Taste of Downtown is one big party, and you’re invited.
“I always have a lot of fun,” says Kathy Hamel, owner of With Heart and Hand. “It’s a non-stressful night. I like meeting people and talking with people I haven’t seen in a while. There’s a lot of hugging.”
Forty-eight businesses will be presented by InTown Manchester, the organization heading up The Taste, along Elm Street from Bridge to south of the Verizon Wireless Arena, including Hanover, Mechanic and Stark streets. Roughly half of the establishments are retailers; they host restaurant chefs who set up tastings in front of the stores. 2012 marks the event’s ninth anniversary, and Hamel has been featuring her store since the event began.
“Last year they did it inside restaurants instead of partnering, but I still stayed open,” she said. “We make it festive and stay open and it makes downtown look good. We want people to enjoy being here.”
Her gift shop offers country, colonial and primitive home decor and gifts and has partnered with a different restaurant every year. This year, Jillian’s Billiards (50 Phillippe Cote St., 626-7636) will set up outside her shop and serve food while Hamel offers discounts and coupons on various items inside.
People can best enjoy the event with friends or family, Hamel said, especially if they’ve never been downtown. InTown Director of Events and Marketing Sara Beaudry agreed and said the event is a leisurely way to showcase new businesses while paying homage to longtime, steadfast merchants.
“Downtown Manchester has a legendary assortment of restaurants.... Everyone loves a party, and with this event, everyone is invited,” Beaudry said.
Participating restaurants benefit from exposure to hundreds of customers in a short time — the event lasts from 5 to 8 p.m. With such a diverse and ever-changing landscape along the downtown corridor, Beaudry said both newcomers and longtime residents get a self-guided tour of downtown to try something new.
A “Dine and Wine” after-party is new to the Taste this year. Event newcomer Vino Aromas (997 Elm St.) will host a wine tasting along with veteran restaurant Milly’s Tavern (900 Elm St.), which will be offering beer samples. Both tastings run 7 to 9 p.m.
“Overall, we are hoping to get exposure to what our concept really is. Everyone knows [we are a] wine retail store, but we also have the only self-serving wine bar in the state,” said Vino Aromas co-owner Dan Villafranca, who runs the establishment with his wife, Nadine.
Before and during the tasting, Vino Aromas will host Gauchos Churrascaria Brazilian Steakhouse at its storefront. With 30 years of experience in the restaurant industry, Villafranca’s bar also serves wine-friendly tapas, but for the Taste, Gauchos’ menu is at the forefront. Villafranca said that of the more than 200 worldly wines he stocks, a selection of South American wines from Chile, Argentina and elsewhere will complement the menu perfectly.
Located on Lowell Street, Gauchos will benefit from the exposure on Elm Street.
“A big part of our participation is the opportunity to connect with the large number of future customers,” said Jose Nieves, owner of Gauchos.
He said the collaboration in events like the Taste is what makes Manchester and the business in the city special.
“By offering examples of dishes we accomplish this in a very special way…it is the most profitable and least expensive way to acquire new customers,” Nieves said.
Cross-promotion makes the event unlike typical restaurant weeks, Beaudry said.
“[Manchester] has a very interesting retail sector that, happily, continues to strengthen,” Beaudry said.
Newcomer shop Cedar and Oak will host veteran restaurant 900 Degrees, and the new Antiques on Elm shop will host chefs from the new bakery Finesse Pastries.
Dancing Lion Chocolate, Granite State Candy Shoppe, The Farm, Gaucho’s and Delux are first-timers as well.
Hanover Street regular The Palace Theatre will present Hooked, Ignite and Planet Marshmallow, who will be providing live music.
“We also have the classic Manchester restaurants and shops involved, such as Fratello’s, The Red Arrow, XO, Pearson’s, 900 Degrees, Margarita’s, Ignite, Hooked, Piccola, George’s, Mint Bistro and many more,” Beaudry said. “Old favorites including Ben & Jerry’s, Edible Arrangements and Van Otis Chocolates will be providing sweets too.”
Both Brady Sullivan Plaza and The Palace Theatre will feature live music as well.
A lot goes into the three-hour event. InTown reaches out to businesses early in the year, coordinating with the Manchester Health Department to inspect each tasting location. Beaudry said they want to provide a comfortable, walkable and safe event.
Early-bird tickets cost $20, slightly less than last year, Beaudry said. To purchase tickets, visit the InTown offices at 1000 Elm St. in the Brady Sullivan Plaza or go to www.intownmanchester.com. Tickets are available the day of the event for $25.
The Taste is capped at 1,000 visitors. Attendees will receive a downtown map with their tickets and, as they go around, may collect check marks from businesses. When the event is finished, tickets and maps can be dropped off at the InTown offices to be entered into a prize drawing.