date published: June 4, 2007

All kinds of fun can be found in Boston’s trendiest neighborhood
by Josh B. Wardrop

Ethnic melting pot. Yuppie neighborhood. Jazz mecca. Gay neighborhood. Bohemian artists’ enclave. Trendy shopping and dining district. At one time or another, all of these labels have been attached to Boston’s South End, a neighborhood located just south of the glitzy Back Bay and north of the grittier neighborhood of Roxbury. And they’ve all been true—in fact, it could be argued that few Boston neighborhoods have undergone more changes than the South End. Today, however, the neighborhood that’s emerged is one of beautiful brick rowhouses and quiet tree-lined streets, anchored by some of the best thoroughfares in Boston—Tremont, Columbus, Harrison, Washington—for art, culture, shopping and dining.

“The South End has absolutely become one of the energetic focal points of the city,” says Darryl Settles, who’s owned and operated the restaurant/jazz club Bob’s Southern Bistro in the South End for 17 years, and has seen the neighborhood develop into a jewel in Boston’s cultural crown. “Every year, we’re seeing more and more options for dining and nightlife…we’ve grown tremendously.”

The Scrumptious South End
One of the first developments that truly put the South End on the map as an up-and-coming neighborhood was the emergence of some top restaurants. The city’s best chefs found their way here, and led city dwellers and visitors to the South End by their stomachs. And today, the scene continues to explode with what seem to be new restaurant openings each month, allowing fresh new blood to go toe-to-toe with established culinary players in a win-win for Boston gourmands.

Chef Gordon Hamersley was one of the pioneers of the South End dining scene when he and his wife Fiona opened Hamersley’s Bistro (refer to restaurant listing) almost 20 years ago. The much-acclaimed eatery is notable f or providing exquisite gourmet food—such as the restaurant’s trademark roasted chicken with garlic, lemon and parsley—in a comfortable atmosphere devoid of stuffiness and pretension.

Hamersley is far from the only “celebrity” chef that’s looked to the South End to express his culinary talents. The red-hot Ken Oringer, who has eateries sprinkled around the city, chose the South End for his Spanish tapas bar Toro (refer to restaurant listing) which boasts a diverse menu of hot and cold small plates, perfect for sharing with fellow diners. Chef Barbara Lynch has two eateries in the neighborhood—B&G Oysters (refer to restaurant listing), her collaboration with Garrett Harker, which specializes in fresh seafood delicacies and The Butcher Shop (552 Tremont St., 617-423-4800), an authentic Parisian-style charcuterie that’s all about exploring the bold flavors of meat. Andy Husbands’ Tremont 647 (647 Tremont St., 617-266-4600) is a perennial favorite for adventurous American cuisine. And at Sibling Rivalry (525 Tremont St., 617-338-5338), diners get two top chefs for the price of one, with brother Bob and David Kinkead offering dueling takes each night on different key ingredients, a la “Iron Chef.”

Dining in the South End isn’t just about the big names in the kitchen, however. The diversity of cuisine is really what sets the neighborhood apart as one of the best dining districts in Boston. Lovers of upscale French cuisine can find themselves in restaurant heaven at spots like Gallic bistro Aquitaine (569 Tremont St., 617-424-8577) and the swanky and sophisticated Mistral (223 Columbus Ave., 617-867-9300). Tucked away on a cozy side street, the nouveau American dishes at Icarus (3 Appleton St., 617-426-1790) are some of the best in the city. And when you’re in the mood for something more casual, but every bit as delicious, neighborhood spots like Delux Café & Lounge (refer to restaurant listing) with its standout grilled cheese sandwiches, Anchovies (433 Columbus Ave., 617-266-5088), attracting loyalists drawn to its low-key Italian-American fare, Bob’s Southern Bistro (refer to restaurant listing), home of scrumptious soul food, fried chicken and barbecue, and the affordable and diverse Franklin Café (278 Shawmut Ave., 617-350-0010) deliver every time.

South End Arts & Culture
The number of artists living in the South End—once a significant population that helped to revitalize and reinvigorate the neighborhood—is dwindling somewhat as the neighborhood grows more affluent, but the gallery scene in the South End is one of the strongest in the city. Galleries like the Mills Gallery inside the Boston Center for the Arts (refer to galleries listings) are thriving, and the SoWa Artists Guild at 450 Harrison Ave. (home to the Bernard Toale Gallery and Bromfield Gallery) represents one of the largest and most diverse artists’ collectives in the city—with more than 15 galleries and 50 artist studios linked together—and hosts regular events like seasonal art walks and monthly First Friday gatherings and exhibitions.

The South End is also home to a number of small theatres that produce some of Boston’s most challenging and exiting dramatic works, like Huntington Theatre Company, which hosts Kiki & Herb: Alive from Broadway at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Calderwood Pavilion; the Speakeasy Stage Company, presenting Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown’s Parade at the Boston Center for the Arts through June 16; and the BCA itself, a four-acre, non-profit organization that boasts four resident theatre companies and acts as a venue for productions large and small on a regular basis. Refer to theater listings.

South End After Dark
If you’re in search of a prime spot for lounging with a cocktail while you listen to music, scope out the singletons or just chill with friends, the South End offers plenty of options. Flash’s Cocktails (310 Stuart St., 617-574-8888) serves up both classic libations and cutting-edge creations. The ultra-smooth 28 Degrees (1 Appleton St., 617-728-0728) is a sleek and seductive hangout offering tasty cocktails and a particularly diverse beer selection. Clery’s (113 Dartmouth St., 617-262-9874) has a neighborhood pub feel that draws in big crowds on the weekends for food, drink and revelry. And Wally’s Café (427 Massachusetts Ave., 617-424-1408) is one of the city’s most venerable nightspots, opened back in 1947, and the last survivor of the South End’s once-impressive array of jazz clubs. Long regarded as Jazz Central in the city of Boston—a place where some of the biggest names in the genre played to devoted audiences—Wally’s proudly continues to feature live music 365 days a year, and manages to do so without charging a cover.

With a thriving gay community calling the South End home, it’s no surprise that the neighborhood boasts a few of the city’s most popular gay bars. The Eagle (520 Tremont St., 617-542-4494) is a friendly spot popular with singles and neighborhood regulars, while Club Café (refer to clubs and bars listing) is a usually-packed nightclub with a video bar, regular evenings devoted to ’80s music, karaoke and dance nights, and a tasty restaurant (209 Boston) serving up grub. And Fritz Lounge (26 Chandler St., 617-482-4428) bills itself as “Boston’s Gay Sports Bar,” boasting six flat screen plasma TVs, dartboards and a convivial and relaxing after-work atmosphere.

The biggest new addition to the South End nightlife scene is The Beehive (541 Tremont St., 617-423-0069), a 300-seat bar/restaurant/live music venue opened in May by Settles, local entrepreneur Jack Bardy and partners. According to Settles, the Beehive (named for an early 20th century artists’ colony in Paris) is a place where “mature audiences can come and enjoy themselves. Whatever they want to do—whether it’s eat dinner, come and see live music, just hang out and have a drink—and they can stay out late doing it.”

The Beehive is expected to feature jazz, R&B and blues performers, complementing a diverse Mediterranean/European/American food menu. The venue is one of a growing handful in the South End that has a 2 a.m. license, it’s located right in the center of the South End’s arts district, housed in the BCA, and boasts a 100-seat patio. With all the bases seemingly covered, it’s no wonder that The Beehive has been causing so much buzz in the South End and beyond.

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