Industrious New Britain, Conn., enjoys artful update
New Britain’s highfalutin motto, “Industry fills the hive and enjoys the honey,” served the city well during its industrial heyday — roughly 1850 to 1950 — when its companies made everything from measuring tapes to meat grinders. With one of New England’s best small art museums, a museum of local industrial history, and a flourishing Little Poland neighborhood, New Britain might consider a new motto: “American art, Yankee ingenuity, and Polish food.” It’s just right for a tasty, cold-weather getaway.
The city’s sole overnight accommodations are at La Quinta Inn & Suites (65 Columbus Blvd., 860-348-1463, www.laquintanewbritain.com, from $62). Aimed at business travelers, the 135 rooms are spacious and well-maintained and the downtown location is good for walking to almost everything. There are a number of chain lodgings in the area, but for more character, the Farmington Inn (827 Farmington Ave., Farmington, 860-677-2821, www.farmingtoninn.com, from $107) is just eight miles from downtown New Britain. The lobby fireplace is indicative of the country inn ambiance of this graceful property.
Café on the Park (salads and sandwiches $7.50-$9) at the New Britain Museum of American Art (see below) serves a pleasant mix of salads, soups, quiche, and a few sandwiches (including a “grown-up grilled cheese” with bacon strips and red pepper relish) for a lunchtime break. The Miss Washington Diner (10 Washington St., 860-224-3772, www.misswashingtondiner.com, breakfast and lunch $3-$11) is a real slice of Americana. The 24-stool diner was built in the early 1950s to replace a 1928 diner on the same spot. Current owner Dan Czako specializes in rib-sticking traditional diner fare (breakfast and lunch daily) at prices almost as retro as the restaurant. Waitresses often try to cajole diners into tackling The Monument, a giant sandwich of four half-pound hamburger patties topped with four bacon strips; American, Swiss, provolone and cheddar cheeses; two onion rings; A1 Sauce; lettuce; tomato; and a pickle. It’s free if you can eat it in 20 minutes, otherwise $30. A mini-version with two-ounce patties is only $8.99. For hearty Polish home cooking, the bilingual menu at Staropolska (252 Broad St., 860-612-1711, www.staropolska.net, entrées $10.95-$17.95) includes pierogi with various fillings, fried or boiled kielbasa, and the classic winter stew called bigos, with meat, sausage, cabbage, and sauerkraut. Staropolska is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday and has a popular full bar.
DURING THE DAY
By focusing exclusively on American art, the New Britain Museum of American Art (56 Lexington St., 860-229-0257, www.nbmaa.org, adults $12, seniors $10, students $8, free for all Saturday 10 a.m. to noon) has built an enviable collection, including a striking mural series by Thomas Hart Benton. Thoughtful temporary exhibits augment the collection. Through Jan. 11, paintings by Kensington, Conn., artist Nelson Augustus Moore (1824-1902) cast a local light on 19th century American landscape painting. “Let Me Quilt One More Day” (through Jan. 4) displays 42 quilts made from the American Revolution to the present. A swing through the New Britain Industrial Museum (185 Main St., 860-832-8654, www.nbindustrial.org, free) in a downtown Central Connecticut State University building might be a walk down memory lane. The museum displays hundreds of items made by New Britain companies over the years, including Stanley tools and Universal household appliances. An exhibition on New Britain’s role at the 1904 World’s Fair opens Jan. 17. Broad Street between Washington and Smith streets is New Britain’s Little Poland, where English is definitely the second language. If you’re shopping for holiday treats, look for babka bread or poppy-seed strudel at Kasia’s Bakery (88 Broad St., 860-224-8821), and stop at Polmart Delikatesy (123 Broad St., 860-223-7055, www.polmartusa.com) for cheeses and sausages, brightly wrapped hard candies, and Wawel chocolate bars.
New Britain is a very dramatic town. The Connecticut Theatre Company (23 Norden St., 860-223-3147, www.connecticuttheatrecompany.org, tickets $20), which operates in a residential neighborhood south of downtown, is reprising last year’s musical “A Christmas Schooner” about a Great Lakes ship captain who sails through winter weather to bring Christmas trees to German-American families in Chicago circa 1900. If the phrase “home for the holidays” stirs mixed emotions, try the Christmas show of Hole in the Wall Theater (116 Main St., 860-223-3049, www.hitw.org, tickets $15-$20). Called “Reckless,” it finds both warmth and dark humor in the family Christmas gathering. The beautiful performance space of Trinity-on-Main (69 Main St. 860-229-2072, www.trinityonmain.org, tickets $10-$30) has a potpourri of mostly one-night performances ranging from contemporary rock and ’70s covers to a Frank-Dean-Marilyn musical Christmas revue. For a look at stars of another sort, the Copernican Observatory & Planetarium (Copernicus Hall, 1615 Stanley St., web.ccsu.edu/astronomy/, free) offers planetarium shows on Dec. 6 and 20 and Jan. 3 and 17 at 8 p.m., with telescope observing right after the show if skies are clear.