Boston: On the Tourist Trail and Off the Beaten Path

There's a reason that many of the students who have gone to school in Boston choose to stay once they've graduated--Boston combines a managable size with a fascinating history and a fun cosmopolitan vibe. Read on to learn which of the big sights to see, and to find some hidden gems.


Boston: On the Tourist Trail and Off the Beaten Path

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by gorboduc on May 18, 2003

For sheer bustle and life, check out Harvard Square. It's filled with street performers (Tracy Chapman used to sing here), resturants, shops, and all kinds of people. While you're there, grab a juicy burger and creamy frappe (that's a milkshake to most people) at Bartley's Burger Cottage, home away from home for generations of Harvard students.

Historic Fanueil Hall and Quincy Market have a similarly lively feel, but are more touristy than Harvard, and less funkily Bohemian. They are, however, but a stone's throw from tasty pizza, cannoli, espresso, and gelati in the Italian North End neighborhood.

Want to see people who are almost certainly cooler and more fabulous that you? (At least they're cooler and more fabulous that I am . . .) Then take a walk down tony Newbury Street and window shop at Chanel and Armani.${QuickSuggestions} The hustle and bustle too much for you? Here are three places to "get away from it all" right in the heart of town.

Maxed out on Harvard Square? Mosey over to Tealuxe at One Brattle Street and grab a soothing pot of tea. With hundreds of flavors and types, you're sure to find one that suits your fancy.

If you're looking for some respite from the hordes at Quincy Market and want a quick dose of nature, head to the Aquarium on the harbor and hop on a ferry to the Harbor Islands National Recreation Area where you can picnic, hike, swim, or explore historic Fort Warren.

Not feeling hip enough for Newbury St? Take an E train on the Green Line to the MFA stop and visit the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum -- a Venetian villa with a garden courtyard that's practically Eden.${BestWay} Boston's subway system (known as the T) is clean, safe, and easy to manage. It, and walking, are the best ways to get around the city.

There are four main T lines:

Red, which runs to Harvard Square
Blue, which runs out to Logan Airport
Green, which runs west to the Back Bay and suburbia
Orange, (not of much interest to most visitors) which runs southwest to Forest Hills

Fares are $1 each way. If you plan on riding the T frequently, get a visitor pass, available at select stations. It provides unlimited subway, bus, and water taxi rides for $6/1 day, $11/3 days, or $22/7 days.


Omni Parker House

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by gorboduc on May 18, 2003

Located smack dab in the middle of everything, near Boston Common and Beacon Hill and situated along the Freedom Trail, the Parker House is the dean of Boston hotels. It was built in 1856 and is supposedly the oldest continuously operated hotel in America.

The Parker House has recently been refurbished, so the richly panelled Victorian common areas gleam like new. The rooms, too, have been recently redone, but they retain some old building quirkiness, especially in the bathrooms, which have old fashioned double taps in the sink, and a Pullman car sort of feel to them.

The rooms are tastefully decorated in a cherry wood-gold damask-burgandy drapes kind of way. Some of the corner rooms look out on the Common, so request one of these if you can.

The beds are comfortable, the rooms have ironing boards and irons in them (convienient--what's more annoying than having to call the front desk so you can press your rumpled shirt in the morning?) and (my favorite) cushy terrycloth robes.

The staff is both efficent and friendly, willing to suggest resturants and activites, and the cheerful doormen are always happy to help you hail a cab.

The reason to stay at the Parker House, however, isn't the staff, the bathrooms, the view, the history, or even the location--it's those famous Parker House Rolls. Each morning I had no need for a wake up call. I was lured from my bed by the siren scent of freshly baked buttery Parker House Rolls.

Take a deep breath and resolve to pay the extortionate hotel breakfast prices for the chance to taste a genuine Parker House Roll-- delicate, yeasty, and warm from the oven, slathered with strawberry jam.

You can save enough to eat Parker House Rolls with abandon by booking your stay here as I did--through a hotel discounter like Quickbook or even Expedia. On Quickbook, for example, a European room (one double bed)is $139/night--cheap in a town where hotel rooms start around $200 and go up.

Omni Parker House
60 School Street
Boston, Massachusetts, 02108
(617) 227-8600

Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by gorboduc on May 19, 2003

Don't get me wrong--I like fruits and veggies as much as anybody. I'm even a sucker for alfalfa sprouts and Boca Burgers. But sometimes you just need the genuine article--a big juicy hamburger, with fries fresh from the fryolator and a thick creamy milkshake to wash it all down--something where the only green thing on the plate is the pickle.

If you're in Boston and one of those carniverous fits strikes you, head for Harvard Square, home of the venerable Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage. Bartley's has been turning out tasty burgers for 40 years now, and it still packs in hordes of hungry Harvard students.

Shoulder your way into the dim and invariably crowded dining room and grab a seat at one of the long communal tables, then fix your attention on the menu boards posted behind the counter. Bartley's serves over 20 burgers with names like the Yuppie Burger (boursin cheese, bacon, cole slaw, and french fries) and the Stephen King (muenster cheese, lettuce, tomato, cole slaw and french fries). My personal favorite? The Tiger Woods (cheddar, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, cole slaw and french fries).

For those who don't eat beef, there are a variety of chicken sandwiches and clubs, as well as turkey burgers and salads.

Despite the fact that the burgers come with fries, get an order of Bartley's fabulous sweet potato fries, hot from the frier. They're available plain (with salt) or cajun spiced (my favorite). Then top it all off with a giant Goddzilla Frappe--an old fashioned milkshake made with hard ice cream. For under $15, you'll have satisfied those junk food demons and be ready to go once more.... Unless you get sidetracked by the awesome Toscanini's ice cream shop down the street.

Bartley's Burger Cottage
1246 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02138
+1 617 354 6559

King Fung Garden

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by gorboduc on July 14, 2004

Boston's Chinatown isn't large, and it doesn't have the consistently high-quality food you can find in San Francisco or Toronto Chinatown, but if you look you can find places that serve Chinese food that's both good and cheap--King Fung Garden is one of those places.

Don't be put off by the divey exterior. Yes, the flourecent lighting, formica booths (remnants of a former life as a pizza parlor), and space heaters don't look so hot, but the peking duck is arguably the best in town. Call 24 hours in advance to order it, and you'll recieve a three course feast--duck breast and crispy mahogany-colored skin with pancakes, duck stirfry, and duck soup--that's ample enough to feed four, all for around $30. You'll realize why dining luminaries like Emeril visit King Fung Garden when they're in town.

Their other northern Chinese specialties are good, too, from the crunchy fried scallion pancake drizzled with toasted sesame oil, to the coal-fired Mongolian Fire Pot.

Service is cheerful and efficient. If you're confused about what to order, the friendly owners will be happy to recommend dishes for you. If you go in the winter, though, bring a nice, warm coat since the small dining area tends to be drafty.

King Fung Garden
74 Kneeland St
Boston, Massachusetts, 02111
+1 617 357 5262

Tapeo

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by gorboduc on July 19, 2004

Newbury Street is Boston's version of the Champs, only without the commodius broad sidewalks. Stroll along its upper end and see the Beautiful People in their Beautiful Cars buy Beautiful Luxury Goods at Armani and Chanel. Stroll along its lower end and see the funky students from the Berklee College of Music, hang out and buy clothes at punk emporium Alston Beat or the more domesticated Urban Outfitters.

Someplace in the middle of these two extremes sits Tapeo, a Spanish restaurant/tapas bar, perfectly situated where these two groups eddy around one another--the funky folks on their way to Lush, the Beautiful folks on their way to Jasmine Sola. If it's warm out, put your name on the list for seating on the patio so that you have a front-row seat for all of this action. Note that on weekend nights--which are especially crowded--you should put your name on the list pretty early, or be prepared to wait an hour or two. Note, too, that since this is Boston, not Barcelona, Tapeo closes at the early hour of 11 on weekends, 10 on weeknights.

If you can't get an outdoor table, or if you come when the weather would make al fresco dining inadvisable, no problem--you'll sit in the cosy main dining room, with soft ochre walls and lovely terracotta tile floors. It's all very romantic, except for the fact that it buzzes with noisy excitement on weekend nights.

Once you're seated, you can peruse the menu. Tapeo, as the name indicates, specializes in Tapas--appetizer-sized portions of food that are meant for sharing around the table. The tapas themselves come in two basic varieties--hot and cold. Most cost between $5 and $8--reasonable enough if you can limit yourself to 2 or three plates per person.

Standouts among the hot tapas include Pato Bresado--roast duck with raspberry sauce, artichoke hearts baked with lemon and toasted garlic, and slices of pork loin in a creamy blue cheese sauce, served with mushrooms.

When you sit down, fine crusty bread comes to your table with a little ramekin of savory white bean dip--to whet your palate for the cold tapas, I expect, which include a good version of Patatas Ali Oli--boiled potatoes tossed in (you guessed it) garlic-infused olive oil, and white asparagus (canned, alas) with two sauces--roasted red pepper and surprisingly subtle and delicious cilantro.

Tapeo has sangria, of course, and it's a good version--but it's expensive at $7 glass/$22 litre. I tend to stick with the sherrys instead. Tapeo has a small but well chosen selection, most of which run around $5/glass.

Tapeo's coffee is well done, and especially good if you can drink it with the signature summer dessert--strawberries dipped in a sherry batter and fried, served with the Spanish version of Creme Brulee, Crema Catalan.

Tapeo
266 Newbury St.
Boston, Massachusetts, 02116
(617) 267-4799

The Blue Room

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by gorboduc on May 3, 2005

Okay, so it's not in Boston. For that matter, it's not really in Kendall Square, either, but the Blue Room serves a good enough brunch that it deserves mention in any listing of Boston restaurants.

For $25 per person, (their website says $21 for adults, $12 for kids, but my check begs to differ), you get unlimited coffee or loose tea and unlimited trips to their buffet.

This includes a rotating selection of cold salads (including a very nice Oriental noodle salad dressed with sesame oil and a pleasant French green lentil salad), grilled meats (good cumin-rubbed flank steak and spectacular orange-coriander marinated lamb), and a variety of other eclectic eats, not limited to a fluffy cheese/broccoli rabe frittata, grilled salmon, whole salted shrimp, avocado quesadillas with tomatillo salsa, pancakes with real maple syrup, hash browns, bacon, homemade sausage, and bananas baked with butter and brown sugar.

Hard as it may be to exercise restraint, save room for the enticing dessert table, which also has a rotating selection of food, including Persian rice pudding (pretty normal, but made with glutinous rice), pineapple upside-down cake, respectable tart tatin, very good Mexican chocolate/banana bread pudding, a variety of homemade cookies, and a tasty-looking lemon buttermilk pudding cake that I was too full to try.

The restaurant is in the basement of One Kendall Square, but the large windows in the front keep it from being too dark. Exposed brick and a metal bar back lend an industrial air, and the vibe is friendly and hip.

Service is very attentive--coffee was quickly refilled, and they were more than happy to steam the coffee milk for us upon request.

Note that there's music from about 2pm on which can get a bit loud. You may want to request a table away from the musician.

To get to The Blue Room, you can either drive to Cambridge and park in the Kendall garage next to Kendall Square Cinema (look for signs that say "Cinema" and "Parking"). Then walk across the street to the dining/office area that houses the restaurant.

Alternately, you can take the T to the Kendall Square stop, walk through the lobby of the Mariott, and once outside, go left (away from the river), heading up Broadway until you see signs for One Kendall Square--it's about 1/4 mile along Broadway at a fork on the right side of the road.

The Blue Room
1 Kendall Square
Boston, Massachusetts, 02139
617-494-9034

Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by gorboduc on May 19, 2003

"Hey!" you think as you hop off the T at the Museum stop and catch your first glimpse of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, "It's a mini Metropolitan Museum of Art." This assessment actually isn't far off the mark.

The MFA wasn't designed by Richard Morris Hunt, as was the Met, but it has a similarly imposing style (albeit with none of the Met's more baroque decorative flourishes). The MFA's collection, too, has many of the same strengths as the Met's--Classical and Egyptian art and American decorative arts and painting.

Once you enter the building, however, you begin to see where the Met and the MFA differ. Unlike the Met's gigantic entry hall, the MFA's is built on a more modest, human scale. And the MFA has one thing that the Met doesn't--a glorious mural by Boston artist John Singer Sargent. Unfortunately, you can't see most of it at the moment--it's undergoing a full restoration--but when the work is complete, Sargent's masterpiece will shine forth with it's original glory.

Some of the highlights of the MFA's collection include Houdon's bust of Thomas Jefferson, a fine collection of works by Washington Allson, an early American artist (Boston's Allston neighborhood was the home of his studio and still bears his name), John Singelton Copley's famous portrait of Paul Revere, and one of Gilbert Stuart's portraits of George Washington. The MFA also exhibits works by Goya, El Greco, Velasquez, Manet, and Matisse, among others.

My favorite part of the Museum, though, are the period rooms--especially those taken from Oak Hill, the country estate of shipping heiress Elisabeth Derby West and her husband Nathaniel. The rooms are spendidly furnished with the creme de la creme of American Federal furnishings--including items created by John and Thomas Seymour. To see some of the rest of Oak Hill, check out the Stephen Phillips Memorial Trust House museum in Salem.

If you get hungry while perusing the great artworks, head to the basement and the Norma-Jean Calderwood Courtyard Cafe. It has an awesome gourmet salad bar with tempting offerings including grilled eggplant and roasted potatoes. Load up your plate and take it to the cashier--you pay by the ounce. You can also try one of a rotating selection of hot entrees, or grab a piece of pizza. And if the weather's good, you can take your meal outside and eat in in the green and sculpture-filled Calderwood courtyard.

Admission to the MFA is $15/adult, $13 students and seniors, or $6.50 for children. An admission ticket is good for 2 visits in 30 days, so hold on to it and go back to really get your money's worth.

Museum of Fine Arts Boston
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts, 02115
(617) 267-9300

Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by gorboduc on May 18, 2003

It's a large but otherwise unassuming brown box from the outside, but once you get through the door--oh boy! Opening up before you like a cool emerald green jewel box is a courtyard garden, protected from the elements by a glass roof hovering three stories above. The shock of it takes your breath away, as does the beauty of the lovingly tended plants in the garden--they are changed out several times a year to create stunning seasonal displays.

The Gardner Museum, its couryard, and the object d'art it contains are all the work of the eccentric 19th century socialite and art collector, Isabella Stuart Gardner. Mrs. Gardner was an avid traveller, and she searched throughout Europe to find the pieces that currently compose the museum's collections. She had very eclectic tastes--most of the museum's paintings are from the Italian Renaissance, but you can also find works by Whistler, Sargent and Manet, as well as Renaissance polychrome terracotta medaillons, Flemish tapestries, A pair of bronze bear statues from the Han Dynasty, snippets of French lace, and 18th century gilt chairs. That's why my friends and I jokingly call the Gardner the "Stuff I Found Somewhere and Thought Was Cool" Museum.

Once you leave the bright courtyard and head upstairs into the damask-hung rooms where most of the art resides, the Gardner's atmosphere grows more and more that of something preserved carefully in amber. This feeling is heightened by the general dimness of the exhibition rooms, and the air, faintly redolant of decay--like an old attic.

In point of fact, the Gardner's collection is preserved like a fly in amber--Mrs. Gardner's will stipulates that the collection cannot be added to or subtracted from, and that the art must be displayed according to her wishes. This leads to quirky surprises around each corner--like the piece of green silk hung beneath Titian's famous painting of The Rape of Europa. It's a piece cut out of one of Mrs. Gardner's Worth evening gowns. The down side of this is that even when paintings are stolen--as in the 1990 theft of 12 works, including a Manet, a Vermeer, three Rembrandts, and several Degas sketches--they cannot be replaced. The paintings empty frames still hang in the museum, waiting for the art to be recovered.

Admission to the museum costs $10 for adults($11 on weekends), $7 for Seniors, and $5 for college students with ID. You can save $2 off adult and senior admission if you're visiting both the Gardner and the MFA in a 2 day period.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
280 The Fenway
Boston, Massachusetts, 02115
(617) 566-1401

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