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By Josh B. Wardrop, Emma Snider / July 18, 12:00 AM
Panorama’s square-by-square guide to Cambridge

The Square Deal

Visitors to Boston are drawn to the city by its history, cultural attractions and its burgeoning dining and nightlife scenes. However, those same elements also make Boston’s neighbor across the Charles River, Cambridge, a destination equally worthy of merit. Cambridge is a city defined by its ability to unite disparate elements to create a vibrant and mostly harmonious whole. In this sprawling city, much of Cantabridgian culture, shopping, food and entertainment is centered around its five major squares, each of which is highlighted below.

Harvard Square
Chances are, if you’ve been anywhere in Cambridge, it’s Harvard Square, home to our nation’s most famous and illustrious university. But it doesn’t take an Ivy League brain to see how much more the area has to recommend it to visitors.


Those entranced by history have a plethora of sites to attract them, starting with the Harvard campus itself. Non-students can tour Harvard Yard, take in a concert at Sanders Theatre or explore the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Sackler Art Museum.


Just blocks away from Harvard lies the Longfellow House—former home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow—while a bit farther outside the Square is the beautiful Mount Auburn Cemetery, final resting place of artists, authors and politicians and a popular spot for bird-watching and quiet reflection. Refer to sightseeing listings.


Cultural venues abound in Harvard Square, including the creative stage works at American Repertory Theatre; classic films at the Brattle Theatre; and stand-up from up-and-coming comics at The Comedy Studio


Some would regard shopping as an artform, and there’s no shortage of places to practice it in Harvard Square. Bookworms can browse the racks at The Harvard Book Store (1256 Massachusetts Ave., 617-661-1515), the Harvard Coop and the Grolier Poetry Book Shop (6 Plympton St., 617-547-4648), while fashion-forward types can splurge on one-of-a-kind, handmade jewelry at TistiK, vintage clothing at Proletariat (36 JFK St., 617-661-3865) and all manner of Harvard gifts and souvenirs at J. August.


You’ll never go hungry in Harvard Square, with options ranging from the affordable fare at venerable underground pub Grendel’s Den (89 Winthrop St., 617-491-1050) to the singularly delicious burgers at Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage (1246 Massachusetts Ave., 617-354-6559), comforting breakfasts at Zoe’s and Chinese food and potent Scorpion Bowls at the Hong Kong.


At night, Harvard Square denizens enjoy stellar nightlife without ever leaving home. Hip club Redline (59 JFK St., 617-491-9851) boasts top DJs spinning funky tunes nightly, while live music lovers can catch folk artists at Club Passim or jazz at Regattabar. Imbibers can wind down the night with brews at the outdoor Charlie’s Beer Garden (10 Eliot St., 617-492-9646) or sample sophisticated cocktails at Noir (One Bennett St., 617-661-5050) in the Charles Hotel.


Inman Square
Although the smallest and most residential of the five Cambridge squares, Inman is no shrinking violet. Dominated by independent businesses, there are unique delights to be found here unlike any in Cambridge, including the aptly named Boutique Fabulous (1309 Cambridge St., 617-864-0656)—a shop that boasts everything from kitschy furniture to vintage jewelry and jeans—and kids’ clothing emporium Bird by Bird (1361 Cambridge St., 617-497-1361).


Dining options are similarly eccentric and exceptional, like Chris Schlesinger’s upscale barbecue joint East Coast Grill & Raw Bar (1271 Cambridge St., 617-491-6568) and “deli on steroids” All-Star Sandwich Bar (1245 Cambridge St., 617-868-3065). After dinner, visitors to Inman can sip caffeinated beverages at the popular 1369 Coffeehouse (1369 Cambridge St., 617-576-1369) or enjoy live jazz at Ryles (212 Hampshire St., 617-876-9330).


Kendall Square
Home to the world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Kendall gives off a slightly more cool and clinical vibe than other parts of Cambridge, but don’t be fooled—Kendall is an up-and-coming neighborhood filled with fun diversions.


If you’re amped up by science, the MIT Museum clues visitors in to the world of discovery, with exhibits on robotics, holograms and more. The more artistically inclined can check out the MIT List Arts Visual Center, which displays work fusing right and left brain interests in mind-bending ways.


The dining scene in Kendall leans toward earthy, homespun delights. Grab brunch at kitschy breakfast joint The Friendly Toast (1 Kendall Square, 617-621-1200), enjoy an upscale take on down-home Southern cuisine at Hungry Mother (233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave., 617-499-0090) or embrace your romantic side with French cuisine at intimate bistro Salts (798 Main St., 617-876-8444).


Shoppers find great deals at the Garment District (200 Broadway, 617-876-5230), which is chock-full of vintage clothing. After you’ve bought a new wardrobe, catch a flick at the indie megaplex Kendall Square Cinema (1 Kendall Square, 617-499-1996), or toast your Kendall experiences at Cuchi Cuchi (795 Main St., 617-864-2929), a funky bar/restaurant where your bartender can mix up a blood orange sidecar or other cool cocktail.


Porter Square
Like Central Square, Porter Square is centered around Massachusetts Avenue. It’s there that stylish consumers can be socially conscious as they shop Raspberry Beret (1704 Massachusetts Ave., 617-354-3700), where they can reuse vintage fashions; Nomad (1741 Massachusetts Ave., 617-497-6677), which provides funky, “fair trade” clothing made from organic materials; and Greenward (1764 Massachusetts Ave., 617-395-1338), an “eco-boutique” boasting gifts and useful home products made from recycled materials.


After your shopping spree, fuel up with food from Stone Hearth Pizza (1782 Massachusetts Ave., 617-492-1111), where chefs serve healthy gluten-free pizza and beer; the West Side Lounge (1680 Massachusetts Ave., 617-441-5566), known for fine cocktails and dishes like potato gnocchi and sake-infused salmon; or Thai restaurant Tamarind House (1790 Massachusetts Ave., 617-491-9940).


A night out in Porter might consist of after-dinner drinks at Temple Bar (1688 Massachusetts Ave., 617-547-5055) or sampling the extensive beer selection at Cambridge Common (1667 Massachusetts Ave., 617-547-1288). After that, head downstairs to The Lizard Lounge for music, DJs or poetry readings. Or hop over to Toad (1920 Massachusetts Ave., 617-497-4950), Porter’s award- winning hole-in-the-wall bar/music venue.


Central Square
At the center of Cambridge sits the aptly named Central Square, home to Cambridge’s greatest cultural and culinary diversity. At night, Central solidifies its place as Cambridge’s ground zero for imaginative cuisine and boisterous nightlife. For the former, try the full Irish breakfast at The Asgard, sample samosas at venerable India Pavilion, explore the cuisine of Nepal at Rangzen Tibetan (24 Pearl St., 617-354-8881) or try Picante for vibrant and flavorful Mexican cuisine.


After dinner, the night’s just beginning as Central Square boasts the city’s most hopping club scene. The Middle East provides three rooms of live music, tiny T.T. the Bear’s (10 Brookline St., 617-829-BEAR) is the ultimate intimate rock club and The Cantab Lounge (738 Massachusetts Ave., 617-354-2685) is a friendly dive bar offering everything from weekly bluegrass nights to soulful, funk-drenched dance parties. For a calmer night out, pull up a stool at a communal table in the minimalist Middlesex Lounge (315 Massachusetts Ave., 617-868-MSEX) and maybe meet the hipster of your dreams.
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