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Living like a local in Boston

There are some things about Boston that will probably always stick around, like a slavish devotion to local sports, a brash local way of talking that only sounds aggressive, and a fairly laid-back nightlife. But my fair city has changed a lot in the last decade or so, and now there are more options than ever for eating, shopping, drinking, and going out. So if you’re in town, make sure to schedule some time for some of these great spots.

Get your style on

I appreciate fashion, though I’m more likely to spend my cash on a drink or a plane ticket before new clothes. But the high end clothing available here nowadays has made for a more fun, vibrant street scene and neighborhoods that support their local shops. The old standby is Louis Boston, for a variety of gorgeous and expensive men’s and women’s clothing to covet. Their new location on Fan Pier means their are also expansive views of the harbor, if you fall in love with the view you can have a very fashionable snack (such as killer lobster risotto – that’s risotto that’s killer-good, not made from killer lobsters) at Sam’s cafe upstairs.

Salmagundi is in my favorite neighborhood, Jamaica Plain, and sells hats, gloves, and other olde-tymey accessories for the well-dressed… well, that’s it. The very well-dressed. Speaking of the very well-dressed (gentlemen, at least), John Varvatos just opened his first store in Boston – proof positive that the city’s reputation as a style dead-end is changing.

But if you want to kick it the way I always did in my late teens (and everyone should really be trying to emulate that period of my life), there are two standbys that will always be in my heart – Dorothy’s Boutique in the Back Bay stocks enough glitter, wigs, costumes, cheap accessories, and makeup to leave you dizzy. Over the river in Kendall Square is the Garment District, which is not a district at all but a store where I will always fondly remember the pile of clothing on the floor being sold at a dollar a pound. Inflation schminflation… though that may be a relic, you’ll still find an eclectic collection of new, used, and vintage clothing and accessories for men and women.

Looking at pretty (or though-provoking, or avant-garde, or just very expensive) things

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you’ll know that I’m a passionate supporter of the arts – I’ve studied music and dance, and have gotten a lot of satisfaction watching as Boston has renovated all three of its major museums, adding performance spaces and interactive programs that were definitely lacking before. There are still major issues – $25 to get into the Museum of Fine Arts has got to be a joke – but there’s definitely a lively artistic culture coming into its own here these days.

Boston Art Underground is a great example of this. It’s the first place I recommend when looking for art in the city – their website sorts galleries by train station neighborhood, and also provides lots of information about pop-up shows and performances that other news outlets might not find.

And while Newbury Street might be the classic place to gallery-hop, Jamaica Plain’s been making a really strong showing lately. Galleries such as the Hallway, the Aviary, and UForge (where local artists can get their start showing in community exhibits) are making this neighborhood a pedestrian-friendly place to catch some art.

Drinks and the food to absorb them

I’d been to Loews Hotel before, but their recent renovation (which I was lucky enough to check out firsthand), makes this space all the better. Precinct is their new bar and restaurant space, and the name is a nod to the fact that this building is the former Boston Police Headquarters. The space has been completely renovated, with an outdoor patio, warm and inviting bar, and working fireplace – the killer drinks don’t hurt, either. A new addition to the waterfront neighborhood is Row 34, known for their raw bar – and specialty oyster breed, appropriately name the Row 34 oyster. With a craft beer list and great wines, plus the additional cask from brand-new breweries that the friendly bar staff offer you slyly off the menu, this place is one I regularly haunt.

If you’re on the wrong – whoops, north! – side of the Charles River, a stop in Harvard Square will bring you to the very cozy Park, where really creative cocktails and modern American food can be found among library-inspired armchairs and sofas. Try the 617 cocktail, name after the local area code and containing South Boston Irish whiskey, cynar and averna (Italian bitters), and grapefruit.

The South End has lots of fantastic options for food and drinks. The Beehive features hearty comfort food and live music most nights, while the recently-opened Cinquecento serves authentic Roman food in a newly-renovated, airy space. Wink and Nod is another recent addition, with Prohibition-era style and an eclectic menu that includes tiki-inspired drinks.

Brunch is the most important meal of your hangover

The lazy man’s breakfast, brunch in Boston can be quite the scene. Themed brunches have been around for a while, and I will personally vouch that for the extremely lazy person, Tremont 647’s Pajama Brunch is a great way to get yourself out of bed, particularly in our truly, epically, cabin-fever-inducingly cold winters. Oh yeah, the food’s good, too. But if you’re in the South End and feel like wearing clothes (I don’t even want to know you), you could also go to Masa, where the food is $7.95 for two Mexican-inspired courses. Not kidding – I went there thoroughly expecting to be gouged for cocktails to compensate, but now – the service was no-pressure, and the drinks were completely reasonable (i’d quote prices, but I can’t find ’em… and my memory ain’t that good).

Allston gets a bad rap. I mean, it sort of deserves it, being the epicenter of the Great Student Migration every year, making it tricky to park, infuriatingly slow to take the overground train, and occasionally getting a bit too fratty to stand. That said, there is some fantastic food in this part of the city, and brunch at Deep Ellum (or any meal at Deep Ellum, frankly) is worth the trouble it may take to get there. A gastropub by night, this place doesn’t have the same crazy crowds during the breakfast hours (ahem,see: college kids), and the high quality American food (for often under $10) and back patio make for a really relaxing place to hang out in an otherwise hectic neighborhood. Also: truffle fries.

And for one last taste of the city, you’ve got to check out the brand new Beat Hotel in Cambridge. Featuring regular live music, it’s actually a sister restaurant to the Beehive, but with an aesthetic that can only be described as funky. The walls are covered in murals by local artists, and a wine list that includes lots of selections by the glass – actually, on draught, which is something I’ve also been seeing at new spots like Pastoral. My personal highlight is that there is plenty of non-meat options – in fact, there is food here to suit every diet, all of it carefully prepared.


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I'm Julia Hudson, a.k.a. The Epic Adventurer, and I write all about independent, sustainable, and culturally-sensitive travel. I'm a professional travel writer, editor, and digital marketer based out of Boston. I love inspiring people to travel and promoting economically and environmentally responsible tourism. Besides the nitty-gritty of travel how-tos, I think a lot about the ways that traveling shapes our sense of identity. Being foreign is always an eye-opening experience, and we carry complex responsibilities and freedoms as we move around our planet.

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