Top Ten Non-Twain Things to Do in Hartford

Between lists written by those who can’t see beyond the major institutions and shoddily researched, outdated articles authored by someone who spent little time in Hartford and has since moved elsewhere, it seemed appropriate to revisit just a few of the things we have going on here. As we have said before, we have to ♥ Mark Twain because when you move into Hartford you take an oath swearing as much, but we know that Twain and his legacy are not the only game in town:

One bike decorated for the Real Ride

  1. The Real Ride: during times of year when snow is not on the ground, cyclists of varying ability decorate their bikes with lights, streamers, giant puppets, beads, and more, and take a ten-mile slow ride around the city, at night. The group — in the hundreds — leaves from the Real Art Ways parking lot, taking a different route each time. On one ride, a cyclist towed a trailer on which an entire drum kit was set up and played during the ride. Other rides have featured a shopping cart bike with a giant dragon head mounted on it. This is free and all ages, beginning around nightfall and ending several hours later, as the group makes stops to view fireworks, participate in a drumming circle, or watch improv. What makes this significant? The ride gets people on the streets of Hartford after dark, doing more than just running off to their cars. 
  2. Cedar Hill Cemetery: this is a place of peace and quiet, a place to see deer grazing around dusk, and a place to quietly recreate. That’s encouraged. They have hosted films, bird walks, and tours of the cemetery’s notable residents. Around Halloween, actors portray some of those residents in a lantern tour. Art, history, and nature collide here.
  3. One contestant in the Art Sled Derby, 2014

  4. Art Sled Derby: For two years in a row, people have gathered at the hill in Elizabeth Park with sleds, some simple, and some seeming to challenge the idea of “sled.” There are no waivers, no fees. And there shouldn’t be. This is one of the regular sledding hills…but there is not usually the possibility of winning a bizarre trophy made of doll parts or competing against someone riding a bed down the slope. Unlike art galleries where work is curated, all entries are viewable. Even the creations that fall apart within seconds earn cheers from onlookers.

  5. The Beat City Beauties’ Victoria Van Layer

  6. Beat City Beauties: Hartford has its own burlesque troupe. The current lineup includes several women, one man, and an emcee who plays with gender boundaries by wearing trousers and a fake mustache. No, this is not “family friendly”, but not everything needs to be. It’s not glorified stripping either. The performances include coordinating music to a themed act, creating costumes, and determining where the line should be drawn each time. Burlesque is more like a knock, knock joke in the (almost) nude than it is a titillating show. Some performances are free, some have a cover charge.
  7. Cinestudio: This is not the only cinema in Hartford with a balcony, but this is the one where sitting in it means seeing classics and artsy films. They have a curtain. The cinema is on the Trinity College campus, which is mostly a photogenic campus, save for some of the newer buildings. This is a spot to catch the April in Paris film festival, and is also where to find the Connecticut Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
  8. Beat City Beauties add sparkle to the city

  9. Hooker Day Parade: Some cities have a “Founders’ Day Parade,” while promises to be as dull as it sounds, frankly. As the t-shirts say, “Hartford Was Founded by a Hooker.” This is a City-sanctioned event, but that doesn’t mean the life has been sucked out of it. People have appeared on tractors, rollerblades, and bicycles. There are bands and puppets. Mummers have popped up. People linger at restaurants and bars after. It’s free to enter and there are few limitations, with the only memorable one being something like Don’t throw candy to dogs, it’ll make them sick.
  10. Museum of Curiosities: (or whatever it’s called) is in the Old State House. This is only a small room, but this is just great for those who like random things, like two-headed calves and various taxidermied animals.
  11. Hartford Hot Several: Someone gets the idea to have a marching band, but using a combination of real and improvised instruments. More and more people are invited. Another idea is to just show up, without advertisement, and play. An event coordinator or venue manager would be aware, but the audience/general public would be in for a surprise. The band grows. The lineup changes constantly. There are children, teens, young adults, the middle aged, and the occasional elder. Sometimes there’s a megaphone. Sometimes a portable mic and amp. And sometimes, the amp’s batteries die without warning. They play on sidewalks, in parks, parades, museums, bars, and private residences. Wherever. They prompted what was the first — at least in recent memory — Mardi Gras Parade in Downtown. The band is peppy, spontaneous, and known to provoke a crowd into forming a conga line.
  12. Several of the Hartford Hot Several play on a snow bank during the Mardi Gras parade in March 2014

  13. Tours: Besides the Real Ride, which is an evening tour of Hartford, we also have the Discover Hartford Bicycle Tour beginning in Bushnell Park and traveling to all of the city parks, some located beyond the town line. Cyclists decide whether to go for 10, 25, or 40 miles. Steve Thornton has been known to lead Radical Walking Tours, giving participants a glimpse at Hartford’s activist history. The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford has a recurring bus tour through neighborhoods that had a strong Jewish history. Besides Cedar Hill, the Ancient Burying Ground (currently under reconstruction) hosts walking tours. The Hartford Preservation Alliance offers walking tours in spring and fall. Walking tours have also been offered during Envisionfest, Connecticut Trails Day, and on other occasions. There have been guided and self-guided tours in the West End, including those featuring gardens. Additionally, there have been one-time tours, like the Walk the Frog jaunt around Frog Hollow that served as a fundraiser for the Lyric Theater.
  14. We have (living) writers: SYLLABLE, a curated reading series, is now trying out the space at Hartford Prints! This reading got its start over at the now-defunct La Paloma Sabanera. Julia Pistell selects a theme for each reading and potential readers send in their pieces, which have ranged from short stories to poems to diary entries. Edgings & Inchings is a monthly open mic and poetry night with featured guest readers at Real Art Ways. Other People’s Stories is also hosted by Real Art Ways after being held at La Paloma Sabanera in the past. The Kabbalah House hosts a monthly open mic. There are play readings at the Carriage House Theater, in addition to full plays, film screenings, musical performances, and more. StudioN111 hosts a poetry open mic once each month. And, okay, fine, the Mark Twain House & Museum hosts The MOuTH and various other literary and spoken word events.

Ten is a nice round number. We’ll stop there. Use the comments to tell others about the Hartford things that did not make this list but should have.