August 31, 2018

The Press opens in downtown Hartford's former Black Bear space

PHOTO | Joe Cooper
PHOTO | Joe Cooper
Historic newspaper clippings line the walls at The Press in downtown Hartford.
PHOTO | Joe Cooper
The Press' full-service whiskey bar has up to 90 whiskeys at a time.

A prohibition-era themed cocktail bar has opened in downtown Hartford's former Black Bear Saloon.

The Press, also playing off a newspaper motif, opened Aug. 16 at 187 Allyn St. under Jerry Fornarelli, owner of 1st Cut Restaurant Group. Fornarelli's group also owns The Russian Lady, The Tavern Downtown and the Rocking Horse Saloon.

Black Bear Saloon closed at the Allyn Street space in Sept. 2017.

In the shadows of Union Station, The Press was renovated over three months this summer to accommodate a hyperlocal theme, said General Manager Jeanine Mesnil.

The eatery now has 125 dining seats, 40 seats at two full-service bars and walls plastered with reprinted Hartford Courant articles noting a Hartford Whalers comeback win, former Gov. Ella Grasso's swearing-in ceremony or a UConn basketball championship. Two typewriters and newspaper front pages from 1864 also add to the restaurant's decor.

Mesnil says the restaurant's calling card is craft cocktails -- and their eccentric presentation -- and panini and flatbread menus. Aligning with its "press" theme, cocktails are made with fresh-pressed juices and the sandwiches are also pressed.

A full-service whiskey bar opposite the entrance is open Thursday through Saturday, offering up to 90 whiskeys at a time.

"We are excited to bring something different and unique to Hartford with a speakeasy-type atmosphere, especially at night," Mesnil said. "We are making it more of a show and an experience for everybody."

While the restaurant expects to draw a strong dinner crowd, The Press aims to lure the lunch, happy hour and nightlife crowds with a DJ staffed on Friday and Saturday nights after 10 p.m. Other speakeasy or era-focused promotional nights will also be scheduled as the restaurant evolves, Mesnil said.

The restaurant, located in the Capital City's once bustling nightclub district, has 35 full- and part-time employees. Staff will welcome guests Sept. 14 at an official grand opening.

1st Cut also owns the adjacent Up On The Rocks nightclub and will soon renovate the vacant space that closed in 2013. Mesnil could not comment on the restaurant group's plans there.

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