Walk into Little River Restoratives and you automatically enter a prohibition-era world that seems distinct from any other restaurant or bar space in Hartford. Taxidermy, exposed brick, cream colored wallpaper, and vintage posters line the walls of this narrow space that is robust with character and flavor. Owner Chris Parrott was inspired by the cocktail scene in Manhattan, especially those found in the Lower East Side, but believed that Hartford, a capital city, “deserved at least one proper cocktail bar.” Parrott, the former beverage director and sommelier at Millwrights in Simsbury, teamed up with business partner Patrick Miceli, who comes from 50 West, a wine bar and bistro in Plainville, to create Hartford’s first cocktail bar. As much as there is a certain environment within Little River Restoratives that mirrors a grandiose, exclusive drinking experience one would more likely find in New York City than Hartford, Parrott is focusing his efforts on making this a casual, neighborhood bar that serves quality drinks.
The name Little River Restoratives serves to represent fun and leisure, while also hinting at Hartford’s own history. Parrot explains that “[r]estoratives is an antiquated word for a healthful tonic for the body and mind, usually involving alcohol…I also liked the idea of a little river of alcohol flowing into your tummy.” Further, Parrott reveals that ‘Little River’ refers to a contributory river that existed near where Little River Restoratives currently is located. Natives distinguished this river from the larger Connecticut River by calling it the “Little River.” The décor of Little River Restoratives is designed to reflect both the era and city which it is inspired by. Parrot notes that the posters on the walls are actually vintage ads of Hartford businesses from the early 1900s; LRR took “these ads and insert[ed] our name and mission into them as a way to tie us back to the period where our style of bar came from.”
Little River Restoratives is strictly a cocktail bar, offering only a small selection of small plates include custom charcuterie boards, grilled cheese bites, house brined pickled vegetables, and special bites from next door neighbor, Bob Ramen (soon to be GoldBurgers on Capitol). The drinks—both in flavor, strength, and range—are the obvious attraction of Little River. The menu is divided into sections including “American Standards,” “Cocktails,” “Punches,” “Possets,” “Grogs,” and “Dealer’s Choice,” the ladder of which asks guests to “take on the night and put your fate in the hands of our bartenders.” Little River’s “American Standards” are a popular draw, particularly during happy hour; for $5 per drink, guests can choose from classic cocktails such as a Manhattan, Whiskey Sour, Tom Collins, Negroni, Margarita, or an Old Fashioned.
While the simplicity and caliber of the American Standards is something Parrott prides himself on, he still follows some cocktail trends. Recently, Parrott noticed that savory mixed drinks were becoming more popular in bars in large metropolitan cities. In keeping with this trend, Parrott created the “Bad Hombre” cocktail which was a savory drink using a truffle-infused wine and whose name was also on trend with other cocktails influenced by the political climate during the later half of 2016.
In an attempt to balance offering the classics alongside other quirky, unexpected pairings, Parrott also notes that Little River Restoratives is trying to expand the palettes of their guests. Parrott hopes that the knowledge of the bartenders (bartenders at LRR go through extensive training once hired) coupled with the quality of all the drinks offered will convince guests to try something new. Parrott says that he likes the Manhattan, one of the bar’s most popular orders, “as a sweet jumping off point for people coming here because it’s a classic—it’s safe, we execute it perfectly, and you can bring people into what we do through that drink because there’s all these different modifications you can do that turn it into something brand new altogether.”
It seems as if Restoratives is not just part of the name of the business, but a mission to restore a balance between serving drinks for leisure coupled with offering an updated version of a classic, alluring vintage cocktail bar. Parrott notes, however, that the elevated dining and drinking experience that is common in cocktail bars today was not the norm in a particular bygone era. Instead, he says “if you look the menus and pricing and translate that to what that would have been today, and even the characters that would have hung out at those places, there’s some strong evidence that suggests it wasn’t a super formal experience or a financial commitment.”
Parrott insists that Little River Restoratives “aim[s] to demystify cocktails, not make them more obscure in their meaning and intention.” With this in mind, Parrott notes that LRR will begin to lower some of their prices and use more reasonable liqueur instead of, for example, “a $40 bottle of bourbon in a whiskey sour.” With intentions of connecting more with the local community, for example with Trinity College, Parrott hopes to continue to establish Little River Restoratives as a casual bar that serves palatable, and ever so slightly innovative mixed drinks.
Kelly in the Kitchen cocktail
1.5 oz Litchfield Gin
.5 oz China-China
.5 oz LeVay Cassis
.75 oz fresh lemon juice