October 5, 2021: An Evening in Connecticut´s Largest City
I had a free afternoon/evening in New York City and noticed that there was a preseason New York Islanders NHL game being played in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Bridgeport is located just an hour away on Amtrak or 90 minutes via the Metro North regional train. I figured the game could be a good way to visit the city, which shockingly is the largest in the state of Connecticut ( I know, I´m surprised too).
Amtrak trains in New York City leave from the sleek new Moynihan Train Hall which is just two blocks from my apartment. The train left on time and 75 comfortable minutes later, I was in Bridgeport.
The train station is located in between the downtown and the arena. With limited daylight, I ventured south towards Long Island Sound. There, I visited a beautiful and humongous and spacious Seaside Park.
Bridgeport´s legacy has largely been shaped by legendary showman P.T. Barnum of Barnum & Bailey Circus. Barnum was an active politician and abolitionist. In 1865, he was part of the Connecticut state legislature was part of the effort to ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which banned slavery. In 1875, he became mayor of Bridgeport. While he was only mayor for 2 years, he brought streetlights to the town. He also used his considerable wealth to build a humongous seaside park. The park is still there. A major landmark in this beautiful park is a statue of Barnum, which was erected after his death. Barnum is buried in Bridgeport´s main cemetery which he designed.
Anyways, Seaside Park is a real gem. In addition to the scenery, I enjoyed watching a man sitting in his car blasting Colt 45 by Afroman while watching his dog play with a ball.
I next walked north through the University of Bridgeport campus. The school is average, but the campus is pretty and is surrounded by Victorian era houses. I saw a few foreign graduate students walking around but no undergrads. I wonder if many of them hang out around the campus.
I got pizza in a famous restaurant near campus. My pizza was $8.75 which is unheard of in New York City.
I then walked to the downtown as the sun began to set. The sidewalks were completely empty. What was an abandoned residential neighborhood eventually gave way to office and government buildings. As it was after work, the city center was abandoned, but the buildings and streetscape were both quite nice. I was impressed.
In the city´s main square, I saw a random white man offering free coffee. I don´t drink coffee but decided to chat with him and he turned out to be the CEO of a one-man organization to bring people back to downtown Bridgeport.
This man explained that Bridgeport was a magnificent city 100 years ago. It was the industrial center for Connecticut in automobiles and clothing. Many important businesses got their start in Bridgeport including Subway and Tishman Speyer here. The monumental architecture reflects this storied past. However, the city experienced white flight due to a combination of the development of the suburban lifestyle, the departure of manufacturing jobs and mismanagement by city officials. By the 1970´s Bridgeport was a ghost town at nights and weekends and was incredibly dangerous. In fact, it was so dangerous that the CEO of the organization would not walk around downtown after 5pm until 3 years ago.
This man said that the opening of a comedy club downtown has started the revitalization. Since then, restaurants have begun to open and most recently, the city put in string lights to illuminate the main square.
Today, the downtown has some life at night.
However, the safe zone does not extend very far. I was told to not go more than 2 blocks north. Luckily, the hockey game was to the south.
I walked over to the arena, which seats 10,000- about half of an NHL arena. I bought a $25 ticket and was 10 rows behind the glass.
The game between the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers was just as good as any regular season game. I was shocked that the stadium was so empty and that most of the fans appeared to be Flyers fans who now live in Connecticut.
After the game, I walked back to the train station and caught the Metro North suburban rail back to New York City.
All in all, I had a very fun afternoon and evening excursion. Bridgeport is not the most exciting city in Connecticut, but it is there and therefore is worth visiting. It is not a top destination and is not for the feint hearted but does have things to see. I have found that being a tourist in a decidedly non-touristy city creates unique conversations and Bridgeport was no exception. The safety of the city is fine if you are in the right areas. That said, I would definitely time a visit to Bridgeport around an event such as a hockey game or concert because more people and police will be in the downtown area.
Bridgeport is home to a few other attractions that I did not get to see including the PT Barnum Museum, the Connecticut Zoo and a Bass Pro Shops.