The first thing college students in Boston need to get a handle on is the MBTA public transit system, known to one and all as “the T.” A cruel mistress, it’s something students will depend on and frequently be frustrated by, but considering it’s the oldest subway system in the nation, the old girl generally does her job pretty well.
The basics: There are 5 color-coded subway lines: Red, Orange, Green, Blue and Silver. The Green Line runs east and west from Newton (out by Boston College) all the way through downtown Boston. Running along the waterfront, the north/south Blue Line connects downtown Boston to the New England Aquarium and North Shore beach towns like Revere. Anyone going to and from Cambridge will be doing so on the Red Line, which takes Harvard and MIT students across the river to Boston and back. The Orange Line starts in Jamaica Plain and connects Fenway area students with downtown and the Somerville area and intersects with the Green and Red lines. Finally, there’s the Silver Line (actually an underground bus) that students primarily use to head home on break—it connects directly to Logan Airport.
Most importantly: the T stops running a little past 12:30 a.m., which is early for a big city. So, always bring cab money and/or a good pair of walking shoes if you’re expecting a long night. For more detailed information on the T, including fares, refer to mbta map.
If there’s one mathematical equation that college students learn early on, it’s that the size of their appetites is utterly inverse to the size of their bank accounts—and eating out in Boston can get mighty pricey. However, for those who simply can’t face one more night of dining hall schrod or home-cooked bowls of Ramen, Boston does have some options that please college students’ wallets and taste buds.
With many of Boston and Cambridge’s universities lacking much of a “traditional” campus setting, several Hub neighborhoods have become largely student populated. Here’s a rough guide to who you’ll find living in Boston’s youngest boroughs.
Allston-Brighton: Beginning roughly at the Boston University campus, and stretching west as far as the Chestnut Hill line at Boston College, the communities of Allston and Brighton are home to the highest concentration of students in any part of the city. Brighton sees a massive student population living in close quarters with families that have lived in their homes for generations—usually harmoniously. Allston (home to BU, BC and Harvard students) is highly multi-cultural, packed with ethnic restaurants, wildly popular bars and a grungy yet endearing vibe that has helped it continue to earn the nickname “Allston Rock City.” A fun place to visit, but you won’t get much sleep there.
Mission Hill/Jamaica Plain: In the 1800s, Mission Hill and J.P., as the locals call it—nestled between Roxbury and the Fenway—were home to the affluent citizens of Boston, and both later became a hotbed for breweries. These days, low rents attract droves of students from Northeastern University, Wentworth Institute of Technology and art schools like the Museum of Fine Arts School, and Massachusetts College of Art, and Mission Hill boasts a mix of yuppies, techies and students of all designation, while J.P. continues to refine and maintain an artsy, bohemian vibe.
Davis Square: When your community is named in a 2003 book called The Hipster Handbook, you know there’s a scene happening. Davis Square in Somerville represents one of those neighborhoods where the old-time traditional families are finding themselves rubbing elbows with college students, primarily from nearby Tufts University. Davis is one of the area’s hidden jewels, loaded with great restaurants, coffeehouses, bars, a thriving independent theatre/music venue in the Somerville Theatre, funky clothing shops, and everything else that makes college kids look around and proclaim, “I’m home!”
The Sunset Cantina (916 Commonwealth Ave., 617-731-8646) in Allston pleases penny-pinching undergrads with all-you-can-eat Texas BBQ ribs all day Monday and Tuesday. Meanwhile, over in Brighton’s Cleveland Circle, Boston College students are partial to the enormous burgers at Eagles Deli and Restaurant (1918 Beacon St., 617-576-6672). The Godzilla is a pound of beef, 4 slices of cheese and a pound of fries on the side for $9.25—pretty reasonable considering that could fill up the average undergrad for the day.
Today’s starving music students are tomorrow’s starving musicians, and the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Back Bay is surrounded by restaurants offering hard-to-beat dining deals. At Bukowski’s Tavern, basic burgers cost just $1.69 from noon–8 p.m., Monday–Friday. And over on Boylston Street, the Pour House offers weekly half-price nights for their burgers, chicken sandwiches and Mexican food.
Harvard students that don’t have a massive trust fund dig the fact that everything on the menu at Grendel’s Den is half-price nightly from 5–7:30 p.m., and Sun-Thu from 9–11:30 p.m., and that Grendel’s offers seven different dishes for just $1 on Sundays.
Tufts University students in search of good barbecue should check out Redbones (55 Chester St., Davis Square, Somerville, 617-628-2200) from 10:30 p.m.–12:30 a.m. Sun–Thu (11:30 p.m.–12:30 a.m. Fri & Sat) when appetizers like hushpuppies, fried okra, fried catfish and more top out at about $5.99, and sides of greens, dirty rice and corn pudding are just $2.99. Meanwhile, Mexican food can be a college student’s best friend—cheap, filling and delicious. Students in the Fenway area will want to hit El Pelon Taqueria (92 Peterborough St., 617-262-9090), where authentic tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas and more are plentiful and delicious, and it’s a stretch to find anything on the menu over $5.
Hi Mom and Dad! Let’s
College students love when their parents visit. Not only do they get to see their beloved progenitors, the people who nurtured them and inspired them their whole lives, but they also get to escape school food for a weekend and get treated to dinner at restaurants they’d normally have to experience with their nose pressed up against the window.
It’s true: Boston shuts down early compared to some big cities. But that doesn’t mean there’s no place one can go when the midnight munchies hit during an all-night study session. The following are Boston’s best bets for fueling the nightowl’s need to nosh.
Apollo Grill & Sushi, 84 Harrison Ave., Chinatown, 617-423-3888. Full Korean, Japanese and sushi menu served until 4 a.m.
Bova’s Bakery, 134 Salem St., North End, 617-523-5601. Calzones, pizza and a full array of Italian baked goods, open 24 hours.
Felipe’s Taqueria, 83 Mt. Auburn St., Cambridge, 617-354-9944. Burritos, quesadillas and Mexican fare Thu–Sat until 2 a.m.
Franklin Café, 278 Shawmut Ave., South End, 617-350-0010. Full upscale American menu until 1:30 a.m.
Fugakyu, 1280 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-734-1268. Full sushi menu until 1:30 a.m.
Hong Kong, 1238 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, 617-864-5311 (pictured above). Full Chinese menu served Sun-Wed until 2 a.m.; Thu until 2:30 a.m.; Fri and Sat until 3 a.m.
International House Of Pancakes, 1850 Soldiers Field Road, Brighton, 617-787-0533. Open 24 hours.
Miel Brasserie, Intercontinental Hotel, 510 Atlantic Ave., 617-747-1000. Open 24 hours.
NEWS, 150 Kneeland St., 617-426-NEWS. Sandwiches, appetizers and breakfast served until 4 a.m.
South Street Diner, 178 Kneeland St., 617-350-0028. Diner fare, open 24 hours.
Everybody’s Doing It
Sure, college is a time—maybe the only time in our lives—when we’re encouraged to be unconventional, think outside the box, develop our own identity, not follow the crowd…you get the picture. Having said all that, if you’re a college student spending the next four years in Boston, there are a handful of things that you simply must do, so as not to appear as though you’ve just been dropped here in the Hub straight from Mars, or Idaho, or someplace like that.
First on the list is attending a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. Admittedly, this is easier said than done, because every game is sold out, and who wants to take out another college loan just to get tickets from a scalper? But if you can befriend a season ticketholder, or make with the online magic in the offseason, you’ll find it well worth your while to soak up Fenway’s singular atmosphere. After one visit, you’ll either get it out of your system and need never squeeze into the tiny wooden seats ever again, or you’ll be hooked for life and a slave to the emotional ups and downs of Red Sox Nation.
Secondly, take a Duck Tour. Sure, as the years go on, college students develop the same mixture of contempt and disdain for the tourists seen bopping around Boston in these amphibious vehicles as lifelong Hub residents do. But the first time one gets a guided tour of Boston that results in driving into either the Charles River (on a Boston Duck Tour, refer to tours and trails listing) or Boston Harbor (on a Super Duck Excursion, refer to tours and trails listing) there’s a certain magic that one will always remember.
There are a slew of others: ice skating
on the Boston Common Frog
Pond in the winter; visiting the
original Cheers (just
so you can say you’ve done it); standing
along Boylston Street watching the end of
the Boston Marathon in
April; finagling tickets to the
Beanpot college hockey
tournament in February (depending on which
school you attend, this could be the biggest
social event on your winter calendar); and
eating your way through the Italian bakeries
and restaurants of the North
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Let’s face it—your new dorm room isn’t quite as grand as you’d imagined. Don’t worry. In just one shopping trip you can get all the necessary supplies to spice up your new home-away-from-home and impress all your new floormates.
Bowl & Board, 1063 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-661-0350. Boasting that it sells everything but a kitchen sink, this New England family-run store offers plenty of gear to outfit any dorm. Light your room with a traditional desk lamp ($42) or decorate with an array of comfy, detailed pillows ($30).
Urban Outfitters, 361 Newbury St., 617-236-0088; 11 J.F.K. St., Cambridge, 617-864-0070. This hipster-clothing store not only offers you the most up-to-date fashions but some great furnishing items to brighten your dorm room. Relax in an affordable and comfy loft chair ($80), which comes in black, brown or a multi-colored Bohemian design. As for your walls—art can be expensive, but with some record album frames (2 for $19) or T-shirt frames (2 for $30), you can make your own on the cheap.
Black Ink, 101 Charles St., 617-723-3883; 5 Brattle St., Cambrige, 617-491-1221. Add some serenity to hectic dorm life with Asian-inspired pieces from Blank Ink. Sushi and dim sum recipe books ($12.95) help hungry students fill their stomachs with some tasty treats, and elegant Buddha bowls ($16.50) provide something in which to serve them. Most importantly, keep all those textbooks in place by snagging some fishbowl bookends (1 for $20 or 2 for $38).
Harvard Coop, 1400 Massachusetts Ave., 617-499-2000. Harvard Coop is a great place to buy school supplies and any piece of Harvard merchandise you can imagine. From backpacks to textbooks to an extensive collection of movie posters ($9.99 to $12.99), the Coop will have any Ivy Leaguer ready to become a Captain of Industry.
Economy Hardware, 219 Massachusetts Ave., 617-864-3300; 144 Harvard Ave., Allston, 617-782-4408. Economy Hardware is a great first stop to pick up all the small necessities at affordable prices. Collapsible cubes ($7.99 to $14.99) offer great storage space during the school year and take up little room when packing. Also, stock up on needed kitchenware, including a 12 inch Bialetti Casa Italia frying pan ($19.99).