The Insider’s night out in Concord, 2017 edition

People Skills performs in Bicentennial Square in front of True Brew Barista on July 21. This was the first outdoor concert of the season for True Brew, which hosts live music every weekend.  JON BODELL / Insider staff
People Skills performs in Bicentennial Square in front of True Brew Barista on July 21. This was the first outdoor concert of the season for True Brew, which hosts live music every weekend. JON BODELL / Insider staff
Tim grabbed a slice of pizza from Basil Pizza & More at the Steeplegate Mall last week. There were plenty of seats available in the food court. TIM GOODWIN / Insider staff
Tim grabbed a slice of pizza from Basil Pizza & More at the Steeplegate Mall last week. There were plenty of seats available in the food court. TIM GOODWIN / Insider staff
Jon lines up a shot on the pool table at Chi Cha Hookah Bar and Smoking Lounge on July 21. He handled Tim with ease in this round of 8-ball. TIM GOODWIN / Insider staff
Jon lines up a shot on the pool table at Chi Cha Hookah Bar and Smoking Lounge on July 21. He handled Tim with ease in this round of 8-ball. TIM GOODWIN / Insider staff
We stopped at Red Arrow Diner about 11 p.m. during our night out and ordered a plate of chicken fingers and fries and Nutella and Fluff-filled French toast. Both hit the spot perfectly at the end of a long night. TIM GOODWIN / Insider staff
We stopped at Red Arrow Diner about 11 p.m. during our night out and ordered a plate of chicken fingers and fries and Nutella and Fluff-filled French toast. Both hit the spot perfectly at the end of a long night. TIM GOODWIN / Insider staff
Jon watches Tom Caron, Tim Wakefield and Lenny DiNardo break down the Red Sox game at Buffalo Wild Wings last week. That projection screen is awesome for watching a game. TIM GOODWIN / Insider staff
Jon watches Tom Caron, Tim Wakefield and Lenny DiNardo break down the Red Sox game at Buffalo Wild Wings last week. That projection screen is awesome for watching a game. TIM GOODWIN / Insider staff
Jon gets an awkward and at times uncomfortable massage from a chair at Steeplegate Mall last week. For just one dollar, you can get a full 3-minute massage, with lots of control over the massage intensity and patterns. TIM GOODWIN / Insider staff
Jon gets an awkward and at times uncomfortable massage from a chair at Steeplegate Mall last week. For just one dollar, you can get a full 3-minute massage, with lots of control over the massage intensity and patterns. TIM GOODWIN / Insider staff
Tim lines up the claw with one of the many fabulous prizes at one of the claw machines at Steeplegate Mall last week. Despite his patience and concentration, he came up empty-clawed. JON BODELL / Insider staff
Tim lines up the claw with one of the many fabulous prizes at one of the claw machines at Steeplegate Mall last week. Despite his patience and concentration, he came up empty-clawed. JON BODELL / Insider staff
Tim plays a round of cornhole at Lithermans Limited with patron Brian Peters on July 21. The Hall Street brewery now serves full pints and offers an outdoor seating area featuring the popular bean bag-toss game. JON BODELL / Insider staff
Tim plays a round of cornhole at Lithermans Limited with patron Brian Peters on July 21. The Hall Street brewery now serves full pints and offers an outdoor seating area featuring the popular bean bag-toss game. JON BODELL / Insider staff
Among the many attractions at the Steeplegate Mall is this photo booth. It's the perfect way to commemorate your epic night out in Concord (though we personally did not opt for a photo session). TIM GOODWIN / Insider staff
Among the many attractions at the Steeplegate Mall is this photo booth. It's the perfect way to commemorate your epic night out in Concord (though we personally did not opt for a photo session). TIM GOODWIN / Insider staff
Tim contemplates a painting by Bethany Cole Rymes, "Kairos," during the McGowan Fine Art opening for 'Inertia.' Luckily the photos didn't catch him stuffing his face with cheese, crackers and grapes. JULIE HAMEL / For the Insider

There was once a time when Tim and I had no problem staying up all hours of the night, roaming the streets and throwing caution to the wind. We used to be able to burn the candle at both ends with the best of them.

That was before kids. Long before kids.

These days, there’s a lot of going to bed at reasonable hours and getting ahead on house and yard work.

But every once in a blue moon, when the stars align just right, we can find it in ourselves to prove that “we still got it” and hit the town for a good old-fashioned night out.

That’s precisely what we did over the last couple weeks.

Concord has plenty to offer after dark, it’s just that we typically work during the day, so we don’t always get to experience – and write about – a lot of the after-work-hours happenings around here. Last August we went out and took in as much as we could in a single night, and as fun as it was, it was a little overwhelming to cover so much ground in so little time.

This year, we decided to take a little more time and stretch our night out over two-plus nights. Although it may not have the same narrative impact as a true one-night, first-person account, we feel the end product will ultimately be more beneficial to readers, as we were able to spend a bit more time with each of the features than we did last year, allowing us to get a fuller and more detailed experience.

Our previous night out focused mostly on the downtown core – after all, that’s where most of the after-dark activity seems to go down. This year, we decided to spread it out and cover some more ground in the capital city to see what we could find.

Here’s how it all played out. You can use this spread as your own personal guide to nightlife in Concord – see if you can hit all of the stops we did in a single night. If you can’t, you’ll understand why we used two nights to tackle all of it.

Lithermans Limited

Lithermans Limited is a destination you’re very unlikely to stumble upon by chance while you’re wandering around Concord on a weekend night – unless, of course, you like to wander around Hall Street.

The microbrewery, though not in the heart of downtown, has as lively a vibe as any place in the city, especially now that they can serve full pints and food. We had been to Lithermans a few times before, but back then we could only get tasters, meaning the fun never lasted long.

But business has been booming at the somewhat hidden Hall Street location (which, word on the street is, will be expanding pretty soon), and patrons get to reap all the benefits.

We were two such patrons a couple weeks ago.

We stopped by some time after 5:30 on a Friday – the hours are 4 to 7 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays – and I ordered a pint of Milli Banilli Porter, a banana and vanilla porter with 5.9 percent alcohol by volume. My counterpart ordered a water.

We took our beverages outside – there’s a roped-in patio area out front – and noticed a cornhole set that nobody was using, so we started a game. Tim got into an early groove, and the match was barely ever competitive. A group of people sitting at a table next to us was into the game, and one man, Brian Peters, called next game, earning the right to challenge Tim.

After what seemed like just a couple minutes, Tim dispatched Peters in impressive fashion – after taking a quick 1-0 lead, our new friend Peters struggled the rest of the way, losing 21-5 to a red-hot Tim, who seemingly couldn’t miss.

Peters, though, was a great sport and didn’t mind the loss – he and his friends were out celebrating a birthday, and the night was young for them, too.

Meanwhile, I was only about two-thirds of the way through my beer by the time the game ended. The Milli Banilli was very smooth, creamy and as sweet as a banana, and I’d definitely get it again.

Learn more about Lithermans Limited at lithermans.beer.

Bicentennial Square

After the beer and bean bag session at Lithermans, we were in the mood for some music.

There are always plenty of options to hear music in Concord, but since it was so nice out, we wanted to try to find something outdoors, if possible. As luck would have it, we happened to be out on the very night that True Brew Barista started its outdoor concert series, featuring People Skills playing on the patio in front of a big audience.

Although two-thirds of the band hails from the Seacoast, bassist and Endicott Furniture owner Eric Reingold is a Concord fixture (maybe even celebrity) and is seemingly always playing music somewhere in the city.

The show had a very upbeat vibe. People Skills brings plenty of energy, but not aggressive, mosh pit-style energy. The band’s groove reminds me of good alternative pop/rock from the ’90s – singer and guitarist Chelsea Paolini even wore a top resembling Rocko’s shirt from the ’90s cult cartoon hit Rocko’s Modern Life.

Even though I don’t know any words to any of the songs, I liked the performance. The lead guitar work was impressive and gnarly, the bass was very active and noticeable, and the drums were crisp and snappy. The only downside was that it sometimes was hard to hear the vocals – probably a side effect of playing outside on a busy weekend evening.

All in all, though, listening to a band out in Bicentennial Square on a beautiful summer night is one of the finer ways to spend an evening in Concord. The outdoor concerts are held every Friday night from 7 to 10 in the square in front of True Brew, and there’s music inside every Saturday, too. Upcoming shows include Miketon and the Night Blinders on Friday and Andrew Merzi on Saturday.

For more listings and more information in general, go to truebrewbarista.com.

Hatbox Theatre

While I was listening to People Skills, Tim went to Hatbox Theatre at the Steeplegate Mall to take in a performance of Barnum, which just finished up a two-week run at the theater.

Although you can no longer see Barnum – which Tim thoroughly enjoyed and wrote about in last week’s issue – Hatbox presents shows virtually every weekend. For the next two weeks, you can catch a two-for-one: The Whole Shebang and Bob’s Date, two one-act plays in one evening. The shows will run Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through Aug. 13.

For more info or to buy tickets for an upcoming show, go to hatboxnh.com.

Chi Cha

After sitting for People Skills and Barnum for a couple hours, we were ready to try something a little more active to get the blood flowing again. We decided to walk from Bicentennial Square down to Pleasant Street Extension and pop into Chi Cha Hookah Bar and Smoking Lounge – not for a smoke, but to play some pool.

Chi Cha offers hookah and cigars, and both can be smoked inside the place. There’s also a bar with liquor and a limited selection of beer, and a handful of pool tables.

We had heard that the pool tables were free, but when we asked about it, we learned that the policy had recently been changed due to a slight downturn in business. What once was free now costs a dollar, but we didn’t mind dropping some change to play a game.

After getting blown out in the cornhole game earlier, I was determined to bounce back at the billiard table, even though I’ve never been a great pool player. In fact, before we started, I warned Tim, “I’m always a lot worse at pool than I think I am.”

But once we started to play, I found my rhythm and really put a nice run together. On more than one occasion I pulled off ridiculous combination and bank shots that I never thought had a chance of going in, and before I knew it I was down to the 8 ball while Tim still had three left to sink.

After botching a perfectly makeable shot, Tim left the cue ball in perfect position for me to sink the 8 ball in the corner pocket, which I did with ease to secure the victory.

It would have been the perfect situation to celebrate with a cigar – in true Red Auerbach fashion – but I don’t smoke cigars, so that didn’t make sense.

Instead, we lingered for a few minutes to catch the end of an inning of the Red Sox game on one of the TVs (the Sox beat the Angels, 6-2, on this night) and headed out for a bite to eat.

Red Arrow Diner

It’s old news by now, but when we went out two weeks ago, Red Arrow Diner was brand-spankin’ new, so we had to make the trip up Loudon Road to check it out.

One of the main draws of Red Arrow is that it’s open 24 hours. While we were up late, it wasn’t that late, so we weren’t able to get the 3 a.m. diner experience we were hoping for.

Nonetheless, an 11 p.m. sit-down dining experience at a non-fast food place in Concord was interesting enough to write about.

The place was packed when we walked in, but to our surprise it didn’t take us long to be seated. In fact, we even got a comfy booth by a window looking out at scenic Loudon Road, with 24-hour rival McDonald’s directly across from us.

I was in the mood for something sweet, and I was immediately intrigued by one particular item on the menu: Nutella and Fluff Stuffed French Toast. Red Arrow does a different flavor of stuffed French toast every week, and I’m a big fan of Nutella and hadn’t had Fluff in ages, so I knew that’s what I had to order.

Tim, meanwhile, asked our server, Cassandra Hall, what was good, and she said she liked the buffalo chicken tenders. He didn’t want to commit fully to the buffalo at this late hour, so he ordered regular chicken tenders with buffalo sauce on the side, as well as sides of cajun fries and onion rings – why wouldn’t you get an entire plate of fried foods around midnight?

There was a little bit of a wait from the time we ordered to the time the food was brought out, but that was to be expected considering how busy it was. Once it was delivered, though, it was well worth the wait.

I dove right into my plate of sticky sugar like a baby in front of his first birthday cake. The presentation was really top-notch – the French toast was golden brown and artistically sprinkled with a layer of powdered sugar. A couple of the slices had delicious brown and white goo oozing out the sides, and I couldn’t wait to indulge.

After what felt like about 5 minutes, my plate was bone dry, my stomach full. It was a field day for my taste buds and a refreshing eating experience, as I almost never go for something sweet when savory options are available. The sad part was that this was just a weekly special.

Meanwhile, Tim made his way through his plate of fried goodness without any trouble, reporting just that the chicken had a hint of sweetness in the batter that he didn’t expect. The onion rings were on the thinner side and the cajun fries were nice and crispy. The seasoning on the fries wasn’t overly spicy, but it had some kick to it, balanced out by the generous portion of ketchup used for dipping.

Hall, our very attentive and polite server, said the most popular items are the Trump Tower Burger and the poutine. The burger features two grilled cheese sandwiches as the bun with a free-form fresh ground beef patty topped with fried mac and cheese and cheese sauce, served with fries. Poutine is a plate of fries topped with traditional Canadian cheese curds and brown gravy, and the Red Arrow Diner has a whole section of the menu dedicated to poutine – you can add all kinds of meat to your creation if you want.

In the end, it was a very enjoyable late-night eating experience, one that we look forward to having again and again. The food was great, the atmosphere was nice and the prices were reasonable.

For more info, go to redarrowdiner.com or call the Concord location at 415-0444.

Night Two: Buffalo Wild Wings

As we mentioned in the beginning, we split this year’s night out over two evenings, allowing us to do more than we would have been able to had it been confined to one night. The Red Arrow trip capped off our first night out, and we started our second night with some food, too – why wouldn’t we?

There was a Red Sox game on with Chris Sale pitching, so we went to Buffalo Wild Wings to catch some of the game while snacking on some chicken and sipping on some suds. We sat at the bar, with the gigantic projection screen right in front of us playing the Sox game on the whole screen (often the big projection screen is divided up into several smaller screens, showing multiple games at once).

We ordered some boneless wings with spicy garlic sauce to share, and I ordered a Sam Adams Boston Lager to wash it down. Tim was brave and went out on a limb and tried something exotic: Bud Light.

The food was served quickly and made for a perfect game-watching snack. The boneless tenders were crispy and hot, and the sauce provided the perfect amount of zesty, garlicky kick. I had always been a big fan of this sauce, but it was Tim’s first time trying it and he enjoyed it as well.

Meanwhile, the Sox were playing a good game and it was a nice, sporty atmosphere to be in.

If you’re not much a sports fan, there’s still plenty of fun to be had at Buffalo Wild Wings. There’s always trivia going on, but it’s not the kind where a live host runs the show. Instead, games are constantly running on some of the dozens of TVs in the restaurant, and you can ask a server for a tablet to log in or create an account.

Similar to modern video game consoles, you can create a profile – complete with an avatar – that you can keep and use at any Buffalo Wild Wings. Your stats are saved and compared to other players in the region and the country – it’s like an arcade game’s leaderboard, only way bigger and visible to way more people.

We didn’t really feel like engaging in a long night of trivia – we had a lot of other things to get through – but it did look like fun, and it did not seem very difficult at all, either.

Instead, we ate our boneless wings, drank our brews and headed out the door, ready to see what else the capital city had in store for us.

McGowan Fine Art

You may not think of art galleries when you think of spending a night out in the city, but that would be a mistake on your part.

After filling up on some garlicky chicken, Tim headed over to McGowan Fine Art for the opening reception of the exhibit “Inertia,” featuring the work of 21 artists. The gallery hosted a Friday night opening reception, which drew a crowd of about 20 when he was there – not bad for a nice summer evening.

The artwork was excellent, of course, but Tim was also pretty interested in the snacks. There were many different types of cheese and crackers, as well as grapes, chips and nuts. For beverages, self-serve wine, beer and seltzer were offered.

Apart from great snacking opportunities, the opening reception offered the chance to meet some of the featured artists and ask questions about the works.

Although you’ve missed the opening reception, you can still check out the exhibit, which runs through Aug. 25. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Go to mcgowanfineart.com or call 225-2515 for more information.

Steeplegate Mall

We know – it’s 2017, so who even goes to malls anymore, right?

Well, we happen to have a mall right here in Concord, so as sort of a throwback to junior high, we decided to check it out on a weekend night and see what was going on. Surely there would be tons of teens and 20-somethings just hanging out, looking for a good time and goofing off, we figured.

Then we remembered we were dealing with the Steeplegate Mall here, not the Mall of America (or even Mall of New Hampshire, for that matter).

This mall is, sadly, perhaps best known for its lack of stores more than anything else. Gone are big-name retailers such as Old Navy, American Eagle, Journey’s and Zales. Even the food court is down to just one business (two if you count Dunkin’ Donuts).

What the mall has plenty of, though, is kiosks and random attractions in the hallways.

Some time ago, we went to the mall in the day and rode around on some electric animals – which was a great time. We were hoping to try this again at night, but we couldn’t find them anywhere. Instead, we tried a few other things we came across in the mall’s common space.

Tim started by grabbing a slice of pizza at Basil Pizza & More, the top dog in the food court. After getting his slice of pepperoni, he patrolled up and down the rows of tables until he found one that was up to his standards.

The pizza was good, he reported, and it was nice to be able to eat in peace and quiet – no punk kids making a ruckus or obnoxious groups of friends crowding your space.

After the pizza, we came across a section of some of those electronic massage chairs. We had never tried one before but had always wanted to, so this was the perfect opportunity to do so.

The price was a bit intimidating – a dollar for a 3-minute session – but since we were going to charge everything to the company anyway, we figured we might as well give it a go.

After Tim tried the pizza, I did the honors for the massage chair. As soon as it turned on, I was immediately uncomfortable. The leg harnesses were too tight and the intensity on the legs was too high.

Also, it felt like someone was thrusting individual knuckles into random spots on my back. I wanted to get up.

After just a few seconds, I started messing with the buttons – you can customize your massage by adjusting the speed and intensity of the robotic finger analogs. Once I turned everything way down, it became more tolerable, which is not to say enjoyable. On the lowest settings all around, I was able to sit through the entire session, but it still wasn’t what I would call a pleasant experience.

To be fair, I have a sensitive back and have always been a little too ticklish for massages, so maybe it was never a good idea for me to try it out in the first place.

Once I was free from the chair of awkwardness, Tim and I walked down the hall until we came across a cluster of claw machines. Interestingly enough, there were several claw machines to choose from, with differing prices in some cases.

Tim started with the 25-cent machine, the cheapest one there. The machine was full of small stuffed animals – mostly unrecognizable ones and nothing that appealed to either of us grown men – but 25 cents is 25 cents, so we weren’t going to pass this up.

After spending almost all of the allotted time lining up the shot, the claw descended on a little bear’s head, grabbed, pulled and ultimately slipped off, dropping nothing but air and disappointment into the prize bin.

Up next was the big-money, 50-cent machine, full of spiky rubber balls. An inflated rubber ball must be pretty easy to grab with the claw, we thought, but it didn’t turn out that way. This machine proved as fruitless as the first one.

At the end of the night, we had no prizes and a slightly sore back to show for our efforts, but we had smiles on our faces, which is all that counts.

It was a fine way to end a two-night excursion in the fine city of Concord, and we hope you’ll go out and try some of the things we did the next time you go for a night out on the town. Hopefully you’ll have as a good a time as we did.

Author: Jon Bodell

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