surveys the tried-and-true Boston institutions that have stood the
test of time
by Andrew King and Scott Roberto
is, in so many ways, the most classic of American cities. After all, it
was nicknamed "the Hub of the Universe"-not exactly a small role to play
in the world. It houses the oldest libraries, public gardens, colleges,
restaurants and hotels in the country. It boasts the Freedom Trail and all
its revolutionary glory. It has been the home of political and
innovators from Ralph Waldo Emerson to John F. Kennedy. So it was no easy task to comprise a list of these classics among classics. Nevertheless, there are those attractions that have ascended to their own class, surrounded by a certain mystique, born of time-honored
reverence and historical posture. From the stately Swan Boats of the Public Garden to the hallowed decks of the U.S.S. Constitution; from the cobble stoned walkways of Charles Street's "Antique Row" to the panoramic splendor of waterfront seafood restaurants; from the hallowed stands at Fenway Park to the lucky racks of Filene's Basement, "The Hub" boasts some of the most storied and beloved sites in America. You might go to lunch at Durgin-Park because your grandmother used to love it there; or take your fiancé to Faneuil Hall because your parents used to go there when they first met. And those connections are part of what has made each of these landmarks a Beantown classic. So without further ado, here is our survey of those tried-and-true Boston institutions that have reached veritable Hall of Fame status.
Historic Beacon Hill exudes Old World charm, from picturesque Louisburg Square, antique shopping mecca Charles Street to the oft-photographed, cobblestoned Acorn Street. Brick sidewalks, gaslit streetlamps, quaint townhouses and narrow sidestreets help make this one of the most European of Boston's neighborhoods. Site of the Massachusetts State House (our state capitol builing), Beacon Hill is also home to such overlooked gems as the Museum of Afro-American History at the African Meeting House, the oldest African-American church in the U.S.
A meeting place for Bostonians since its founding in 1634, the Common has evolved over the years, but still remains the heart of the city. Pastures that once hosted grazing cattle now sport ballfields and tennis courts, but America's oldest public park still hasn't lost its historic character. The Common is home to many monuments of the past, including sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens' tribute to America's first African-American army regiment formed in 1863 to fight in the Civil War, and still serves as a gathering place for celebrations and protest.
BOSTON PUBLIC GARDEN
America's oldest public botanical garden, founded in 1837 and directly adjacent to the Common, is perhaps best known as the home of the unique and lovely Swan Boats, which offer rides for a mere $2 ($1 for children) during the spring and summer months on the tranquil Lagoon. Also popular, especially with kids, are the bronze duck statues based on the beloved children's tale, Make Way for Ducklings.
BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
700 Boylston St., 617-536-5400
Established in 1848, the Boston Public Library (or BPL, to locals) pioneered the concept of public book-borrowing and is the oldest free municipal library in the country. Boasting some six million books, the BPL has often been called the center of Boston's intellectual life. Part of the early edifice, the McKim Building dominates Copley Square and is considered an architectural masterpiece. Also of interest are the free Art and Architecture tours, which cover such highlights as the Italian palazzo-style courtyard and the grand allegorical murals of John Singer Sargent, completed in 1919, that decorate the third floor entry hall.
CUSTOM HOUSE TOWER
3 McKinley Square,
617-310-6300 for reservations
Adjacent to Quincy Market, the Custom House is the Hub's first skyscraper, soaring more than 500 feet above Boston Harbor. Originally completed in 1847, the distinctive, 30-story clock tower was added in 1915. This architectural gem is currently a luxury hotel and condominium complex run by the Marriott Corporation. Its 26th floor boasts an observation deck, and the rotunda above the lobby is home to a maritime museum. Historical tours are offered daily at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Merchants Row and Faneuil Hall Square,
Built in 1742 and located on the Freedom Trail facing the City Hall side of Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall has long been Boston's center for ideas as well as commerce. It has hosted orators from Samuel Adams to Ted Kennedy on the second floor. The building is also home to a variety of shops at ground level and a military museum on the fourth floor.
Boston is probably the most European of American cities, both in its architecture and in its identity with the past. And Charles Street, the main commercial artery of historic Beacon Hill, is perhaps the best example of this confluence. Lined with Victorian row houses, gas-light street lamps and old fashioned cafes, this famous main drag is also a worldwide destination for antique lovers. Dubbed "Antique Row," the Charles Street area boasts more than 40 antique shops whose treasures often come from nearby estates. It's the perfect place to shop for crystal stem wear for a wedding, or for an 18th-century chair for the home office.
426 Washington St., 617-542-2011
If Charles Street embodies New England gentility, then Filene's Basement in Downtown Crossing represents the steely New England bargain hunter. This place invented the phenomenon of off-price shopping when, in 1908, Edward A. Filene founded the Basement as a way to sell off overstock from his father's department store upstairs. Today, shoppers flock to its vast two-floor headquarters in search of "automatic markdown" deals on everything from Prada to Puma. And each year, the bridal gown sale brings out feisty brides-to-be who participate in infamous tugs-of-war over dresses at dramatically reduced prices.
Although it has increasingly been co-opted by large national chains, Harvard Square still retains some of the unique charm that has attracted artists, musicians and other bohemian-types for decades. Here you'll find home-grown businesses like Berk's Shoes and Newbury Comics, local ice cream shops like Toscanini's and Herrell's, as well as more book stores than just about any place on earth. And despite the slick, mall-like presence of the corporate entities, an earthy vibe remains at local bars and coffee houses, as well as from the street performers and musicians who populate "The Pit" at the heart of the square.
1400 Mass. Ave., Cambridge., 617-499-2000
The hallowed halls of Harvard University in Cambridge usually evoke images of ambitious students and tweed-coated professors roaming through bookshelves in a quiet library. So it should come as no surprise that Harvard Square is also home to America's largest bookstore, the Harvard Coop. It began in 1882 as a place for Harvard students to buy merchandise at reasonable prices and distribute the profits among members. Today, non-members are welcome to shop amidst the Coop's elaborate layout of books, paintings, gifts and every other school-related item imaginable.
9 West St., 617-542-0210
Book lovers can lose a whole day wandering the storied shelves of this Ladder District shop. Whether you're looking for a first edition, a rare paperback, or a well-preserved, vintage Life magazine, the Brattle, under the direction of proprietor Ken Gloss, is a literary institution in a most literary town. Gloss appraises books and libraries for Harvard, Boston University, Boston College, Tufts and even the FBI.
234 Berkeley St., 617-262-6100
For nearly 100 years, the goal at this Back Bay high-fashion mecca has been to be nothing less than the best clothing store in the world. And many of its local and international customers would agree that goal has been met. Located in the former New England Museum of Natural History building, Louis Boston (pronounced "Louie's") has become the symbol of Newbury Street high society, housing an extensive selection of men's and women's fashions as well as a cafe and hair salon.
Boston plagues itself with comparisons, but there is no question that Newbury Street is our own little New England version of Rodeo Drive. The stores range from Chanel and Cartier at one end to Urban Outfitters and the Virgin Megastore the the other, offering a day's worth of people watching no matter what your budget.
Quincy Market and the surrounding Faneuil Hall Marketplace represent Boston's past and present, attracting over 12 million visitors a year. Originally an open-air market, neo-classical Quincy Market was constructed in 1825 adjacent to historic Faneuil Hall and today houses a variety of food vendors selling everything from clam chowder and oysters to frozen yogurt and hot dogs. Today, the three market buildings bustle with a carnival-like energy and house dozens of retail shops, restaurants and, of course, the beloved street performers.
ANTHONY'S PIER 4
140 Northern Ave., 617-482-6262
On the waterfront, Anthony's is king. Ever since its opening in 1963, this restaurant has earned as much prestige for its classic New England seafood as it has for its clientele. Newcomers tend to linger in the lobby and gaze at the celebrities who preceded them, including Liz Taylor, Joe DiMaggio and Henry Kissinger, to name just a few. At Anthony's, it's quintessential Boston dining: water views, giant lobsters and a toast to the past.
84 Beacon St., 617-227-9605
Sam, Diane, Norm, Cliff, Woody, Carla and Frasier-they've all been here, at least to visit. The legendary TV sitcom "Cheers," which shined the blue glow on Boston forever, was based on this old Beacon Hill mainstay. The Bull & Finch Pub (its original name) was built in England and transported piece-by-piece to the basement of the historic Hampshire House in 1969. It wasn't until the early '80s, though, that producers Jim Burrows and Glen and Les Charles ended their search for the ultimate American neighborhood bar right here in Boston.
340 Faneuil Hall Marketplace, 617-227-2038
Check your inhibitions and your pretensions at the door-Durgin-Park is like family. This Faneuil Hall living landmark has been serving no-nonsense seafood and other regional fare unofficially since 1742. And not much has changed since then-which is why people keep coming back. The setting is like a country clambake, except it's indoors, and you're in the city. You'll rub elbows with strangers at the long picnic tables covered in red-and-white checkers and with waitresses who call you "hon."
37 Stuart St., 617-338-8586
You might not think of weiner schnitzel when you think of Boston, but then again, this region isn't exactly known for its German heritage. Still, Jacob Wirth-opened in 1868 and the city's second-oldest restaurant-is a Boston classic, and its sense of tradition is all-encompassing. The Theater District relic still has the look of an old-time saloon, complete with an ancient mahogany bar, weathered hardwood floors and weekly piano sing-alongs.
242 Northern Ave, 617-423-1000
It's all in the family at this legendary waterfront Boston institution. Greek immigrant James Doulos, an aspiring restaurateur, realized his American dream almost 80 years ago, fueled by his twin loves of food and family. Now in its third generation, the Doulos family restaurant continues to serve up luscious amounts of fresh seafood with equal parts pride and precision.
250 Franklin St., 617-451-1900
Of all the traditional French restaurants that appeared in the city late last century, the opulent refectoire at Julien in Le Meridien Hotel has always been at the top of the list. You'll want to dress formally for an evening under the high ceilings at this Renaissance revival-style dining room in the former Federal Reserve building. The cuisine is as rich as the decor and has earned a wealth of critical praise.
LEGAL SEA FOODS
Several locations throughout Boston,
There is such a thing as a restaurant chain with hometown flavor and respect for traditional values. An obvious example of this is Legal Sea Foods, which started out as a lunch counter upstairs from a Cambridge fish market in 1968 and has now amassed more than 20 locations along the Eastern seaboard. Legal is where celebrity chef Jasper White made a name for himself by creating the wood-grilled fish and clam chowder that are still the restaurant's signatures today.
3 Winter Place, 617-542-1340
When local culinary innovator Lydia Shire (Biba, Excelsior) took over the reigns of Locke-Ober two years ago, Boston's remaining Brahmins raised a collective eyebrow. Longtime customers of this downtown landmark need not have feared, however, as much about the old place remains the same. The dining room has been refurbished and restored to its former glory. And although the menu has been updated, Shire kept around many of the classics, including the steak tartar and the legendary lobster Savannah.
45 School St., 617-227-3370
Housed in Old City Hall, Maison Robert practically invented fine European dining in Boston. A landmark restaurant since its opening in 1972, the restaurant was famously featured in a 1980s Folgers coffee television commercial. This bastion of French cuisine remains a popular dining destination, serving such quintessentially French staples as foie gras, escargot and souffle in its stately upstairs dining room, more casual downstairs cafe and breezy outdoor patio.
138 St. James Ave., 617-267-5300
Old-fashioned steakhouses have always been dear to the hearts and appetites of Bostonians. As if the Edwardian-era heyday had never left, the Oak Room (and accompanying Oak Bar) stand as gems of baroque sensibility and sophistication. This high-society hang-out in the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel features a cathedral-like ambiance with cushioned banquettes, red draperies and crystal chandeliers. As for the cuisine, the Oak Room is a Hall of Famer.
60 School St., 617-227-8600
Everybody's heard of Boston creme pie-but not many people know that local legend says it was invented right here at Parker's. A throwback to 19th century luxury, Parker's is part of the oldest continually operated hotel in the U.S., the Omni Parker House. Literati and luminaries from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Franklin Delano Roosevelt have dined here.
UNION OYSTER HOUSE