date published: April 24, 2006

Celebrating the Ahhhts
Culture lovers are drawn to Harvard Square by such institutions as the Harvard Art Museums-including the Sackler, the Busch-Reisinger and the Fogg (currently displaying the exhibit American Watercolors and Pastels from 1875-1950). Meanwhile, also on campus, the Harvard Museum of Natural History is a great spot for curious types of all ages to learn about the wonders of the world we live in. Refer to listings.

The American Repertory Theatre is Harvard Square's Tony Award-winning repertory house, a venue that stages everything from Shakespearean classics to new works by unknown playwrights. The A.R.T. recently opened the renovated 300-seat Zero Arrow Theatre for small productions-such as the new cabaret (I am) Nobody's Lunch, running April 25-30 . Call 617-876-4275 for tickets.

Movie fans craving big-budget Hollywood spectaculars will have to look elsewhere, but a stop at the Brattle Theatre will thrill lovers of vintage film with its screenings of foreign classics, old black-and-whites like Casablanca and recent acclaimed art films. Refer to listing.

Concert lovers can get their fix at Club Passim (refer to listing), a nearly five-decade-old folk fixture where artists from Joan Baez to Richie Havens to Suzanne Vega have performed. Meanwhile, diverse classical and world music performances (including an April 29 show by folk artist Cris Williamson) take place at the Sanders Theatre (Memorial Hall on the Harvard campus, 45 Quincy St., 617-496-4595).

Square deals
In recent years, shopaholics have seen an increasing number of familiar chain stores move in, but real delights can still be found in Harvard Square's smaller independent shops-spots like Berk's Shoes & Clothing (50 JFK St., 617-492-9511), which boasts funky footwear like Doc Marten's and Birkenstocks in every color imaginable, or the singularly intriguing Museum of Useful Things (49B Brattle St., 617-576-3322) a domestic's dream house where every product inspires the comment "I've been looking for something like this!"

Clotheshorses can check out The Tannery (11A Brattle St., 617-491-0810) for fine leather goods or trendy spots like Hootenanny (36 JFK St., 617-864-6623), Proletariat (36 JFK St., 617-661-3865) and Urban Outfitters (11 JFK St., 617-864-0070) for fashions that'll help you blend in with the college folk. Or dig for classic literature at Raven Used Books (52B JFK St., 617-441-6999) and the Grolier Poetry Book Shop (6 Plympton St., 617-547-4648).

The epicenter of Harvard's retail universe is the venerable Harvard Cooperative Society (1400 Mass. Ave., 617-499-2000)-more commonly known as "The Coop" (rhymes with soup, not slow-hop). Essentially, it's a campus bookstore, but visitors more commonly use it to purchase all those Harvard T-shirts and sweatshirts you'll see in your travels around Boston and beyond.

A Good (Harvard) Square Meal
Lovers of fine dining have plenty to enjoy in Harvard Square-from the contemporary American cuisine of Harvest (44 Brattle St., 617-868-2255), to Henrietta's Table (refer to listing) and its focus on fresh and natural regional ingredients, to the always creative fare at the whimsically decorated Upstairs on the Square (91 Winthrop St., 617-864-1933).

Some people might look at Harvard University-the academic jewel in the crown of Harvard Square-and assume that the eggheads that dwell within have nothing more on their minds than their futures as litigators, physicians, world leaders and captains of industry. But, as it turns out, some of them just want to dance.

Which is what they do each spring during Arts First, Harvard's annual celebration of student and faculty creativity, which this year takes place May 4-7 in various locations in and around the campus. More than 225 separate music, theatrical, dance, film and visual arts events are scheduled-including such highlights as productions of Alice in Wonderland, Footloose and Inherit the Wind, as well as art-making activities for children, a Performance Fair on May 6 and a conversation with 2006 Harvard Arts Medal recipient, playwright Christopher Durang (moderated by Harvard grad/soup pitchman John Lithgow, who founded Arts First in 1992).

Best of all, while a Hahh-vid education is sure to set you back a few bucks, participating in most of the Arts First activities won't-in fact, a majority of them are free and open to the public. For more detailed schedule information on Arts First, call 617-495-8676 or visit

In fact, in Harvard Square, looks can be deceiving, and even the more casual eateries often reveal hidden depths to their menus. From the outside, Charlie's Kitchen (10 Eliot St., 617-492-9646) looks like your average college-y burger joint, and indeed the burgers are tasty. But a closer look at the menu reveals specials like duck sausage, venison kebobs and buffalo meatloaf, as well as a top-notch version of that New England staple, the lobster roll.

For cheap eats, try a burger from Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage , (1246 Mass. Ave., 617-354-6559) agreed upon by many Cantabrigians as one of the best burgers you'll get anywhere, served in an informal (and generally packed) atmosphere.

No culinary experience is complete without dessert, so don't miss Finale (30 Dunster St., 617-441-9797), which specializes in the sweetest, most decadent desserts you'll ever taste. If ice cream's your thing, the Square offers an abundance of options-including Ben & Jerry's (refer to listing), and locally made favorites Toscanini's (1310 Mass. Ave., 617-354-9350) and Lizzy's (29 Church St., 617-354-2911). For the finest eatable and drinkable chocolate, L.A. Burdick's (52D Brattle St., 617-491-4340) is a must-stop, or visit Cardullo's Gourmet Shoppe (refer to listing) where you can pick up high-end chocolates and confections to bring home to loved ones. Finally, for a caffeine fix, eschew the mighty Starbucks, and enjoy a post-dessert cup of any kind of tea you can imagine at Tealuxe (refer to listing).

A Night on the Square
For nightlife, Harvard Square is a bit more restrained than some parts of the city, but there are plenty of fun spots to check out during an evening on the town. For liquid refreshment, there's Tommy Doyle's (96 Winthrop St., 617-864-0655), a multi-level Irish pub that boasts live bands, DJs, pub quiz nights and karaoke throughout the week.

For those who like a clubbier atmosphere, the newest addition to Harvard Square's nightlife scene is the exotic Om , (refer to listing), where patrons can lounge on comfy couches and sip special aromatherapy martinis while they take in the authentic Tibetan d├ęcor and listen to a house-influenced soundtrack created especially for the bar.

A good laugh can always be found at The Comedy Studio (refer to listing) which resides just upstairs from the unassuming Hong Kong restaurant. You won't likely have heard of many of the names at the Studio, but it's the city's top breeding ground for up-and-coming comics, and every now and again established acts drop in to experiment with new material.

And, if being cerebral in an open arena is your idea of fun (you are right next to Harvard, after all), you can always head over to Forbes Plaza at Holyoke Center , and challenge one of the resident chess players to a game. If you win, you can even walk away with a couple of extra bucks in your pocket, not to mention bragging rights among your circle of friends. If you lose.well, there's always checkers.

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Nothing says welcome to spring like a good old-fashioned block party, and for the denizens of Cambridge's most-visited neighborhood that party is commonly known as the annual Harvard Square May Fair . On May 7 from noon-6 p.m., Harvard Square hosts its 23rd annual get-together filled with more than 200 vendors exhibiting and selling arts and crafts, handmade jewelry and clothing from around the world and from right there in the Square; delicious multi-ethnic food from some of the Square's top eateries; and three stages of live entertainment, featuring everything from rock, folk and world music to face-painting, puppeteers and dance troupes for the kids.

The action takes place over five city blocks-stretching from JFK Street to Mass Ave., to Brattle Street, Church Street and the Eliot Triangle-and generally attracts more than 100,000 participants, making it not only the biggest bash of the year for Harvard Square, but one of the biggest celebrations in the Boston area. Refer to listing.