The Draw: The food. There’s nowhere else in the city where you can find one street that has authentic eats from 8 different countries.
The Vibe: Largely residential, diverse, historic, proud
If you’re looking for Hartford’s most diverse neighborhood, the South End is where it’s at. Hartford’s South End was once home to a large Italian population, which began to shift in the early 1990s. Now, the area is home to people of Latino, Peruvian, Colombian, African, Bosnian, and Albanian descent.
The South End reverberates with pride. You’ll find Italian families that have lived in the same home since the 1930s, black homeowners who recall purchasing their first home in (what was then) a largely white neighborhood and Albanians and Bosnians who settled in the area after fleeing racial and religious persecution. Now, many young families live in the South End, wanting to raise their kids in a tight-knit, diverse community.
Young families will find everything they need in the South End. For those interested in renting, there are many areas with two- and three-family homes, along with many tiny single-family homes available for rent as well. First-time home buyers will love the modest houses in the Southwest and Barry Square neighborhoods. Much of the neighborhood is walkable and features lots of green space.
Goodwin Park is a South End gem for families—it has a community pool, multiple picnic areas, a pond house, and a large playground and splash pad for hot summer days. The neighborhood’s athletes love the basketball and tennis courts, baseball diamond, fitness circuit, and walking trails. Goodwin Park is also home to a 27-hole golf course. If you want the neighborhood’s best gossip, buy a round of beers for the South End “lifers” that golf at Goodwin daily.
As far as we’re concerned, one of the South End’s greatest assets is its food scene. The area around Franklin Ave. was once known as Little Italy but now is home to every cuisine you can imagine. Puerto Rican, Colombian, Peruvian, Mediterranean, Mexican, and Italian storefronts line the street with Latin American bakeries, Italian pastry shops, and old-school delis and diners.
You’ll be pressed to find a meal you don’t like, and you can try something new each time you visit! Date night pro tip: South End staples, Mozzicato De Pasquale and Modern Pastry Shop, are walking distance from one another on Franklin Ave—grab your date, and put each shop’s cannolis to the test.
Beer lovers can also rejoice—the South End houses two breweries, Phantom Brewing Company and Thomas Hooker at the Colt. Phantom prides itself on offering a great rotating tap list, along with regular live music and food trucks. On most Saturday nights during the fall, you’ll find Hooker at the Colt filled with Hartford Athletic fans, pregaming before walking over to the stadium for that evening’s match. Two breweries, not enough? Check out our brewery guide to learn about all of the city’s breweries.
The South End is also home to the original First & Last Tavern, a Hartford staple since 1936. If you’re looking for the city’s best pizza, look no further. First & Last uses a coal-fired brick oven that has a rotating disc inside. Each pie takes 12 minutes to travel around the oven at 500 degrees and comes out perfectly every time.
Their pizzaiolo, Mooney, will sling over 300 pies on a busy Friday or Saturday, and when restaurants were forced to shut down during the pandemic, he was one of the only staff members on the payroll. He came in multiple times a day to stoke the coals and make sure that the oven never went out—he’s a true Hartford hero. First & Last’s “original special” (pasta with meatball or sausage and a salad all on one plate) continues to be a hit since the restaurant opened over 80 years ago. Still, everyone has an opinion on what the best thing on the menu is. Talk to Marty at the bar, and he’ll tell you to order the anchovy pie. His only rule? You have to order a small. We’ve tried it—it turns out Marty knows what he’s talking about.
Hanging out in a cemetery might sound a bit morbid, but Cedar Hill Cemetery is truly special. The final resting place for Katharine Hepburn, among many other recognizable names, Cedar Hill offers self-guided, cell phone, and private walking tours for history buffs and serves as a beautiful backdrop for joggers and walkers. One of our favorite Halloween activities is their Hallowed History Lantern Tour, where attendees walk through the cemetery on a late October evening and interact with its most notable residents.
Nightlife in the South End is just as diverse as its residents. The neighborhood is home to Hartford’s only LGBTQ+ bar, the Chez Est. The bar hosts drag shows and themed nights and are genuinely one of Hartford’s most welcoming spots. The Flaming Llama is the place to hit if you’re an aspiring salcero, and cigar enthusiasts will fall in love with all that The Penthouse Cigar Shop has to offer. Consider becoming a member—their private lounge has eight big-screen TVs, and rumor has it that it’s the best place to watch football on Sundays. If a sports bar is your vibe, check out Matty D’s. He brings in a DJ every Friday night and offers some of the best drink specials in the neighborhood.
We could go on forever with all the great things the South End has to offer, and you could keep reading, or you could plan a visit for yourself!