Gal With a Suitcase
It only took three decades, but now that the Big Dig is over, the city of Boston is transformed in a way not even its biggest boosters could have even imagined. Jolie Hunt scopes out the new scene.
Ah, Boston. My old stomping ground. As a college student there, I was in heaven—bars, sports, and almost everyone seemed—nay, was—young.
But the charms of Boston’s historic national role begin to wear on a young person’s busy agenda. My professional life hasn’t taken me back much, but on a recent visit, I barely recognized anything in the post-Big Dig city. The country’s most expensive construction project at a whopping $22 billion, the Big Dig was a construction project like none other. For years, downtown was a mess, people were being indicted and others disappearing, and the city on the whole took on a general sense of unruliness. But today, visiting the "completed" city as a well-travelled, quasi-fun adult, I found myself smitten all over again with the city I'd loved and left behind.
Boston is a city of braggers and coffee drinkers, with a Dunkin' Donuts on every corner.
First things first: Boston is a city of braggers and coffee drinkers, with a Dunkin' Donuts on every corner. And prepare yourself for stats. Whether they’re true or not is irrelevant—Bostonians love Boston and they want you to know why. Did you know that the country’s first public school was here? The first subway? That Fenway Park, home to the beloved Boston Red Sox, is the oldest stadium or arena in America, built in 1912? I love this about Boston. During a stroll downtown, I asked for directions to the Fleet Center (formerly the Boston Garden) because with all the construction gone I couldn’t quite work it out. A confused looking chap said, “Uh, do you mean the TD Garden?” Hmm, I guess I did.
For a tourist, Boston is a wonderful town. The food is hearty, the people boisterous, and it’s a city that interacts with its visitors and residents in a very symbiotic way. The greens of the Common and the guidance of the Charles River are glorious. Freedom Trail or not, my suggestion is to take advantage of this walking city and just explore while things are in bloom.
Boston is always a challenge for hotels. Why, I’m not sure. It never has quite enough rooms available, and the big hotels somehow just miss the mark. Perhaps this is why I adore the Ames Hotel, which is part of Morgans. Centrally located on Court Street, next to Faneuil Hall and minutes from Beacon Hill, it is an understated, minimalist, swanky (but not too swanky) option for those that want a stylish, uncomplicated stay. It has 114 rooms and original fireplaces. Rooms from about $340, and if you book 31 days in advance they’ll knock 15 percent off.
Ames Hotel 1 Court Street Boston, MA 02108, United States (617) 979-8100 www.ameshotel.com
For a true boutique option and the sensation that you’re staying in Paul Revere’s well-adorned modern-day townhouse, head to XV Beacon. Here you know you’re in Boston. Dark woods, marble busts, and glorious amenities like 24-hour room service and concierge, a mini business center, a fireplace in every room, and countless creams and peppermint rubs for tired piggies make this a delicious option for business travelers. They get it right. Their 63 rooms and suites, but never more than seven per floor, start from $295.
XV Beacon Hotel 15 Beacon Street (877) 982-3226 www.xvbeacon.com
Mainstream restaurants in Boston aren’t so different than in other towns, but they close a lot earlier. This is why I’d like to draw your attention to a few hidden gems. For breakfast, walk to Bay Village for the most memorable sandwich you’ll ever experience. Mike & Patty’s is the dream. Order their bacon & egg fancy, a toasted sandwich with cheddar cheese, avocado, red onion, and house mayo on multigrain. It’s the best $7.25 you can spend. Top it off with their homemade juice and perhaps a cheeky cookie for later. What a wicked find. Open Tuesday through Friday.
Mike & Patty’s 12 Church Street (617) 423-3447 www.mikeandpattys.com
For a cozy dinner and drinks, try the Franklin Café in the South End. There’s always a wait because they don’t take reservations and it’s one small room, but the effervescent Jeff will greet you and truly make it worth your while. The food is simple and delicious classic American. This is the perfect spot for an unfussy gathering or special occasion. Great cocktails, sublime shellfish, and open until 1:30 a.m.
Franklin Cafe 278 Shawmut Ave. (617) 350-0010 www.franklincafe.com
For food on the go, GWS has two favorites in the North End: Pizzeria Regina and Bova’s Bakery. Let’s start with Regina. This is Beantown’s best pizza. Elbow your way in for a seat—or take it to go—and then say pepperoni and all will be well. From here, slink over a few blocks to the family-run Bova’s Bakery (which looks a bit divey, but trust me on this) and go for a chocolate cannoli. You’ll leave this neighborhood happy, down about 20 bucks and in serious need of a gym.
Pizzeria Regina 11 Thacher Street (617) 227-0765 www.pizzeriaregina.com
Bova’s Bakery 134 Salem Street, Boston (617) 523-5601
Boston is rather explicit with its tourist attractions. Faneuil Hall! Freedom Trail! Duck Tours! Bunker Hill! Personally, I quite like the subtler options. A new marvelous activity to take advantage of is Gardner After Hours. Every third Thursday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., the beautiful Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum opens its doors for “live music, art, conversation, and cocktails.” Members get in free.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum 280 Fenway (617) 566-1401 www.gardnermuseum.org
Another gem is the Boston Public Library. Yes, it's public, but there is also a private courtyard with majestic columns where you can grab a latte from the café and a copy of your favorite bestseller. It offers great views of the John Hancock building to boot.
Boston Public Library 700 Boylston Street (617) 536-5400 www.bpl.org
From here, stroll throughout the South End for funky boutiques or head across the river to enchanting Cambridge for a wander through Harvard Square. Both destinations are perfect for getting lost and offer spectacular people watching.
And if you happen to be here on April 19, this is when Boston celebrates the 114th Boston Marathon, the oldest and most prestigious marathon in America. It’s a public holiday, thus ensuring that the entire city partakes in the merriment, and it is one big party. Cheering for strangers never felt so fun.
There’s not much to avoid in Boston, except perhaps Lansdowne Street near Fenway Park. This is the strip of bars and nightclubs that lure underage mischief. It’s loud, crowded, and anything but interesting. If you’re reading this, you’re too old to go here.
It’s also worth remembering that public transportation stops running at around midnight in Boston. Cabs are expensive and scarce, so plan accordingly if you’re heading off the beaten track.
Jolie Hunt travels on her own dime for more than 50 percent of the year. Her recommendations are aimed at business travelers who are short on time but not on taste. She is the global head of public relations for Thomson Reuters, appointed April 2008. She lives between New York and London.