Beacon Hill is a popular destination for visitors. It’s chock-full of history and historical sites, with some dating back to the 1600s. While Beacon Hill is considered a very desireable neighborhood and one of Boston’s (and the nation’s) wealthiest addresses, that was not always the case. As early as the late 17th century, the south slope of Beacon Hill earned the nickname, “Mount Whoredom”. From the 1930s through the 1960s, Beacon Hill was home to many nightclubs and bathhouses that catered to “pansies” who would then spill out onto the Boston Common to cruise for sex. Those days are long gone and difficult to imagine today, considering Beacon Hill’s current prim repute.
I never lived in Beacon Hill, but I spent plenty of time here especially in college and my late 20s. My most vivid memories of Beacon Hill involved the much dreaded moving days for my friend Tom who attended Suffolk University. He always seemed to live on the top floor of every building. Getting furniture up and down those tiny, twisting walk-ups was torture. I distinctly recall hurling pillows out of Tom’s 3rd story window on Joy Street, and him running back and forth in the street trying in vain to catch the flying projectiles. Moving day always resulted in a significant amount screaming profanities at each other. Fortunately, there was always a cold beer (or twelve) after the move.
About Beacon Hill Beacon Hill is home to more than 9,000 residents. Despite it’s sky high rents, many Suffolk University students and Mass General Hospital (a.k.a. MGH) residents live here. The neighborhood is also awash with State government employees and lobbyists who spend a lot of time at the Massachusetts State House. Many politicians make this their home, like former US Senator, 2004 Democratic Presidential candidate and Joe Biden’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry who lives in Louisberg Square.
This tiny neighborhood, which barely spans a square quarter mile, is divided into three sections: the South Slope, facing Beacon Street and The Common; North Slope, facing Cambridge Street and Mass General Hospital; and the Flats, which like its name suggests is not a hill and is sandwiched between Storrow Drive (think Boston’s version of the Henry Hudson Parkway) and the Public Garden.
What to do in Beacon Hill This is an historic neighborhood known for its Federal-style rowhouses, narrow streets lit by gas lamps and bricked sidewalks. The best examples of this are Louisberg Square and Acorn Street. The neighborhood also has the good fortune of being surrounded by some of Boston’s most beautiful parks including the Boston Common, The Public Garden, and Esplanade. These parks are full of interesting sculptures like this personal favorite in The Public Garden, and in 2022 I’m looking forward to the unveilling of the Martin Luther King and Correta Scott-King memorial on The Common. The parks host many free outdoor workouts, movie nights, concerts and events throughout the year including (my favorite) free performances of Shakespeare on the Common in the summer.
The Freedom Trail traverses Beacon Hill and will guide you to the Park Street Church, King’s Chapel and Burying Ground, Old Granery Burying Ground and State House, but Beacon Hill has more to offer like Boston’s African American National Historic Site, Nichols House Museum, and the William Hickling Prescott House. While it lacks historical significance, those of a certain age may recall the MTV series Real World, filmed in the late 1990s in Boston. I’ve been known to break-up Freedom Trail visits with a quick stop outside the former Boston firehouse at 127 Mt. Vernon Street where Real World Boston was filmed.
When you get tired of walking around and photographing this quaint neighborhood, you’ll likely find yourself drawn to Charles Street which stretches several blocks from Beacon Street to Cambridge Street along the Flats. Here you’ll find an array of ateliers that include gift shops, antique stores, local grocers and other specialty retailers. There are also more than a few coffee shops and cafes but my favorite is the Tatte Bakery & Cafe because of its central location and outdoor seating. There is a complete list of Beacon Hill shops online here, but I recommend strolling around. It’s a short walk and to quote Boston poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”
Food and Drink in Beacon Hill: Cheers, which is located in “The Flats” below The Hampshire House, remains the most famous establishment in Beacon Hill some thirty years after the popular NBC TV show went off air. However, there are far better places to drink and certainly better places to eat. Even though this is one of Boston’s most expensive neighborhoods, there are many good, reasonably priced restaurants. Some of my favorites are 75 Chestnut, which has a lively bar if you can nab a chair. If you’re hungry for pizza, I’ve always enjoyed Todd English’s Figs on Charles Street and right next door is the Paramount, which serves breakfast in addition to lunch and dinner daily.
Beacon Hill also has its share of fine dining if you’re in the mood to celebrate. One of the city’s best restaurants, No. 9 Park, run by Chef Barbara Lynch is just steps from the State House and is the perfect destination to share a romantic dinner. Just around the corner is one of Boston’s best hotels XV Beacon. Their restaurant, Mooo, is an excellent steakhouse, but I prefer their brunch, which they offered pre-pandemic. If you’re craving Italian, the subterranean Grotto Italian restauant behind the State House and Lydia Shire’s Scampo (technically in the West End) are favorites.
Although I rarely go to Beacon Hill for drinks, at one point in my life I clocked a lot of time at The 21st Amendment and The Sevens Ale House. Both are great pubs and fun places to meet up for a drink after work. If you’re more into wine or cocktails, go to Mooo’s bar. I’ve yet to try Peregrine, a relatively new restaurant in Beacon Hill’s newest boutique hotel, The Whitney, but it is on my list of places to try. In good weather, the best option for a drink outside is the patio at Liberty Hotel’s lounge, Alibi.
Gay life in Beacon Hill: Beacon Hill is not a gay neighborhood. It hasn’t had a gay bar or shop for decades, although there are plenty LGBTQ+ residents. Prior to the pandemic, Carrie Nation in Beacon Hill had one of the best drag brunches in Boston called, Drag Me To Brunch hosted by Destiny Boston and Dee Dee de Ray on Sunday afternoons. Fingers crossed this will return later this year. As you can see from the photo above, it is predominantly attended by straight (and loud) women out for a fun afternoon rather than gay clientele.
If you happen to be new to Boston or planning a visit, reach out with questions. If you are familiar with Boston’s Beacon Hill, recommendations and comments are welcome.