). And Grant’s conspired to assure extra weight gain by making them all exactly as ordered and totally delicious.

Verdict: I submit my empty Calamari plate as reviewer’s exhibit one in a unanimous judgement in Grant’s favor!

In Judging Atmosphere,
Grant’s Hammers Home Its Case Impressively

From the outside, Grant’s patio creates a welcoming vibe, especially in transitional seasons like fall and spring. Inside, the huge bar with the hammered metal top offers a mix of classic elegance and comfortable casualness which appeals to a wide variety of folks. As I said earlier, it was very empty when I arrived, but filled up nicely before I left. I gathered there were a number of regulars (based on interaction with the bartenders) who dropped in, but never got any impression that they were more important than I was.

Grant’s bills itself as a long-time hot spot in downtown West Hartford and I find it hard to argue against that statement,

Verdict: I rule that this is  a really good atmosphere for Friday Happy Hour!

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

It is the non-partisan judgement of this  reviewer that Grant’s Restaurant & Bar shall be awarded ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED*** status as meeting or exceeding all criteria for being an extraordinary Friday Happy Hour destination!

Check them out online here, then visit them and judge for yourself.

Tell them the Dark Diva sent you!

As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions.