Let's face it. Airport travel is unavoidably stressful. By the time you park, lug and check your bags and proceed shoeless through long security lines, you're ready for a drink. And that's even before any dreaded DELAYED or CANCELLED messages flash on the flight display boards.
But if you haven't flown through Bradley International Airport in some time, you may be pleasantly surprised by its newest sit-down spots for fine dining and drinking. Once you make your way through the full-body scanner, you can now treat yourself to a tall, cold Connecticut-brewed IPA or hand-crafted martini with premium liquors.
Over the past decade, Bradley executives and the Michell Bradley Group have been working to expand the airport's full-service restaurant and bar offerings. Among its newest operations are Black Bear Saloon, which opened in July 2009; Cask & Barrel, a bistro serving light fare in a convenient pre-security location that debuted in August 2011; and Traveltini, an upscale, chic martini bar and lounge which celebrated its grand opening in December 2011.
With the addition of these venues, the airport has elevated its concessions beyond its traditional food-court options. Here's what you'll find if you're traveling through Windsor Locks this summer.
Black Bear Saloon, Terminal A
Connecticut-based travelers will recognize the brand, as its parent company Post Road Entertainment owns and operates restaurants in Hartford, New Haven, South Norwalk, Stamford and White Plains, N.Y. The airport location is a franchise operated by Michell Bradley, with its own menu and beverage list and a personal television at each booth for entertainment.
"We try to focus our menu on things that are quick," said Ty Rundle, general manager of all Michell Bradley's venues that serve alcohol. "Time is of the essence at the airport, so a lot of things we do can be made within 10 to 15 minutes."
This means a lot of quesadillas, sandwiches and burgers (the top sellers are the Cowboy, with onion rings and A1 sauce, and the "farmers' market" burger with avocado and a fried egg.) Entrees, $9.99 to $23.99, include a blackened salmon dish with vegetables and a loaded baked potato, and a New York strip steak.
The hottest offering at Black Bear Saloon is craft beer ($5.25 to $6). Of the 12 draft lines, Rundle says the second-best selling tap is Hartford's own Naughty Nurse, from City Steam Brewery. Beers from new Nutmeg State brewery Two Roads, out of Stratford, also do brisk business at the restaurant.
"Everyone wants to try whatever the hot new local thing is," Rundle said, adding that he tries to keep other New England brews like Long Trail and Harpoon on the list.
Black Bear Saloon is open 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. nightly. Breakfast is served from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Traveltini: Terminal A, Concourse C
The 55-seat lounge, stylish with modular furniture, comfortable chairs and plenty of power outlets to charge assorted electronics, is a favorite among the business set, Rundle said. That's why he stocks various high-end Scotches and bourbons (per customer request) and keeps an $85 bottle of Taittinger champagne on the list.
"With the business guys, they're playing 'Who's got the better credit card,'" Rundle said, laughing. "Or one guy will order Woodford, the guy behind him will order Basil Hayden's just to try to one-up him. It's kind of funny."
Martinis and cocktails are priced at $12.50 to $13, with classics like the Dirty Bird (a dirty martini with Grey Goose vodka); a Manhattan and a Gimlet joining fruity concoctions like the Cosmopolitan, Strawtini (with muddled strawberries) and Caramel Apple (caramel-flavored vodka, apple juice and lime with a caramel rim.) More than a dozen white and red wines are available by the glass and the bottle.
At the bar, brother and sister Kory Peterson, 25, and Kalleigh Peterson, 23, of Suffield, clinked glasses before boarding a flight to Missouri to visit family recently. Kory had ordered the Manhattan; Kalleigh was sipping the "Pink Skies" with vanilla vodka, raspberry vodka and Chambord.
It was their first time visiting the martini bar, and they said they enjoyed the option to have a drink during the wait for a flight. "They ask you to come here an hour and a half, two hours before [your flight] and security is two minutes long," Kalleigh said. "Then you have an hour and a half before you board."
Bloody Marys are also largely popular at Traveltini, as well as all of Michell's venues, Rundle said, explaining that he goes through six cases of spicy Smirnoff mix a week. And like the local craft beer at Black Bear Saloon, Connecticut's own Onyx Moonshine is a point of curiosity for out-of-town travelers.
"They just want to know what's cool and exciting from this part of the world that they don't get to see wherever they live," he said.
Traveltini is open 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. every day except Saturday, when operating hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Cask & Barrel Bistro, Terminal A, second floor (pre-security)
The Cask & Barrel opened in as a response to requests for a pre-security restaurant, said Bradley International Airport's director of communications John Wallace. Since then, it's become a popular place for meet-and-greets among travelers and those waiting for them at the other side of the checkpoints.
"We get a lot of [returning] military folks whose families are waiting," Rundle said. "Seeing the reunions, it's pretty neat."
The bistro is known for its wings with a choice of nine sauces ($8.99 for 10; $16.99 for 20,) along with breakfast items, salads, sandwiches and snacks. Six beers are on draft, with many more by bottle, particularly Connecticut and New England varieties.
Cask & Barrel stays open late to accommodate nighttime travelers and those waiting for them; it opens at 9 a.m. daily and operates until 11 p.m. each night except Saturday, when it closes at 9.