This once hardscrabble town is softening. The massive brick buildings in the industrial Millyard District, once home to the world’s largest cotton textile-mill company, now house contemporary condos, start-up companies, and trendy restaurants and bars. The world-class Currier Museum of Art is reason enough to visit. But you’ll also find a restored, historic theater, where the New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra and Opera New Hampshire perform, the always-hopping Verizon Wireless Arena, drawing as many as 11,000 people to its sporting events and concerts, and two minor league sports teams, offering live action at affordable prices. Manchester may not be New England postcard pretty, but that is exactly why we like it. The down-to-earth Queen City, the largest and most ethnically diverse in the state, still retains its authentic, blue-collar soul.
Chain hotels dominate, but the Hilton Garden Inn Manchester Downtown (101 South Commercial St., 603-669-2222, www.hgi-manchester.com, $92-$159) stands a notch above the rest, with spacious, contemporary rooms, an indoor pool, and a decent restaurant and bar. It’s within walking distance to Elm Street restaurants, and, come spring, its patio bar, overlooking the minor league baseball field, is a fun place to be. For cozy comfort, consider the Ash Street Inn (118 Ash St., 603-668-9908, www.ashstreetinn
.com, $139-$229), a spruced-up Victorian located near the Currier Museum of Art. Rooms are elegantly furnished, with plush linens, flat-screen TVs and docking stations; some have gas fireplaces.
The award-winning Hanover Street Chophouse (149 Hanover St., 603-644-2467, www.hanoverstreetchophouse, entrees $26-$55) jump-started Manchester’s up-and-coming culinary scene, and remains one of the top places to dine here. The handsome steakhouse is a carnivore’s delight. You can’t go wrong with the popular — and hefty — dry-aged cowboy ribeye steak, with a side of portobello fries. Thankfully, the Republic Café (1069 Elm St., 603-666-3723, www.republic
cafe.com, entrees $17-$20) has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with tasty, locally-sourced Mediterranean-style cuisine. Locals gather to sip reasonably-priced wine and dine on small plates, like the whipped spicy feta with harissa or Spanish meatballs with almond sauce, and creative entrees like the falafel fried cod or Moroccan red-lentil stew.
Café Momo (1064 Hanover St., 603-623-3733, www.cafemomonh.com, $15-$21) is a real treat, one of the few, if only, places in New England where you can dine on authentic Nepali food. The momos, traditional Nepali dumplings, are the way to go (try the wild boar or goat), along with the spicy curry dishes and deeply-flavored wild boar chili. Located in the historic Millyard District, Cotton (75 Arms St., 603-622-5488, www.cottonfood.com, entrees $13.95-$28) is a local fave, serving upscale comfort food in a casual, lively atmosphere. Try the buttermilk herb fried chicken, lobster-scallop ravioli, or the signature meat loaf with all-you-can-eat mashed potatoes. It’s also known for its sophisticated cocktails, and pours more than 40 wines by the glass.
The world-class Currier Museum of Art (150 Ash St, 603-669-6144,
www.currier.org, adults $10, students $8, 17 years and under free) has about 12,000 pieces of American and European art, representing all mediums. The museum also offers tours of the Zimmerman House (tours start at the Currier Museum of Art, open April-early January, tickets on sale beginning March 1, adults $20, students $16, ages 7-17 $8, children under 7 are not allowed); it’s the only Frank Lloyd Wright house open to the public in New England. Families flock to the SEE Science Center (200 Bedford, 603-669-0400, www.see-sciencecenter.org, ages 3 and up $8), with two floors of hands-on exhibits, and a mind-boggling LEGO display, replicating the historic Amoskeag Millyard. The display contains about 3 million pieces (laid side-by-side, they’d stretch to Boston and back) and some 8,000 figures. If you’re a history buff, head upstairs to the small Millyard Museum (603-622-7531, adults $8, ages 12-18 $4, under 12 free), to learn about the one-time bustling mill and textile industry in Manchester. Kids get a kick out of visiting the riverfront Amoskeag Fishways Learning & Visitors Center (4 Fletcher St., 603-626-3474, www.amoskeagfishways.org, free), where they can view live turtles, frogs, and salmon. The center is open year-round, but in fish season (May-mid-June), you can watch a variety of migrating fish traverse a 54-foot ladder to get around the Amoskeag Hydroelectric Dam and up the river to reproduce. For action-packed entertainment, grab a seat at the Verizon Wireless Arena to watch the Manchester Monarchs (603-626-7825, www.monarchshockey.com), the top affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings hockey team, play. Come spring, head to the ballpark to catch a New Hampshire Fisher Cats game (1 Line Drive, 603-641-2005, www.milb.com). The double-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays will celebrate its 10th season in Manchester this year with a slew of special events, giveaways, and promotions.
The restored Palace Theatre (80 Hanover St., 603-668-5588, www.palace
theatre.org) hosts several top quality stage performances, and the Majestic Theater (922 Elm St., 603-669-7469, www.majestictheatre.net) has a year-round schedule of family-friendly musicals and plays. Boynton’s Taproom (155 Dow St., 603-623-7778, www.boyntons
taproom.com) is a real gem, with a lineup of professional comedy, folk, blues, jazz, and theater in its contemporary loft space in an old mill building. Friendly atmosphere and large selections of draft beer, micro brews, and whiskey make the Wild Rover Irish Pub (21 Kosciuszko St., 603-669-7722, www.wildroverpub.com) a popular go-to night spot.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.