Nixs Hartford Joins Front Street Restaurant Boom

Hartford's newest restaurant invites its guests to "Play Nice." Nixs, which officially opened on Front Street Aug. 16, is poised to make a name for itself with innovative craft cocktails, local beer and small plates with an intense focus on seafood.

The jocular motto, which is incorporated throughout the 180-seat restaurant's décor and branding, refers in part to Nixs' model of shareable plates and large-format cocktails.

"We're an American small-plates concept. We really focus on things to be shared. Everything comes out tapas style, as it's prepared," said director of operations Ashley Blain.

Fresh fish and shellfish are Nixs' specialties, with raw bar and ceviche offerings, roasted scallops, tuna tartare tacos, tuna crudo, crispy calamari, salmon, swordfish and crab cakes among the choices for small plates. Lobster and crab tater tots with cheddar are already an "absolute favorite," Blain said, served with a lemon aioli. But land and garden categories are also well-represented, with braised short rib tacos, pork and cheeseburger sliders, spinach dip, vegetarian flatbreads and salads. Small plates are priced at $6 to $13.

Large plates ($12 to $30) include fish and chips, surf and turf with swordfish and pork belly, grilled hanger steak with chimichurri, grilled New York strip with red onion marmalade and a "bad ass roasted chicken" with corn, bacon and rosemary pan juices. These, too, are meant to be shared, said Blain, with the addition of sides like smoked mac and cheese, fries with black truffle butter, herb risotto and garlicky spinach.

Craft cocktails ($9 to $14) are made with infused liquors, fresh produce and herbs, and most are available by the half-carafe and full carafe ($20-22; $36 to $50) for larger groups, said Blain. An early favorite is the Beach Please, with pineapple vodka, housemade sparkling coconut water, lime, cucumber juice and agave nectar. Others include the Strawberry-Rhubarb Smash with bourbon, muddled berries and basil, and the Dirty Rotten Scoundrel, which Blain calls a "very, very dirty Belvedere martini" with olive brine, capers, preserved lemon twist and blue cheese-stuffed olive.

Nixs also serves bottled cocktails, house-carbonated and served in ice buckets, and a lineup of 8 draft beers, mostly hailing from Connecticut and New England.

Happy hour runs weekdays from 4 to 6:30 p.m., with "buck a shuck" raw bar items (oysters, clams, shrimp) for $1 apiece and select $3 bar bites, along with $5 draft beers, $6 house wines and $6 featured cocktail. Nixs opens for lunch on Aug. 25, and plans after-hours nightlife in the next few months, with DJs and possibly some themed parties.

"I see this being a great lunch place, happy hour, dinner, and the place you want to come for your birthday party, bachelorette party," Blain said.

Named for Nix's Mate, an island off the coast of Boston Harbor, the restaurant is part of the Bostonian Hospitality Group. Other locations are in Boston, Nantucket, Plymouth and Newburyport.

>>Nixs, 40 Front St. in Hartford, Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 12 a.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Information: 860-373-9400 and nixshartford.com.