When you visit Boston, it is required you have on a cap, shirt or jacket celebrating your loyalty to the Sox, Patriots, Bruins or Celtics. This is a sports town. The Hotel Commonwealth is the same metro stop as Fenway Park. On my last visit the lobby of this lovely little palace was filled with dads and boys, decked out with foam fingers, popcorn, gloves and a shared love of the game. Walking outside under the green canvas canopy as a game breaks and you can be stampeded by a heard of boisterous fans. The sox had just taken the 4th of four from the Indians and were preparing for a post-season appearance with the dreaded Yankees. Boys and dads, sons and fathers. Baseball and Boston. These are perfect encapsulated moments and the economy, environment, world tensions and swine flu were noticeably absent in the euphoria of the baseball heaven. I grew up in the shadow of Ebbett’s field and the Brooklyn Dodgers with a Dad that took me to all the Brooklyn Dodger games (he was a NY City Cop at Ebbets) so I know about these moments.
These are personal histories. If you want a broader view….try the colonial walking tour. Meet at Feneuil Hall and wander from the one revolutionary site to another with a bonnet-clad tour guide relating some fact, some fiction and some speculations. The site of the Boston Massacre (six men died) is approached by dodging traffic in all directions rather than musket bullets. Over to the Anglican church, minus a steeple, to the graveyard of these same massacre victims.
History is always an edit, but I thought it a shame that our guide never mentioned that Crispus Attucks was a former slave. A dozen + people share the tour, most from Germany, a couple from Manchester, interested in this view of the young republic and sharing thoughts from other perspectives, including the face of the nation today. This dialogue is more compelling that the ritual of the bedecked tour guide.
The Boston Common is the terminus of the tour and we take a more direct route to Quincy market where there are 80 stalls and a culinary dining common to consume. The food ranges from chowder and lobster to curry and sushi. Samples and shouts entreat the crowd to purchase a lunch. With so many local specialties is it hard to image a couple walking with two slices of pepperoni pizza and a coke…but this is America. Lunch is boisterous and noisy and fun here, but for a better sit down drink and dinner, The Eastern Standard, part of the Hotel Commonwealth is hard to beat. Their Glouster scallops four perfect discs of flavor-resting on a bed of corn cannoli succotash filled my thoughts at night. I wrote to the restaurant with my compliments and they sent me the recipe. I tried to recreate it at home. Not bad, but far from the perfection of the creators. I ended up the next night grilling the balance of the scallops on the barbque in Wasabi oil. (Maybe I have been in California too long.) A second night dining was well served at the Fireside. This cozy restaurant, has their premium tables at the advertised—fireside. I was alone and treated myself to a dinner at the bar. Nothing like being in a distant city, with a TV and the of course hometown Sox winning. The ne owner hasn’t quite figure out the pricing of the scotches….so all the premium single malts are the same price. I am in a moral quandary reporting this. Do I owe the reader the inside story at the expense of a nice restaurant? I err on the side of candor and truth. Dinner was Boston baked beans, and obligatory offering to the gods of Boston and a Talisker scotch. Both were enjoyable and stretched out over the course of nine-inning and a chatty bartender.
At the more modest end of the accommodations spectrum is Anthony Guest House. A very quirky townhouse on Beacon Street. Shared bathrooms on each floor, furniture covered in clear plastic, a house manager that takes you down the street two blocks to park your car? Sound a little strange. It sure is, but affordable, clean and like spending the night is you slightly batty aunts house in Maine. Across the street is the Beacon Street Café. Reasonable, decent, convenient and somewhat unremarkable. Breakfast and lunch is the Busy Bee Café. It is right out of the set of Alice with antiquated waitresses that are downright hostile. Food is mediocre eggs and sandwiches…..but again, it’s the experience of an urban dinner environment that makes it worth the walk across the street and more.
Culture abounds with the Museum of Fine Arts impressive in its collection, breadth as well as depth with the Gardner Museum a heart beat away. The Gardner is a floor to ceiling collection of work from a period that holds little interest. The building itself is remarkable as an example of the finest quasi Seville/Arabic inner courtyard this side of the ocean. It is the splendid home of an uneventful collection. It should be noted that in the current economic world, many institutions have chosen to raise prices for admission to cover costs. The MFA and the Garder among them. Between entry fees and parking, you better come prepared with more than colonial currency to pay for the day’s excursions. Boston is a manageable city in size, opportunity and attraction. Think of Portland or Seattle rather than Los Angeles on the West Coast. It is not NY–and that is the blessing of Boston–and those dreaded Yankees? Fugetaboutit!
Anthionys Town House
Eastern Standard Restaurant
Museum of Fine Arts
Elizabeth Stanley Gardner Museum
Walking tour Colonial History
Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market