Little Poland is tucked away in its own little section of downtown New Britain on the legendary Broad Street. Here lies various Polish markets, liquor stores, and even a branch of the World Polish Bank. Driving through here really felt like we stepped into another country. There is Polish writing above English subtitles on all the store front windows and store signs. Kind of an odd thing for being in one of the most Hispanic populated towns in the state of Connecticut, that here, the main language is Polish! After all, according to HartfordBuisness.com, three hundred thousand Polish-Americans currently live in Connecticut.
So why is New Britain, and not Newington or Newport, known for having one of the largest Polish diasporas within the New England Area? The answer is simple: factories. New Britain was the base of many factories starting shortly after the onset of the First World War Factory work within the New Britain area made it easy for Polish immigrants to find work and send money back home to their families still living back in Poland. Money was transferred from the United States to Poland via the Polam Federal Credit Union. These monetary transfers resulted in an increase in immigration into New Britain. Today, the Polam Federal Credit Union offers pamphlets and information in not one language, not two, but three: Polish, Russian, and English.
The storefront dynamic of Downtown New-Britain’s Little Poland still remains relatively similar to what it was in the 1930s. The “town” is centered around the Sacred Heart Church, as Catholicism runs very deep within Polish-Americans. Currently the Reverend of the Parish is Peter S. Sobiecki, and his sermons are still in Polish. With the help of the church, the Polish holiday, Zaduszki, is celebrated with a special mass called Msza Św na Cmentarzu or a cemetery mass. Zaduszki is a holiday that honors the passing of dead loved ones with food, candles and prayers at their graves. It is these traditions that keep the Polish markets alive. Broad Street supplies the traditional items and food for various ceremonies and holidays.
However, Little Poland is far from the booming life on the inside as it appears to be on the outside. The rich appeal of Polish culture pretty much stops at Broad Street. Polish residents within the area have been moving away from New Britain and the Polish community. Little Poland holds a history of immigration, poverty, and the want for a better life. According to staff and former Little Poland residents those who are Polish want a better life then their grandparents, many of who lived a life of poverty.
For many, New Britain represents a life of being “off the boat” and “poverty struck”; therefore, they do everything within their power to move beyond that. Though that power does not extend to the neglect of cultural basics such as religion and food.
When you walk into StaroPolska, there is a bar to the left and a restaurant to the right, and it is absolutely one hundred percent Polish. Totally perfect for someone who wants a shot of nice, strong, Polish, potato vodka or even an authentic stout like Zywiec. If you’re Polish, you will fit right in like family; if you’re a basic white girl from CCSU, you may come off a little lost. Every member of the staff is either second generation Polish-American or straight from Poland. The Polish language is no joke, spoken by everyone there from the staff to the guests.
My friend and I opted to sit down at the bar, spacing ourselves one chair down from a group of four middle-aged men. While we settled in, one of the men pours a fairly large shot into his friend’s beer, as his friend’s back is turned. I started my order with something small and pretty basic: the above-mentioned Z Serem na Stodko. I am not as adventurous as my friend when it comes to eating.
She asked the fellow customer, who was first generation Polish, what to order. As a result, two of the men next to us proceeded to quickly order for her in Polish. They ordered for her to ensure that she would receive the correct menu item, as we would clearly butcher the pronunciation. After about five minutes and four more shots of liquor poured into the guy’s beer, the waitress returned. In her hands she carried a large bowl of Flaczki wolowe (which is a type of Polish stew), a thick chunk of sliced bread, and a large green bottle of dark beer.
My own basic order of pierogi was far from the frozen box kind that I am (now) sadly used to. The food was great, the staff was friendly, and the ambiance was hilarious and authentic. Take out is something that is keeping this business alive. Three separate orders came and went during our time here, but one man and his order stood apart. He was wearing a checkered shirt and a hat on his greying haired head. As we were getting ready to leave, he said, “I make sure to visit New Britain at least once a week to pick up some food, even if I don’t eat it here, I still get it here.”
He did not have a Polish accent, but he spoke to the waitress in Polish. Later, we found out from our waitress he was indeed a second generation Pollak.
This Little Poland is still clearly a very important link between the past and the present for Polish-Americans. The church (of course) remains, the stores remain, and the restaurants remain, but the most important part that remains is the culture. With Little Poland’s culture and ties to familial roots, Little Poland, is New Britain’s own little hidden gem.
Headline photo credit to Colleen Stoddard.