Hartford, Connecticut is a picaresque small town full of charm and insurance companies. Elisa Ambroglio of Magik Markers has fond memories of where she came up, and some killer advice about where to go and what she missed out on. The band released Balf Quarry on May 5th, 2009, and are currently coordinating their band’s operations from opposite sides of the country, but they both came up in Hartford, and are ready to share fond memories.
1. What’s your town’s nickname?
hARTford, so you remember there is ART in Hartford. Connecticut is known as the insurance state because there are a lot of insurance companies in Hartford. Such as the imaginatively named ‘The Hartford’.
2. What’s your nickname for your town?
I don’t have one, isn’t that interesting?
3. Why do you live there?
Well, I moved, but I lived there because I grew up there and I left for college and then just to check out the world.
4. What is your favorite local attraction (monument, park, etc)?
There are so many. Bushnell Park is amazing in the spring, you can wander the big rolling hills of grass outside of the state capital, then hangout at the Bushnell Park Carousel. It has a Wurlitzer 153 band organ at the center of the carosel and you can buy popcorn and cotton candy. On Sundays, when I was in high school, Food Not Bombs would happen there. You are also then walking distance from the Wadsworth Atheneum which is a beautiful old stone museum like a church or a castle filled with idiosyncratic rooms of all sorts art. It feels like an old fashioned art museum, with a quirky, personal, killer curator. Styles are next to styles and things seem so close to eachother, although it is very well kept up and modern. The Mark Twain House is a place where both Pete and I worked a few years back and you can see Sam Clemens’ own pool table! The Connecticut Historical Society has all kinds of original source documents on the history of the city, and helpful librarians. While you are thinking about the old Hartford, head to Cedar Hill Cemetary, which is a perfect victorian gothic version of a cemetary, with drooping willows and dogwood where you can hunt around for the graves of Colts and Morgans and even Wallace Stevens. Under the bridge near the old Bradlees parking lot, might be a Cost Saver now, is a red pick up truck where this guy sells the best steamed hotdog I have ever had in my life. I don’t know his name, I call him the hotdog man, and my mom and I used to go there once a week when I was in elementry school. The buns are soft and warm from the hotdog steam , but not damp, the sauerkraut is killer, and he is a charming man. Although some people suggested the hot dog sales was a front for a bookie opperation, no man would take such care with his dogs were it just a front. He’ll put ketchup, mustard and relish on your dog, wrap it in wax paper and grab you a can of sunkist in about 22 seconds. Best.
5. What is your favorite local event/festival?
The Hebron Harvest Fair happens every September in Hebron, CT and was a highschool event for me, and former member of the Magik Markers, Leah. It has rides, bingo, bar-b-qued pork sandwiches, feather trimmed roach clips and animals winning prizes. You can buy yourself a real Lime Rickey or support RHAM Music Boosters by drinking a milkshake made by a real RHAM High School musician, or you can ride a ferris wheel, pick up some leather, or buy a sticker that says “sex instructor” or “screw helmet laws,” or “go hard or go home.”
6. What is the best time of year to be there?
In fall it is good because you can head out to Farmington for Roger’s Apple Orchard. This is a place my dad would bring me every year for apple cider and pie and white chocolate and to look at rabbits. Right by the New Britain reservoir, tucked into the woods. In Autumn no where on earth smells better and has more bees humming around its 25 cent cider dispenser. I am only now getting over my extreme hatred for fall, instilled by my extreme hatred for school, so I can appreciate how beautiful it is there. Spring is the best because people start mowing their lawns and it smells so clean, as well as the general niceness of wintertime changing into Spring. Summer though! No school, may flies, ticks and good times. I love the humid heat of CT in the summer, but it is not for everyone. Going tubing on the Farmington river and getting Italian Ice, either lemon or almond, from Mozzicato’s Bakery on Franklin Avenue are the best things to do in the summer. Winter is for illegal sledding on golf courses.
7. Who is your favorite local celebrity/personality?
Brad Field, Dr. Mel, or Hilton Kaderly. These dudes did weather for different stations. I liked them because they would announce snowdays when school would be canceled.
8. Where is the best place to drink and what’s their specialty or happy hour?
Hmm, this is a hard one for me, as I came to drinking later in life than some people. My drinkin’ friends would go to the Pig’s Eye, but I have been there and it is pretty horrible, although you can see what happened to all those dudes you went to highschool with. Now my personal favorite place is Szechuan Tokyo down the street from my Dad’s house in the Elmwood section of West Hartford. They pour strong, you can walk back to my dad’s house and local folks hang out and argue about stuff with the Bartendress. It is a bar where there is a table with newspapers and an adding calculator and the eyeglasses of the owner next to a pile of receipts, and possbily a Nagel lady on the wall. 80’s chinese resturant white walls glass fixtures vibe, super tiny, set apart from the main fancier resturant. Good for overhearing conversations and having good times. Bad if single and looking for young hot people in the dark, although if on a date, order the Scorpion Bowl, referred to as the deady and infamous “signature cocktail for two.” Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays have “live jazz.” For a late drink and Italian pastry, Mozzicato’s on Franklin Avenue. For a glass of wine and the best clam chowder, Tapas on New Britain Avenue.
9. Who has the best jukebox (and what’s in it)?
I think I have to go back in time. My father used to have a killer party basement in my grandparents house. He had an old wurlitzer jukebox, with all the singles he collected in the 60’s. One time I was playing Count Five, and my dad said, “I had this single in the juke box in your grandparents basement.” This leads me to believe one night of listening to that juke box would have been the best. Unfortunatley, after my dad had a kid he got rid of his drums and records and juke boxes and it is a bummer I will never hear it.
10. What is your favorite place to see live music and what was your favorite show there?
My favorite show I ever went to in Hartford was a show at my grandparents house where Son of Earth and Double Leopards played. In retrospect I made some good friends that night.
11. What is your favorite local band?
I don’t know, because not may bands admit to being from Connecticut. I will say Charles Ives, he copped to it. Also, as an academic transplant, Anthony Braxton. And! Local luminary and bon vivant Paul Flaherty.
12. What is your favorite diner or restaurant and what is their best dish?
My favorite resturant is Kabul House, the Afgan resturant which moved from Franklin Avenue to its current fancy shmancy location in West Hartford Center. Kabul House looks like some kind of middle eastern Olive Garden inside, but the food is amazing. Pumpkin puree, potatoes in a tomato sauce, pierogie like things with a yogurt sauce and lentils, everything on the menu is amazing. My friend Trina was born in Afghanistan and introduced me to this place.
13. What is your favorite record store and what was your best find there?
Growing up, what a time to not have the internet, man! I would have used the shit out of the internet in middle school, and I guarentee I would have been 79% less of a total loser. Everything was so hard to find out about then. Any scrap of cool I could find I latched onto obesessviely and made my entire personality out of, even stuff that wasn’t that cool bt was maybe a third cousin of cool. I was so hungry for anything cool I got HEAVY into D.H. Laurence. So with that being said, just out of High School my friend Nate recommended some jams he thought I would like. The only one I could find was the MC5, Kick Out the Jams at Record Breaker on the Berlin Turnpike. The dudes behind the counter were older and were like, if you’re getting that, you might to check this out and showed me the Nuggets box set. All that pasiley and all those hippie colors turned me off. I was like, no thanks old man, I don’t go in for that fruity woodstock stuff! But those wise old men would have turned me on to some killer shit if I haddn’t been such an uninformed snot nosed wiener. For current stores I will say Trash American style in Danbury, and Brass City Records in Waterbury, which I think only exists online now.
14. What is your favorite local shop?
I used to love West Hartford Used Books. As a teenage customer, it was easily the greatest conduit to an outside world I could have found. There was a rambling stinky basement filled with 2 dollar paperbacks, the basement was as if someone with the greatest taste had been hoarding every type of book since 1922. I used to work there and it was my favorite job I ever had. I would read, alphabetize and all day and the owner Michael had the greatest taste in books. Everything in the store was a gem. He had the National Lampoon’s High School Yearbook, he had a guide to drugs written by some kind of fringe Leary-eque character, explaining in detail the pro’s and con’s of every drug he had ever tried, but set up like a encyclopedia, he had a picture book of all the fish and game caught by Hemingway, a whole book of the story of Michael Wolff, the SLA guy, written by one of his prep school friends, an illusrated book called Little Known Facts About Bundling in the New World. OH! The hours I spent. I never wanted to leave that store. I worked on my birthday, by choice and it was one of my favorite birthdays. Some light vaccumming, a little plastic book covering, and that was that. No bookstore, anywhere ever, has ever matched up to West Hartford Used Books. It now exists online only, as West Hartford Bookshop. Still recommended.
15. What is your favorite local publication (alternative weekly, zine, etc.)?
I was not clued into the coolest shit in Hartford when I lived there, nor am I now, so there is probably some great stuff I am not mentioning. I used to read the Advocate to find out about shows, and the Hartford Courant is the paper most people read in my part of the state. The RiverEast is killer for news about the Regional Andover, Hebron and Marlborough area, as well as some chitchat about Glastonbury and Willamantic.