Family-Friendly First Night Hartford Expands Adult Options

First Night, Hartford’s annual New Year’s Eve party that takes place in about a dozen downtown locations, is a reliable attraction for parents with children looking for wholesome holiday entertainment. But in the last few years, adults without kids have increasingly celebrated the New Year elsewhere.

“It’s a great family event, but come 7, 8 at night, 10 at night, there wasn’t a lot to do between the fireworks,” said Mike McGarry, a board member of First Night. “Now we have a lot. The idea this year is to bring back the adult demographic that we’ve lost.”

McGarry said one $10,000 donation — from the Richard P. Garmany Fund administered by Hartford Foundation for Public Giving — was based on the promise that organizers would schedule more entertainment for adults.

So McGarry and event coordinator Nicole Glander have rounded out the ice skating, fireworks, face painting and crafts with a variety of evening musical performances, dance parties and other grown-up features for the 29th annual event.

One new event is a café, “Le Jazz Hot: Music of Paris 1937.” Four bands will make music between the fireworks displays — from 6:30 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. — at 64 Pratt St., former location of Lux Bond & Green. Musicians will play in the gypsy-jazz style of Django Reinhardt’s Quintette du Hot Club de France.

The lineup is the Mark Templeton Trio from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.; Nat Reeves Quintet, 7:45 to 8:45 p.m.; Sinan Bikar, 9 to 10 p.m.; and the Chat Noir Band from 10:15 to 11:15 p.m. Preceding the music, around 4 p.m., Bikar and McGarry will give a talk titled “The Life and Music of Django Reinhardt.”

The capacity of the café is about 150 people, McGarry said. French refreshments will be sold.

“Little kids will be the waiters and waitresses, wearing little bow ties and white shirts. We thought people would get a kick out of that,” he said. The children, like all First Night helpers, are volunteers, but they get to keep their tips, McGarry said.

No alcoholic beverages or full meals will be served in the cafe. “We don’t want to compete with the restaurants that will be open that night,” he said.

Other storefronts on Pratt Street will have bands, McGarry said, but that lineup is still being determined. Other businesses on Pratt will be open that usually are not on Sunday nights, he said, and some will have receptions.

Another new event is a talk by Dyke Spear. Spear, 82, is an attorney in the city, but his hobby and his passion are

UFOs. He will be at the Elks Lodge on Prospect Street at 4 p.m. to talk about his experiences and those of his compatriots in the Mutual UFO Network. McGarry said the talk may be too scary for children.

Spear, who has practiced law since 1960, became an enthusiastic believer in UFOs in February 1984, after an experience with a friend.

“We were traveling about six miles west of Brewster, N.Y. We came upon a craft 100 feet off the shoulder of the road, 50 feet in the air, twice size of a Greyhound bus, hovering, absolutely silent, lights flashing,” Spear said. “Once you see something like that it totally changes your attitude about reality.”

Another adult-oriented event is Rock Solid Alibi, a band performing classic rock songs, with a dance floor. The band will perform at the Elks Lodge from 8 to 11 p.m.

The UConn Women’s basketball team will play the University of Memphis that day at XL Center, starting at 1:30 p.m. The game is not part of First Night and regular game admission applies. Still, event organizers consider the game a kick-off to the festivities.

Here is a schedule of the rest of the events. Unless otherwise noted, admission is free with the purchase of a wristband. Street parking is free on Sundays.

CT Science Center: $5 discounts on admission all day, and Jan. 1, with First Night wristband. 250 Columbus Blvd. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Ice skating: In Bushnell Park. Skate rentals also free. 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Butler-McCook House: Tours of historic home at 396 Main St., noon to 5:30 p.m. Children’s crafts, 3 to 5:30 p.m.

Ancient Burial Ground: Tour led by Bill Hosley. 2 to 3 p.m.

Bushnell Park Carousel rides: 2 p.m. to midnight.

Horse-drawn wagon rides: Fifteen-minute rides starting at Trinity Street near Bushnell Park Carousel. $3 per person. 2 to 4:30 p.m.

Architectural Treasures of Hartford: Greg Andrews will guide a walking tour of historical landmarks in the city starting at the Old State House, 800 Main St. 2 to 3 p.m., 3 to 4 p.m.

Kids’ science activity: Slime-making. Bushnell Park Carousel activity room, 3 to 5 p.m.

Kids Fest: Craft activities, Gizmo the therapy dog, building tours, costumed interpreters, multimedia exhibit. Old State House. 3 to 5:30 p.m.

First Church of Christ: Tour led by Bill Hosley, 675 Main St. 3:30 to 4 p.m.

Face painting: Old State House, 3 to 4:30 p.m. Center Church office building, 60 Gold St., 4 to 8 p.m.

Nature pendants: Create wearable, nature-themed art. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 600 Main St., 3 to 5 p.m.

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch: Self-guided tours of the historic structure. Trinity Street, 3 to 5:15 p.m.

The Boys of Wexford: Irish traditional music. Pump House Gallery in Bushnell Park, 3 to 6 p.m.

The Whaler Guys: Comic duo with a hockey theme. Woody’s Hotdogs, 915 Main St., 3 to 8 p.m.

Maze: Couples maze, 3-D maze, Theseus and Minotaur and bureaucratic maze. Center Church, 675 Main St.. 3 to 9:30 p.m.

Fortunetellers: $10 for 10 minutes, $1 for each additional minute. Elks Lodge, Prospect Street. 3 to 11 p.m.

Choo Choo Train: In Bushnell Park. 4 to 10 p.m.

Christ Church Cathedral: Tour led by Bill Hosley. 45 Church St. 4:30 to 5 p.m.

Grand Profession: Participatory parade. Bushnell Park Plaza to fireworks display viewing area, 5:25 to 5:45 p.m.

Dance party: Leading up to fireworks. Trinity Street. 5:30 to 6 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. to midnight.

Fireworks: Bushnell Park at Trinity Street, 6 p.m. and midnight.

Bill Katz: Guitar playing at Pump House in Bushnell Park. 6 to 9 p.m.

Bill Walach: Celtic, Bluegrass, maritime and Americana songs. Pump House, 6:15 to 11:45 p.m.

Sineti and Roys: Sea songs and folk songs. Pump House in Bushnell Park, 6:15 to 11:45 p.m.

Sea Tea Improv Comedy Company: Standup comedy. Central Baptist Church, 6:45 to 7:30 p.m. and 8 to 8:45 p.m.

Story City Troupe: Storytelling for adults. Center Church, 7 to 7:45 p.m. and 8:15 to 9 p.m.

Wristbands, which grant admission to the day’s activities, can be bought online at or in person at AAA branch offices in West Hartford, Avon, Cromwell, Enfield, Manchester, Plainville, Old Saybrook and Waterford; CBT/Berkshire Bank offices in Farmington, Glastonbury, Newington, Rocky Hill, Vernon, West Hartford and Windsor; the CT Transit Information Booth in State House Square; Highland Park Markets in Farmington, Glastonbury, Manchester, South Windsor, Suffield and Coventry; at the Old State House; at Radisson Hotel Hartford; and at Whole Foods in West Hartford.

Wristbands are $12 for adults, $3 ages 3 to 15, free 2 and younger. If bought online, shipping is $2.50. The last day to buy a wristband online is Dec. 26. For a map of where to buy wristbands on the day of the event, and parking costs and locations, visit

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