With its low self-esteem and high urban blight, Hartford is the ultimate underdog city. Sad City Hartford documents the joys, sorrows and eccentricities of New England's Rising Star.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sad City's Guide To Cruising Hartford

If there is one thing we probably know better than just about anyone, it's cruising around Hartford. Our love of driving around and checking out the city extends to years before Sad City started and has been the source of countless posts on this blog. While we can navigate even the remotest city streets with ease, some aren't as well versed in the streets of Hartford. For those who are looking to get out and explore Hartford we present this handy guide to cruising Hartford. For best results cruise Hartford during a warm sunny day.

Wethersfield Ave is a great road to see the South End. Starting at the South Green and running into Wethersfield, this route will bring you past lots of Hartford landmarks. Where Wethersfield Ave starts at the South Green there is Colt Park and great old houses that are now mostly converted to offices. As hard as it can be to believe, these buildings reinforce the fact that this area had once been home to the wealthy.

Further down is Bulkeley High, it really isn't much to look at but if you happen to be driving by when school gets out you will get slightly delayed. It won't be that bad and it will give you a chance to check out the scenery. Across the street are a bunch of stone apartment buildings. One building next to a bodega is abandoned and features some impressive graffiti.

A little further down there is Club Package, the South End's best package store. There are also a variety of auto parts stores and some decent restaurants. For those who like Indian food Kashmir is a great choice. At the intersection of Airport Road, one can see the Sunoco that we first noticed selling lactose powder. Behind that is La Casona, which was recently an extremely popular club for salsa dancing but we have gotten an unconfirmed tip that it is now closed. Once across Airport one passes Tire Plus Wheels and Costa Del Sol before crossing into Wethersfield. A nice little drive through the South End.

After a tour of the South End, a tour of the North End is in order. You could actually start at the South Side of Wethersfield Ave and drive to the North End of Albany Ave in Bloomfield practically without turning. If you are just knocking these off one at a time, the Keney Tower at the Main St and Albany Ave split is a good place to start this tour. Right at the start you will see nearly completed construction of a fairly large building. We don't know what this building will be. You will also notice the very cool, but abandoned "flat iron" building which we have profiled.

As you drive down Albany a pattern becomes familiar, bodegas and small restaurants at the ground level of stone buildings that are run down, but which clearly once must have been impressive buildings. There are also a lot of churches on Albany Ave, ranging from very small to very large.

There are a lot of stop lights on Albany Ave giving a cruiser ample time to check out the area. There has also been a lot of construction around the area of Albany and Vine lately so that can slow the trip. One can't help but notice the basketball court with a bright yellow cage around it, connected to the now closed Albany Ave police substation.

Toward the end of the trip one passes Golden Krust and Scott's, both excellent Jamaican bakeries. It is clear when one is coming to the end of Albany Ave and Hartford, as the blight is seemingly magically lifted. Once you cross over the small bridge on Albany it's as if you have crossed into another dimension. For an even starker contrast make a left at the three way intersection and then a quick left onto Prospect. Here one will find many large houses including the Governor's Mansion just minutes, yet worlds away from blight.

Or instead if you want to compare the haves and have nots you don't even have to leave town. Just take a left onto Scarborough Street. Scarborough Street is lined with old, impressive mansions and has to be the money street in Hartford. Whenever you think there is  no one wealthy in Hartford, take a drive down Scarborough. There are some seriously impressive mansions. If there is a down side it is that many are far off the street and somewhat difficult to see. To get the best perspective you could always do some urban kayaking down the Hog River.

This is probably the most surprising road on the list and by far the one most likely to send you to Google Maps. Murphy Road is located in the heart of Hartford's industrial zone, it is a small road, to complete the circle around the area you will have to get on Maxim Road and South Meadows. Murphy Road is interesting for the number of unique and varied businesses that can be found there. Though almost all of them are open to the public, most of the business are the types that do primarily business to business sales.

There is AirGas, which sells welding equipment and well, air and gas. There is the Connecticut Lighting Center which has a mind-boggling amount of lights hanging from the ceiling. Next door is an an interesting plaza containing a bottle redemption business, a restaurant supply business, and a beer and wine making supply business. As one comes around the corner they will notice speed bumps and a massive recycling center. The speed bumps were put in a few years back because kids were racing cars on the long stretch of the (mostly deserted at night) road. The recycling center is something of a marvel itself, a massive warehouse where if one drives by with the windows, you can hear the glass getting recycled. It also houses the Trash Museum which we learned about a long time ago. At the end of Murphy Road you come up to a turn to get into Brainard Airport at which point you're likely to think "Oh yeah, I forgot there's an airport down here."

Park Street is the best road to cruise in Hartford. If there is any downside to it, it is that Park Street can get very crowded on a nice day. This can lead to a very slow crawl down the street. Not only are you likely to see some interesting characters while cruising Park Street, if you get hungry there is an almost endless supply of tasty options to choose from. Our favorite, as we have stated many times here, is the Mexican place on the inside of El Mercado Grocer. You also can't go wrong with Comerio or Sol De Borinquen Bakery. There used to be a handful of street vendors that hocked knock-off merchandise, but the police put the kibosh on that last summer.

You really don't know what you might see on Park Street. We've seen a massive snow pile, Batman, and a crazy lady ranting, who despite the fact that she was yelling through a speaker on a public street, did not want to be videotaped. Park Street really is the best. Take some time to cruise the town on a nice day. You'll probably see some cool things, discover some new places and learn a lot about your city. Happy cruising.

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