With the doling out of superlatives in the Greater Hartford area, the norm is this: nominate someone or something and then let everyone vote on that. People nominate others, often as a joke, and further dilute the purpose. As with elections, there is badgering of the populace to vote one way or another. We get daily reminders on Facebook, Twitter, email, or at the gym to vote. There are pleas: I voted for you, now please vote for me! Ballot stuffing and other shady practices lead to people winning who have no business even being nominated for a particular category.
Real Hartford is not a pseudo-democracy.
Best New Event Mixing Fun, Food, Music, Art, and More in Downtown: On Sundays during October and November, the Hartford HodgePodge set up on Pratt Street. Every week there was something different: moonshine, alpaca, poutine, vintage jewelry, and interactive weaving mural, music from Paper Hill Casket Company. Mostly, it was a chance to stand in the street and chat with friends while eating raspberry lemonade cupcakes. That it was not part of a half-baked branding campaign was a breath of fresh air.
Best Service in a Restaurant: Salute. If you bring your dog to the patio, the beast is given water before its people are waited on. The service doesn’t even lag during restaurant week.
Best New Outlet for Creativity: Other People’s Stories. This monthly (bimonthly? Who even knows?) event features regular people telling funny, interesting, and occasionally frightening stories that they heard from others. Some participants have brought props. At the most recent one, someone flung a stuffed animal. This free event is continuously growing, no doubt due to it being in a supportive (i.e. non-competitive) environment.
Best Weekly Newspaper: The Hartford News. It does not try to be something its not. Want to know what is happening at a senior center? In the schools? In any of the faith communities? This is where to turn.
Best Thing That We Could Bring Back to Hartford but Probably Never Will: a fully-operational synagogue so that Jewish residents do not need to travel to West Hartford or Newington for Shabbat services. Until we get that, the next best thing is Charter Oak Cultural Center.
Hartford’s Best Free Holiday Tradition: Kino Kafé’s annual holiday screening event has featured spectacularly bad films in past years, like the Star Wars Holiday Special. This year, they played three holiday episodes of Community along with A Colbert Christmas. Better than any played out “ironic” ugly sweater party.
Best Communications Person in City Hall: Isis Irizarry, the “community liaison” for the south side, consistently sends the most useful messages about what is happening in town. Beyond that, she is responsive when constituents ask questions. She’s the new kid on the block, but her colleagues could learn a lot from her.
Best Musical Performance: Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires at the Wadsworth Atheneum.
Best Deal on Parking: Over the summer dozens of new bike racks were installed throughout the city. These are free to use and are convenient to most major (and minor) attractions.
Biggest Trainwreck of the Year: The NRA “press conference” on December 21st. Though the organization had sent a sensitive message days before claiming that they were prepared to “offer meaningful contributions to help make sure [children being murdered in a school] never happens again,” they reversed any goodwill by holding what amounted to a sales pitch wherein they blamed violent video games and suggested that stocking all schools with armed security guards would be a better solution than revoking gun “rights.” In short, the NRA’s presentation made former President Bush’s suggestion that Americans go out and shop after 9/11 seem rather innocuous.
When given the opportunity to try to make right, one should rise to the occasion. If you need a how-to, view the so-called press conference, then, do the opposite.
Best Farmers’ Market: For the second year, the Thanksgiving Harvest Market — a one day event — won over even the crankiest of residents. The efforts to coordinate vendors and musicians paid off — during the entire day, not a single negative remark was heard. Most often, people expressed the desire for this to occur more frequently. It’s the closest thing we have to the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market.
Most Interesting Art: STREET at the Wadsworth Atheneum. The approach to creating this film results in material that forces the viewer to slow down and really absorb the elements in an urban environment.
Best New Yoga: Francesca Lefante from Newington Yoga Center has been leading classes at the Studio at Billings Forge on Mondays for eight bucks. These classes will be taking place on Tuesdays at 7pm during January and February of 2013. This is a great, non-threatening environment for yoga neophytes. Bring your own mat. Expect to move, but don’t worry — this is not that crazy heated yoga stuff.
Best New Food Truck: Urban Gourmet. Chef Charles Williams loves his job. The menu has included chicken and broccoli tossed in garlic cream sauce over penne, butternut squash bisque, Texas caviar, just to name a few offerings. The truck is often parked on Elm Street, but has shown up by the Colt Armory and at the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market.