To outsiders, Boston is known for its colonial history, sports fandom, and unruly population of college students. But for residents, Boston’s growing art scene helps the city hold on to its heritage, as well as supports the constant creative churning that makes it a dynamic place to live. In fact, it was a Wellesley College professor who brought the study of modernism in painting to New York’s Museum of Modern Art. (more…)
Haymarket is one of Boston’s oldest, and many would argue, best weekend institutions. Since 1830, vendors have congregated in the open space between the historic North End and Government Center from sunrise to sunset on Fridays and Saturdays, rain or shine, hawking the city’s cheapest produce sourced from wholesalers making space for new shipments. But like so many things that are old and good, Haymarket’s continued presence is not guaranteed, and it seems unlikely that Haymarket will remain the way it is – loud, imperfect but loved, for long.
Os Gemeos, which means “the twins” in Portuguese, is the mastermind collective behind several huge murals, including one on the side of PS 11 in New York City and a gigantic mural in Boston’s Dewey Square. Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, twins from Brasil, started their first art tour in the United States back in 2010, after erecting a rather noticeable urban art mural right in the heart of Downtown Boston, close to South Station. Along with the Institute of Contemporary Art, where they had their first solo exhibit in the United States, these artists have brought their art to the world.
New York, as seen through the eyes of a 1980′s teenager.
8-Bit City maps look like 80′s video game maps: blocky, pixelated, and uniformly colored. But that’s totally the point, says creator Brett Camper. He explains on his Kickstarter page that he got the idea from his childhood love of adventure video games. The Brooklynite has now transferred this passion to his interest in cities. He hopes that these maps will “evoke the same urge for exploration and abstract sense of scale that many of us remember experiencing on the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Commodore 64, or any other number of 8-bit microcomputers.”
Cambridge sits across the Charles River from Boston like a naughty and fascinating older sibling. Home to two famous institutions of higher learning, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this wonderful Left Bank is and loaded with cafés, bookstores, and world-class museums. Steeped in history, literature, and the spirit of the American Revolution, this leafy little city began as George Washington’s headquarters and became home to Maine’s most beloved poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Room with a View The Cambridge Royal Sonesta’s riverside retreat is one of Boston’s best-kept secrets. The hotel sits on the bank of the Charles River with 180 ° views of the Boston skyline-glorious by night. Rooms are priced by the glass or by the bottle, i.e., views that range from stellar to breathtaking. The contemporary art collection is a knockout with over 700 works displayed throughout the capacious hotel. The concierge offers a map and guide to the collection, which can be cruised in under three hours – two, if you’re in a rush. The Warhols, Stellas, Oldenburgs, and LeWitts will blow you away, and those are just the allstars. I counted 30 blueprints and designs by Buckminster Fuller in a nondescript hallway, from the sublime to the ridiculous – wonderful. There is a Josef Albers minding its own business over the copy machine.
The hotel’s aptly named ArtBar with outdoor seating on the riverbank is perfect on a balmy fall evening. Preppy gents on my left discuss golf strategies as boats pass and passengers wave. Stylish women on my right compare the day’s conquests: a colorful scarf and “cute” dog carrier. Boston’s beautiful skyline shimmers across the River. Not bad.
Wining and Dining
Food at ArtBar is locally sourced, and Chef D’Andro lists his New England farms, beekeepers, fisheries and smokehouses on the side of his menu like a new-age board of directors. Tasting menu standouts include a roasted trout resting on a pillow of silky mashed potato, and a quartet of briny raw oysters with a sweet-sour pomegranate foam ”” I could eat several dozen. My companion admired his à ¼ber-simple preparation of two enormous Georges bank sea scallops, expertly seared and served straight up with a few herbs and a sprinkle of the most amazing sea salt – I have never tasted better.
I recommend you skip the lobster corn dogs. Almost every other table is enjoying them, and I just don’t get it. I am from Maine, okay, so to me this preparation seems a real cultural offense. But, truly, there is no accounting for taste. I get over it quickly with the chef’s rhubarb crumble, which cuts through any lingering anxiety like a warm knife through sweet butter.
For the record, the hotel’s second bistro, Café Dante, makes a perfect Gray Goose martini, and their sturdy Italian wine list doesn’t disappoint. The cocktail crowd can be overwhelming at Danté so take your vitamins and do a few push-ups before making the scene. Best to go in the early evening unless you’re in the mood for a mob.
In-town options are many and varied. In Harvard Square, don’t miss gastro-pub Russell Square Tavern whose brunchy menu delights and comforts all day and all night. They do an amazing fried poached egg ”” try it. The beer list is respectable, local, and ever-changing. I sipped a hoppy BBC Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale and watched Vincent, the adorable oyster shucker, prying open the day’s catch.
Don’t miss the L.A. Burdick chocolates where I picked up some adorable chocolate mice for the kids and a penguin for myself. The kids say they don’t like chocolate. Speaking for all of us, it is a big fat lie ”” what we don’t like is BAD chocolate. No chance of bad chocolate at L.A. Burdick. My penguin, filled with silky and unctuous chocolate truffle and flavored with orange, is a real wow.
There is an exquisite walking-running-biking trail that the Sonesta calls a “jogging path.” Guests can trot or meander as far as they want, past MIT, across the B.U. and Harvard Bridges and all the way up to Harvard Square and back. All told, that stretch is about 8 miles. For the less ambitious like me, I “walk it off” in about 40 minutes, to MIT and back. Cool off in the Sonesta’s salt-water pool with retracting walls and ceiling in summer that allows guests to feel they’re dogpaddling in the Charles.
Family-friendly, the Museum of Science is just around the corner. Check out the IMAX theatre’s ever-changing hands-on activities-the museum’s lightning storm is dazzling. If you don’t like crowds of sniffly kids, be warned: this world-class science mecca is a very popular spot. CambridgeSide offers relaxing riverboat tours, a great way to get your bearings. You’ll pass MIT, the Fenway, iconic Citgo sign, the Boston University campus and little church where Martin Luther King, Jr., preached early sermons. Highlights include wild graffiti under the bridges and crazy salad of local lore and gossip from the tour guide. Kids dig a calming hour on this legendary river and adults seem to chill as well. Note: the boat offers a small bar with wine and beer, which doesn’t hurt.
Check out MIT’s amazing public art collection, a 20-minute walk from the hotel. One of the best public art collections in the country, this campus-wide treasure boasts works by Calder, Picasso, Jennifer Bartlett, Maine’s own Louise Nevelson and many more, with design superstars like Alvar Aalto and Harry Bertoia represented as well. Best of all, the collection is mostly outdoors and free. The wild contours of Frank Gehry’s Stata Center set the freewheeling tone with shiny surfaces that appear to twist and wiggle in the sun.
But it’s not too serious here: MIT is also home to the world’s only museum of pranks, IHTFP Gallery, named for the unofficial motto of MIT (“I Hate This ”¦ Place” ). Most impressive prank: A police car atop the MIT dome with uniformed policeman at the wheel. Particularly impressive: the policeman holds a box of donuts. Learn how they got that police car up there in the first place at the IHTFP Gallery.
From MIT, it’s a short T-ride to Harvard Square. A leafy walk through historic Harvard Yard gets you to the Sackler Museum and their massive collection of ancient art from Europe, Africa, and Asia, plus several galleries of modern art on loan from the Fogg Museum, now closed for renovation. The 1927 tuxedoed self-portrait of Max Beckmann is as wry and dry as the best Grey Goose martini.
It’s another short stroll to Harvard’s Museum of Natural History, home to a 42-foot Kronosaurus, an enormous Triceratops, and whale skeletons big enough to stand up in. Kids murmur “cool” as they run their hands over real meteors from outer space and peer into a 1,642-pound amethyst geode. I’m charmed by the museum’s collection of 3,000 glass Blashka flowers, minutely detailed models created at the turn of the 19th century as teaching aids ”” amazing. In short: the Harvard museums are a gas.
On the Boards
I bid a fond au revoir to Cambridge with a matinee performance at A.R.T., the American Repertory Theatre, of Marie Antoinette, “Heads Will Roll” – just the kind of barbed tragi-comedy I’m in the mood for. If your idea of comedy includes a mean girl’s descent into madness. Ricardo Hernandez’s set design is elegant and vibrant , the shocking palette works. The costumes and lighting are brilliant, and Marie herself doesn’t disappoint. In a word: GO.
Art Soaked Retreat
When I’m in the mood for an arty and enlightening getaway, Cambridge is at the top if my list. Leave the car at home – it’s a couple of stops via the T (red line) across the Charles to the intriguing parallel universe that is Boston’s Left Bank. Enjoy!
Boston is best known for sports colonial history, and a laidback vibe – but spend some time here, and it become clear that this is also a city that loves fine art, green spaces, and neighborliness. But even though Boston is known as a beautiful city, it is sadly a place where you can forget you’re on the water. If you don’t happen to be seeking out Boston Harbor, you’d be lucky to even glimpse the waterfront from most parts of downtown. But Mayor Mumbles, our reigning boy wonder (19 years as mayor and counting-and actually named Tom Menino), has taken it upon himself to change this, and it’s working. The waterfront is attached to the rest of Boston with a few short, pedestrian-friendly bridges, and yet you’d be forgiven for thinking it was miles out of the way.
Previously, the strip down by the World Trade Center or the Convention Center was, well”¦ dead. But with the birth of the Silver Line in 2002, extending public transit across the bridges (and confusing the hell out of everyone in the process-is it a bus? A train? It has its own lanes and runs underground! But it’s so clearly a bus!), this area has had a chance to grow into its own.
Now, just imagine diving from the height of that roof…
The Institute of Contemporary Art moved to Fan Pier on the waterfront at the end of 2006, and it was one of the biggest indicators that this neighborhood was on the rise. The ICA has brought in a rich program of both visual artists and performers. It has hosted everything from outdoor concerts on their dock to a diving competition in their watery front yard, and is currently hosting Os Gemeos, a Brazilian street art duo, in their first U.S. showing. More proof that the ICA is bringing a fun art culture to Boston? Os Gemeos has been putting murals up all over town, from painting an alleged Occupier on the Kennedy Greenway to a self-portrait on the side of the new Revere Hotel.
The waterfront is also a long-time artists’ neighborhood for other reasons. The old warehouses that populate this neighborhood-mainly holdovers from the days of the ship-based wool trade-have been largely turned into artists’ lofts and studios. A lively culture has surrounded the art walks and open studio events hosted in the neighborhood, and for artists and art-lovers the waterfront (and its neighboring micro-community of Fort Point) is the place to be seen.
Like the rest of America, Boston has seen food culture boom in the last fifteen or so years. While a visitor looking for classic New England fare will be spoiled for choice anywhere in the city, there are new restaurants popping up all the time, and the waterfront district has been the locus for larger spaces and vintage architecture, lending the scene down here a character of its own.
In 2011, Legal Seafoods-a Boston institution for fresh seafood-opened Legal’s Harborside, a multistory behemoth of a restaurant, right on the water near the World Trade Center. Near it is Del Frisco’s, home of the 32-ounce Wagyu steak (and Patriots players hungry enough for it), and a host of lounge spaces and eateries. There are also the old standby joints, like the mom-and-pop J. Pace and Sons, and plenty of booze at the Whiskey Priest, with a gorgeous patio hovering on stilts above the water.
Walk back a few blocks into Fort Point, and you’ll see the handiwork of Barbara Lynch, who has no fewer than three eateries on one block of Congress Street, all of them exuding style and providing amazing food-from the small plates and craft cocktails at Drink (where there’s no menu, just REALLY knowledgeable bartenders), to the glossy sheen of Sportello and the fine dining of Menton, Lynch has put her seal of approval on the district.
And after all that, if you still want chowda, head to the Barking Crab, the little run-down clam shack on Northern Avenue that is staunchly refusing to become anything classier than fried food and loud music.
Okay, it has a silly acronym-but the Boston Redevelopment Authority has been pouring its efforts into this neighborhood for years now, and though I am usually skeptical of large-scale development efforts (a post for another time”¦), I have to give credit to everyone at the BRA.
As early as 1999, they had targeted this area for some lovin’. Noting that it lacked public transit connections to the rest of the city, and was one of the last remaining spots with undeveloped waterfront real estate, the BRA set about turning all of this underused space into a usable public space. At this moment, there are still too many parking lots and too few green spaces, but there are at least five more years of intense development efforts ahead.
Businesses new and old are coming to the area, with the opening of a new multistory Asian fusion lounge called Empire, and the re-siting of Louis Boston, a luxury retailer, from over in the shopping mecca of Newbury Street in Back Bay. And there have been plenty of government-driven incentives for entrepreneurs to look here, in the form of tax relief and infrastructure financing.
And a central tenet of the redevelopment project has been to bring jobs into this area, which is especially important as it is closely connected with some of Boston’s less-affluent areas (yes, Ben Affleck, SOUTHIE!). The next step is to encourage people to move here, which is no easy task as the area still lacks basic amenities like pharmacies, supermarkets, or banks. But don’t worry, Mumbles is on the case, making sure that the area is rezoned for mixed commercial and residential use, in keeping with New England’s very neighborhood-friendly culture.
The proof is in the now-lively community spirit in this end of the city. In August, Fan Pier hosted Boston’s first ever Dîner en Blanc, which yours truly attended with Untapped arts editor. There have been wine tastings at the Seaport Hotel, diving competitions off the front of the ICA, and a revived concert schedule at the Bank of America Pavilion. Keeping green space, walkability, and independent business owners at the forefront of the waterfront development has all of us Bostonians hopeful that this district can reconnect us with the water and spur a new neighborhood of fun, artistic hangouts.