Mill Restaurant Group's Republic, a sleek, two-floor gastropub with a busy bar scene, did so well in its first two years in Bloomfield that its founders considered a second location.
Co-owner Jared Cohen said his friends, attorneys Meghan Freed and Kristen Marcroft of family-law firm Freed Marcroft, suggested Republic join their business in The Linden, a historic Hartford building. There was a vacant space that had housed a few restaurants, notably the old Corny T's and, most recently, Emperor at the Linden, which also served as a nightclub.
Cohen had been reluctant to consider Hartford for Republic's expansion efforts, he said, but it wasn't long before he realized the city has its passionate supporters.
"The more we're hanging out with everybody, the more people I'm meeting as we're getting further into it, there's a lot of people out there trying," he said. "Their mission is to make this place cool, which is nice."
Freed and Marcroft have resided in the building since 2006, and decided to build their law office there as well. "We were confident that given the right circumstances and love, the Linden's commercial area could really thrive," Freed said. They were convinced that Republic would be an "ideal fit" for the restaurant space.
The partners — Cohen and executive chef Steven Wolf, Wolf's father Helmar (founder of the Mill Restaurant Group) and Tomas Diaz — first acquired the Linden space in the fall of 2014. A lengthy and extensive 11-month buildout followed, including new HVAC, plumbing and electricity, and the partners finally opened the Hartford restaurant in early August.
Glittering chandeliers hang from tin ceilings over the large bar on the first floor.
"We try to make that the place where your eye goes initially, [to] grab people," Cohen said. The two-level space's walls feature exposed brick and stone, and small dining nooks take on their own style, like a first-floor room with rich maroon velvet banquettes and wallpaper flecked in metallic gold. The restaurant seats 160, including its enclosed patio.
"We wanted to keep the general aesthetics of Bloomfield, but dress it up a little bit," Cohen said.
Republic at the Linden's menu is structured like its Bloomfield sibling, reflecting about 60 percent of the same items there, Cohen said. Hartford's menu has additional small plates intended for sharing ($5 to $17), along with raw bar selections ($2.75 to $3.95 apiece), cheese and charcuterie ($10 and $17), salads ($7 to $10,) burgers and sandwiches ($14 to $16), and "big bites," or entrees ($17 to $42.)
Hartford also has its own signature dishes: buffalo calamari ($11), croque monsieur bites ($13), grilled, housemade kielbasa ($14) and the uniquely presented "pretzel and charcuterie," ($17) with chef's selection of cured meats, grainy mustard and cornichons tucked into the three holes of a giant soft pretzel. The "McDowell" burger ($15.50) with two patties and special sauce is a nod to the movie "Coming to America." A salt-crusted whole branzino on the entree list ($28) frequently sells out, and Republic's popular macaroni and cheese gets a layer of "very thick" Bolognese sauce at the new location, Cohen said.
Bloomfield's infamous "heart-attack" burger, a gut- and wallet-buster ($49) with domestic Kobe beef, foie gras, black truffles and truffle demiglace dipping sauce on brioche, has also made its way onto the Hartford menu. (Cohen said the indulgence sells in "spurts.")
Featured desserts ($7 to $14) include a classic baked Alaska, with J. Foster Graham Central Station ice cream and chocolate cake surrounded by browned meringue, and a "big-a#$ piece of chocolate cake" meant to serve two.
"We try to have a little bit of everything. I think that's the way people are dining now," he said. "They want to have a place that they can go to two to three times a week if they want, or if they want to go out and have a really nice bottle of wine and a steak. I don't think the two have to be mutually exclusive anymore."
The Hartford location was the first of the Republics to introduce a Sunday brunch, serving such dishes as challah French toast, filet Benedict and a "hangover" burger with beef and chorizo patty, egg, cheese, avocado and green Tabasco on a jumbo English muffin. Brunch runs from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Cohen said they hope to bring that option to Bloomfield eventually.
Cohen said the bar has been the fastest-growing aspect of the Hartford restaurant, which is what happened with Bloomfield in 2012. Specialty cocktails ($9 to 11) are a focus, with unique flavor profiles: mezcal with grilled cherries and thyme, cachaca with Cocchi Americano, guava puree and sherry; a gin fizz with honey and sage. Happy hour, running Monday through Friday from 3:30 to 6 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. on Sundays, offers specials on wine, beer, cocktails and snacks.
"I think we're just trying to add to what we did in Bloomfield, get a little bit of a further reach," Cohen said. "I still just want to do a fun, quality restaurant where people feel like they're getting something new and exciting, and hopefully something they can't get somewhere else.
He pointed to signs of achievement in the capital city, naming the success of the year-old Little River Restoratives on Capitol Avenue and Bear's Smokehouse's recent move to a bigger space on Front Street.
"To have all those cool new places all in fairly close proximity to each other, it means something," he said. "Everybody wouldn't take these chances if something wasn't happening.
"You're seeing the beginnings of rejuvenation, you're seeing the actual buildout of the rejuvenation," he continued, referencing the construction of the new UConn campus downtown, new apartment buildings and the development of the city's Front Street.
"And I think once those things are done and it all starts coming together, I think it's going to be a pretty powerful thing. I hope. That's what we're betting on. That's why we did this space."
Republic, 10 Capitol Ave., Hartford, is open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. 860-310-3269, republicct.com.