Top 10 Cities to Live In

I know I talk a lot about Manchester, NH being a great place live in and visit.  Some folks might just shrug that off and attribute it to the fact that lots of people think they live in a great place.  If they didn’t think it was that great they would probably move to another place that was better!  But Manchester has received a bunch of accolades from several sources so I thought I’d pass them along to prove that I’m, at least somewhat, impartial.  And I’m not a native of New Hampshire either.  My wife and I are both from Massachusetts, what they call Flatlanders up here, so that’s not just being idyllic about home-sweet-home., which is the online presence of the now-defunct magazine, recently named Manchester, NH the 10th best mid-size place to live and start a business.  They found that Manchester has a healthy economy, moderate cost of living, light traffic, robust housing stock and top-notch educational system!  As innkeepers here at the Ash Street Inn, we are more interested in what might drive visitors to Manchester than what might make them want to live here but it turns out that they overlap quite well.  A good economy, light traffic and great schools in the area mean that we get lots of guests who are looking for a chance to relax and enjoy themselves and want to spend that time in a vibrant community with other folks who are doing the same things.  Works for us all.

One award however does not a trend make.  It would be much more meaningful if there was some independent corroboration.  So here we go.

In May of 2010, Forbes Magazine named Manchester, NH to their Top 10 list of livable places based on the last five years of economic growth, cost of living, current unemployment rates and crime rates.

In 2009, named Manchester, NH 13th on their list of the best places to live and start a business in the United States.

Also in 2009, Kiplinger’s named Manchester, NH the second most tax friendly city in the US, second only to Anchorage, AK.

Last, but not least, also in 2009, Forbes magazine put Manchester, NH #1 on it’s list “America’s 100 Cheapest Places to Live”.

It’s great to see that, for the criteria that were the basis for these surveys, Manchester, NH is doing well and has been for some time.  Of course, if you were to change the criteria, Manchester’s ranking might well be different but to find a thriving, active, fun community that can change with the times and isn’t just about the hype of the current fads, these criteria work just fine.

If you ever have the opportunity, you should spend a few days in Manchester, NH and see for yourself what a great place it is.


Great new restaurants in Manchester, NH

While there’s certainly no shortage of great places to dine in Manchester, we have some great new spots that deserve some attention.  While Darlene and I have not yet been able to visit these spots, the guests at the Ash Street Inn have given us some great reviews.  So we thought we could pass along some great new ideas to our readers.

XO on Elm, at 827 Elm Street, calls their style “metropolitan nouveau cuisine with a unique New England flair.  Our guests call it fresh, unusual and exciting!  Lots of different mixtures of flavors in some new twists on old favorites makes for an interesting experience whether you go for tapas and cocktails or for dinner.  There is always lots of excitement with a new place and the service has always been quick and professional.  I’m looking forward to the jumbo sea scallops frilled with a maple bourbon glaze and accompanied with pumpkin risotto!

Ignite Bar and Grille, at 100 Hanover Street, has been around a bit longer than XO on Elm but it is still quite new.  In a very short time it has become a favorite spot for local professionals after a hard day’s work whether it’s just for a quick drink and some appetizers or a leisurely dinner with friends.  Lots of great menu items and some really interesting takes on some things.  Ever had fried pickles?  One of our guests said that a deep fried sliced dill with ranch dip is awesome!  And the Asian BBQ Ribeye Steak is made with real Asian BBQ sauce.  I’m going to have to try that one just to see what it is.

Firefly American Bistro and Bar, at 22 Concord Street, has been around well over a year but they still have that “new spot” feel.  They have won several awards through our local “underground” newspaper’s reader’s poll (I promise to write about the Hippo soon!) including 2010 awards as the “Best Date Place” and the “Best Cocktail” for the Firefly Dirty-tini!  One cold, raw day last winter, Darlene and I stopped in for an early dinner and a wonderful time.  It was just noisy enough to put some life into a dreary day and the chowder was perfect for warming up the insides too!  I’m already planning to go back for their Sea Scallops Casino because I’m dying to try scallops with smoked bacon, spinach and feta cheese.  Might have to get back there soon!

We’re really blessed to have great little spots like this so close to us at the Ash Street Inn.  These three are all within a three-block area (little city blocks – not NY blocks) and just over a half mile from the Inn.  We’ll keep talking about all the fine dining that’s available here in Manchester.  Sooner or later we know you will find a reason to some stay with us at the Inn and indulge in some fine dining of your choice.


Hiking Manchester

I know I keep talking about the CITY of Manchester, NH and all there is to do here but, before you start picturing all the concrete and blacktop, I thought I’d talk a bit about all the walking and hiking you can take in without driving all the way to the White Mountains.

From the Ash Street Inn you can get to some pretty fun spots pretty quickly.  The list of parks within the city limits is pretty extensive and can be found at the Manchester parks and recreation website.  As you can see from this listing, some of the parks are quite small – mostly historical monuments and such.  But several are quite large and allow for lots of recreational activities year-round.

Derryfield Park is just about a mile east of the Inn.  It is situated on a broad hill overlooking Manchester, to the west, with great views of the skyline and the mountains beyond.  The park covers almost 77 acres primarily around the Oak Hill Reservoir, with some of the area developed for recreation and some left in it’s natural state.  At the northern end of the park it connects with the McIntyre Ski Area which is a small, local ski area that is a favorite for tubers!   A great park for lounging around on a Sunday afternoon with a good book – and a pillow!

Livingston Park/Dorrs Pond is about a mile north of the Inn.  The park is situated around Dorr’s Pond and offers a wide of recreational activities from fishing and hiking to soccer and tennis.  It covers over 130 acres, including the pond, and is a favorite nearby getaway for our guests.  For a day of fishing, a few quick sets of tennis or a three mile run, it is close and convenient and still in the city.

The Massabesic Audubon Center may be the best of all.  Just six (6) miles from the Inn, the sanctuary surrounds Massabesic Lake which is the primary water supply for the city of Manchester.  The Lake has a surface area of 2,500 acres and the protected watershed area covers another 8.000 acres.  Here you can fish and boat, hike, go bird-watching and just commune with nature all day long.  There are guided activities through the Audubon Center as well as marked trails if you want to head off on your own.  Whatever you choose, it’s a remarkable place to be for a few hours and just a few minutes from downtown Manchester.

These are a few of the large parks and well worth the time to visit.  But you don’t even need to go out of your way to enjoy some great little parks that dot the city.  From the Inn to the restaurant area Elm Street, you can pass through three parks complete with well mown grass, trees and flowers, traditional park benches and all the little things that make parks fun like children, puppies {on leashes, of course) and squirrels.  All during a 15 minute on your way to dinner.  Which we’ll get back to next time.



Today I’m going to talk a little about scones. Not so much about scones really but how the scones at the Ash Street Inn got to be what they are today.  It was an interesting journey that ended with a great result!

Before we opened we had determined that we wanted to make cookies and scones, from scratch, every day, so our guests would be able to have a little snack in the afternoon.  So first we needed to learn how make scones.  After a bit of trial and error, we were making some great scones!  We made them the traditional way as a 10” round which we cut into 8 wedges and kept them out on the counter under a pastry dome.  Our guests oohed and aahed but rarely touched them.

“Maybe they’re just too big for snacking!” opined my wife, Darlene.  [She’s the real innkeeper – I’m just the cook…]  So we made them as drop scones and got 12-14 from the batch.  We still heard the oohs and aahs but no one touched them.  “Smaller still” says the innkeeper!  Now I’m down to a medium cookie scoop, about one ounce capacity, and a batch makes 26-27 small scones.

Out goes the plate with four each of four different varieties.  And they disappear!  The same guests who wouldn’t take one before now have two or three of the little scones and then come back for more.  We just can’t keep them on the plate!

So that’s how we learned to make little scones that our guests really love.  More importantly, that’s how we learned a lot more about guests and how to listen to all of the things that they don’t say so that we can make their experience here at the Inn the best that it can be.


Here’s one of the recipes that we use at the Inn.  Great with a hot cup of tea but just as good with coffee!




Chocolate and orange, a classic combination from the Ash Street Inn!

2 cups all-purpose flour                                     ¼ cup orange juice

1/3 cup granulated sugar                                     1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons baking powder                                grated peel from one orange

½ teaspoon salt                                                    ¾ cup miniature chocolate chips (semisweet or dark)

½ cup unsalted butter, chilled

2 large eggs


In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Cut the butter in ½ inch cubes and distribute over the flour mixture.  With a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  In a small bowl, stir together the eggs, orange juice, vanilla and orange peel.  Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and combine well.  The dough will be sticky.  With lightly floured hands, knead in the chocolate chips until evenly distributed.


Use a medium cookie scoop and place the scones on a baking sheet covered with wax paper. Freeze for several hours.  Then place in a zip-lock bag.  Scones will keep for 2-3 weeks.


To bake, remove from freezer and place on a baking sheet.  Bake at 375 degrees for 13 to 14 minutes until just lightly browned.


Great Irish pubs

This week I want to talk a little about “pubbing” in the Manchester, NH.  I’ve talked about some of the dining but we also have our fair share of Irish pubs.  The Irish have always played an important part in Manchester’s history and the tradition continues.

First, we have the Wild Rover at 21 Kosciuszko Street.  Since it opened in 1990, it has been billed as the only Irish pub on a Polish street in a French city.  It has won awards for serving the best pint of Guinness in the city and was voted the “Best of the Best Pub” by the Hippo magazine’s voter’s awards in 2010.  (More about the Hippo coming soon!)  With it’s 100 year old oak floors and brick walls, it is as comfortable and cozy as a pub can be.  The food is great from Bangers and Mash to the Irish Mixed Grill to the Lobster Mac & Cheese, there’s always something for everybody.  Lots of live entertainment every night and Thursday is Irish sing-along every week.  Less than half a mile from the Ash Street Inn, a lot of guests go there just to relax and have bit of pub food.

Second we move down on to Elm Street for The Shaskeen at 909 Elm Street.  Since 2005, the Shaskeen has been providing Manchester with Irish music 7 days a week.  Fits well since the pub is named after a famous, traditional Irish folk dance called the Shaskeen reel.  There is always something new to hear and lots of old favorites to remember.  The food is great here too!  From the Beer-battered Fish and Chips to the Guinness Beef Stew, the food will warm you up as the draughts cool you down.  The Shaskeen is part of a family of pubs owned by music loving folks of Irish descent who make the music as important as the food, drink and atmosphere.  The Shaskeen is less than ¾ of a mile from the Inn.

The Ash Street Inn is lucky to have two great Irish pubs within walking distance.  Many of our business travelers find them to be a great change from the usual fare they have available to them when they are on the road.  We’re glad they’re here – just another reason to stay at the Inn!


Chili Cookoff comes to Manchester, NH

I know I’ve said before that there is something for everyone here in Manchester, NH.  Over the last few weeks, I’ve just gotten started going through some of them in more detail to give you all an idea of how many diverse activities coexist here in northern New England.  In fact, just last week, I dedicated my post to talking about how New Hampshire is the host of not one but two NASCAR events every year.  Who would have thought about New Hampshire and NASCAR at the same time?

Well, this one may be even better.  From the 1st through the 3rd of October, 2010, Manchester, NH will be the scene of the 2010 World Championship Chili Cookoff (WCCC).  Yes, that’s right – chili in New Hampshire.  And not just chili – World Championship Chili!  The event is sanctioned by the International Chili Society which is a non-profit that sanctions chili cookoffs all year leading up to the WCCC.  Last year, they sponsored over 200 events that raised over $1m for charity.  Some of their more illustrious members include Carrol Shelby (think Cobra/Mustang) and Robert Petersen (think Hot Rod magazine/Guns and Ammo).

Now we all know that early in October New Hampshire certainly can get “chilly” but we usually warm it up with “chowdah” rather than chili.  Not that we don’t like chili here because we certainly do.  But we locals are a lot more familiar with clams, cream and onions than we are with beef, beans, chili powder and cumin.  So it will be exciting to have some of the greatest chili being prepared, and enjoyed, right in our own backyard.

The event will take place at Veteran’s Memorial Park in downtown Manchester on Elm Street between Central Street and Merrimac Street.  The venue is less than a mile from us here at the Ash Street Inn and it’s a pleasant 15 minute walk through a beautiful part of the city to get there.

The combination of the world’s greatest award winning chili and the world’s greatest Fall foliage is going to be hard to resist.  Being able to meld these two into one great weekend could be the opportunity of lifetime.


NASCAR in New Hampshire

I’ve talked about some of the things that happen in and around the Ash Street Inn here in Manchester, NH in some of my previous posts.  And, with temperatures expected to drop into the low 30s for the next couple of nights, it may seem a little early to bring up this topic anyway.  But two things happen in northern New England come June 1st – it’s time to plant the garden and it’s time to get ready for NASCAR.  That’s right – NASCAR in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS), at 1122 Route 106 North in Loudon, NH, is the site of two great NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races every year.  The first, the Lenox Industrial Tools 301, takes place on June 27.  The second, the Sylvania 300, which is the first of the “Chase” events, takes place on September 19.  With over 100,000 spectators anticipated for both events, it’s a great time for NASCAR enthusiasts.  The little town of Loudon, with a population of just over 5,000 residents, is a bit overwhelmed with the influx of visitors but everyone manages to have a great time.  In order to get everyone out of town after the race, they even turn 5 out of the 6 lanes on I-93 into southbound lanes for most of Sunday afternoon to accommodate all the extra traffic heading home!

With NHMS about 25 miles (30 minutes on a good day – an hour or two on race day) from the Ash Street Inn, we don’t get many guests for the races but we do get everyone else.  We get the last minute, frantic calls asking us what’s going on in New Hampshire and why can’t they find 10 rooms for their christening guests!  We carefully explain that there is a hugely popular NASCAR event in Loudon, NH that weekend and wait for their response … what the heck is a NASCAR?!?  Oh well, we can’t all be enthusiasts now can we.


International Cuisine

Many of our guests at the Ash Street Inn here in Manchester, NH are quite surprised to find out that even Manchester has international food – much less great international food.  If you love Asian food, we have many great restaurants to choose from but three really stand out as favorites of our guests.

For Indian food, the India Palace, at 573 South Willow Street, gets rave reviews from everyone.  Set in what looks like an office building along South Willow Street, the outside looks just a bit odd for a restaurant.  But once you are inside, the setting and decoration, not to mention the aroma, makes you forget where you are.  They have a varied menu from chicken to lamb to seafood to vegetarian to tandoori specialties.  All the ingredients are fresh and every thing is prepared on site.  Our guests love it and rate it highly.

For Thai food, Lakorn Thai, at 470 South Main Street on Manchester’s West Side, gets four stars from all our guests.  Set in a small, unassuming strip mall, Lakorn Thai is all about the food.  No fancy decorations – just great Thai food.  All of the dishes are authentic to the cuisine and can be ordered in your choice of spiciness.   We’ve been told to be careful how spicy you request because they will give you exactly what you ordered!  Simple surroundings, fantastic food and great prices have our guests going back for more!

Love Asian food and want a real treat?  Manchester is home to one of very few restaurants that feature authentic Nepali cuisine.  Café Momo, at 1065 Hanover Street, is a real gem.  Darlene is not a real fan of Asian food but we did visit Café Momo shortly after they opened and it was great!  We started with momos, which are small filled dumplings, and they were moist and sweet.  Darlene, who is also not much of a drinker but love cucumbers, tried the cucumber cooler which is lime juice, cucumbers and rice wine wants me to warn you that rice wine has a kick to it!  From there it was just a wonderful journey through to dessert where I ordered the rice pudding which was simple, and decadent, at the same time.  Both Darlene and I, and dozens of our guests, will assure you that Café Momo is a real find.  Lots of citrus, yoghurt and fresh fruits in amazing combinations.

In future posts we’ll talk about some of the other international restaurants that have sprung up in Manchester as the Queen city has grown and matured!


Manchester, NH is a college town!

As we near the end of April, it’s time to think about college and university graduations.  It’s also a great time for us to talk about all the great schools that are so close to us here at the Ash Street Inn.

St. Anselm’s College, at 100 St. Anselm’s Drive, has their commencement scheduled for 2:00 PM on May 22 on their 400 acre campus.  St. Anselm’s College was founded in 1889 by the Roman Catholic Order of Saint Benedictine and now has an enrollment of over 2,000 students.  With a student to faculty ratio of 12:1, they have developed a reputation for academic excellence in many areas.  St. Anselm’s College is 3.6 miles from the Inn.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), at 2500 River Road, has their commencement scheduled for Saturday, May 15 at 11:00 AM at the Verizon Wireless Arena in downtown Manchester.  SNHU was founded in 1932 as the New Hampshire School of Accounting and Secretarial Science.  Over the years it has grown into the school it is today with 3,900 day/evening students and another 1,900 online students pursuing a vast array of degrees.  SNHU is 3.5 miles from the Inn.  The Verizon Wireless Arena is 1.1 miles from the Inn.

The New Hampshire Institute of Art (NHIA), at 148 Concord Street, has their commencement scheduled for Sunday, May 23.  NHIA offer the only BFA program in the State of New Hampshire and also offers a multitude of continuing education programs for aspiring artists.  With a student to faculty ratio of less than 10:1, they provide their students with personal attention.  They now have over 425 full-time students and over 1,500 students in the continuing education programs.  Founded in 1898, they have undergone a rebirth in the last five years and continue to grow and expand in downtown Manchester.  NHIA is .5 miles from the Inn.

The University of New Hampshire has a satellite campus in Manchester’s historic Millyard at 400 North Commercial Street.  Their commencement is scheduled for Thursday, May 19 at 4:00 PM at the Expo Center at the Center of New Hampshire.  Founded in 1985, the Manchester Campus has grown to over 2,000 students pursuing a number of degree programs through the University.  With a student to faculty ratio of 9:1, the programs get great reviews from the students for the personal attention that they receive.  The Manchester Campus is .7 miles from the Inn.  The Expo Center is 1.1 miles from the Inn.

Here at the Ash Street Inn, we consider ourselves lucky to have so many great colleges in the city.  Having received my last degree in 1979, it is refreshing to meet the “new generation” when they, and their parents, stay at the Inn to visit the schools in the area.  With all the negative press we read in the papers everyday, it is heartening to actually meet these young people.  Makes you realize that we are going to make it after all!


60th Birthday Dinner

On the occasion of my 60th birthday this past weekend, Darlene and I had the opportunity to go out to dinner at what is my favorite restaurant in Manchester, NH – Richard’s Bistro at 36 Lowell Street.  Richard himself has been part of Manchester’s culinary tradition for a very long time and his Bistro, now in it’s 15th year, has always been, as is still, absolutely amazing.  From the location to the atmosphere to the menu to the ambiance to the staff, every single detail is quite remarkable.  Richard, and his executive chef Matthew Provencher, continue to find tantalizing treatments to old favorites as well as new tastes to explore.  Having been there many times since we opened the Ash Street Inn 10 years ago, I can assure you that you are going to fall in love with Richard’s also!

Not that Richard’s is the only great choice to make when choosing a restaurant in Manchester.  I did have to consider Darlene’s favorite restaurant, Piccola Italia Ristorante, just down the street at 827 Elm Street. Giovanni and Rosa Paolini have done a fantastic job bringing authentic Italian cuisine to Manchester in a setting that truly brings the tastes, sounds and sights of Italy to everyone.  The menu is expansive and includes traditional and well as modern Italian favorites.  From the paintings and decoration to the wonderful aromas wafting from the kitchen, you are immediately immersed in a Mediterranean setting.  Everything is made from scratch and all the ingredients are the finest imaginable!  I tend to order the house risotto with gorgonzola and pears but everything we have ever tried is great.  Makes it hard to choose a place to eat.

But choose I did.  Our dearest friends from college days were taking us out to dinner and insisted that I choose my “favorite” place so Richard’s won.   And for someone turning 60, great friends, great drink and a great dinner are the makings of a meal of a lifetime!


Casual Elegance in an 1885 Victorian Home