Category Archives: Beacon Hill

Boston neighborhoods

The city of Boston is comprised of 23 neighborhoods. Many of the downtown neighborhoods span less than a square mile, but they are full of interesting sites and places of interest. To that end, this month I selected four downtown neighborhoods and shared my thoughts about what make them worth visiting.

South End

I started this series with the neighborhood I know best, the South End. I’ve lived here for nearly twenty years now but have been visiting since I moved back to Boston in the late 1990s.

The South End is incredibly charming. Built on landfill in the mid-19th century as a residential district for Boston’s growing upper middle-class, hundreds of Victorian Bow Fronts were built and today it’s the largest enclave of urban Victorian residential architecture in the country. The picturesque neighborhood is full of parks, unique shops and restaurants and cafes. While only a few gay bars remain in the South End, this was once upon a time an enclave for Boston’s LGBTQ+ community and while most of those businesses have closed or moved online, this is still where many in Boston’s gay community come out for dinner or to meet up with friends for drinks. Read my full profile of the South End here.

Back Bay

I moved into the Back Bay in the late 1990s after living in Atlanta for a few years. I thought I’d live in my apartment on Commonwealth Avenue for a year maybe two but ultimately, I stayed in the Back Bay for six years. I still consider it a homebase and love this neighborhood for all that it has to offer.

If you’ve visited Boston, you’ve probably spent time in the Back Bay. It is a centrally located, afluent neighborhood with some of Boston’s most iconic buildings, busiest streets, best restaurants, bars and shops. It is chock-full of office buildings, hotels, retailers, restaurants and of course residents. Tourists will love the parks (my favorite is The Esplanade) that run through this neighborhood, but Back Bay also has amazing architecture ranging from the modern I.M. Pei design of The Hancock Tower built in the 1970s to the beautiful McKim Building of the Boston Public Library and its hidden Italianate Courtyard that dates back to the late 1800s. In addition, this neighborhood has no shortage of restaurants, bars and shopping so there is plenty to see and do when here. Read my full profile of the Back Bay here.

christopher sherman

Beacon Hill

I never lived in Beacon Hill but one of my best friends went to Suffolk University which is located here. I also spent many hours at bars in this neighborhood in my late 20s and early 30s.

Beacon Hill is a popular destination for visitors due to its many historical sites, with some dating back to the 1600s. While this neighborhood is less than a square quarter mile in size it contains a lot to see and enjoy with its pretty as a postcard streets to its many Freedom Trail sites of interest to great restaurants and good pubs. While the neighborhood’s stodgy image is well deserved there is still plenty of fun to be had here and my favorite time of year to visit is in the summer when you can sit outside and enjoy the people watching along Charles Street. For more information about this historic and interesting neighborhood, read my full profile of Beacon Hill here.

North End

The North End is where my maternal grandmother grew up as a kid. My brother briefly lived here and at the moment one of my cousins call the North End home. While I’ve never lived here, it is this familial connection to this tiny neighborhood that makes me feel connected to it.

The North End is charming unless you’re driving then it is a nightmare. The neighborhood is comprised of a maze of narrow, meandering streets that are chock-full of Italian restaurants, bakeries and cafes. The tiny neighborhood is hemmed in between Boston’s inner harbor to the North and East and The Rose Kennedy Greenway (a.k.a. The Greenway) to the West and South. This neighborhood is for those who love American History (esp. American Revolution) and for those who love food. For more information about Boston’s “Little Italy”, read my full profile of the North End here.

Boston neighborhood profile: Beacon Hill

Louisburg Square on Beacon Hill – photo from Wikipedia page

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.

Massachusetts State House sits atop Beacon Hill

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.

Acorn Street in Beacon Hill is a favorite spot to snap a photo

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.”

Beacon Hill
Contrary to what NBC told you – nobody knows your name here

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.

Destiny Boston is werqin‘ it at Drag Me To Brunch

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.

What you pay in Boston neighborhoods per square foot

Curbed Boston, Boston Real Estate

Average condo sales prices per square foot

Select image to enlarge

Last week Curbed Boston posted this image from the Collaborative Companies which shows the average condo sales prices per square foot in a number of Boston neighborhoods and surrounding towns.

Laura Ahmes-Gollinger from the Collaborative Companies explains in the post how this is impacting younger would-be buyers and renters,”The effect of this migration causes a gentrification of these neighborhoods as these new buyers (and renters) demand the residential infrastructure necessary to support their live/work/play convenient urban lifestyles. Somerville is a great example of this with the huge foodie scene, extension of the green line in planning, and the major plans for development and residential housing that we will see in the coming years. In contrast, foreign buyers and empty-nesters will continue to live in the heart of the city and are willing to pay high prices for these amenity-rich, full-service, maintenance-free lifestyles.”

The map makes Southie  still look like a deal – that is if you can still find any since inventory is snapped up in hours.  You can read the full article here.

Boston Athenaeum open house 12-4PM today

Boston AthenaeumLast week I wrote about today’s Boston Athenaeum open house which is today from Noon to 4PM.  With the weekend weather in Boston a bust, finding cool things to do indoors is a must so check out the open house.

Did you know the Boston Athenaeum is one of the oldest independent libraries in the US? It is also one of only sixteen extant membership libraries; meaning that patrons pay a yearly subscription fee to use the Athenæum’s service.

Boston Athenaeum Open House Noon – 4pm at 10 1/2 Beacon Street

Boston Athenaeum open house Nov. 2nd

Boston AthenaeumOn Sunday, November 2nd the Boston Athenaeum will host an open house that allows the public to come in and visit all twelve stories of this beautiful building; including the fifth floor reading room – only accessible to members.

No plans Sunday, November 2nd?  Head over to Beacon Hill when the Boston Athenaeum will be flinging open their leather -bound doors to the public.

Boston Athenaeum Open House Noon – 4pm at 10 1/2 Beacon Street

 

Free stuff to do in Boston this Friday

Although I’m off to Gotham this weekend, that doesn’t mean I’m unaware of all the fun things happening in Boston. If you don’t have plans this Friday or if you are tired of doing the same thing, consider one of these options.

Shakespeare on the Common Once again this year, The Commonwealth Shakespeare Co. is providing free performances. This year they are performing All’s Well that Ends Well through August 14th down by the bandstand on the Boston Common. Invite that special someone to join you Friday evening under the stars and enjoy some great local theater.
ICA Boston Thanks to the Highland Street Foundation, this Friday (August 5th) Boston’s premiere contemporary art museum is free to the public as part of their FREE FUN FRIDAYS series. Be sure to check out their “The Record: Contemporary Art & Vinyl” exhibit. For a small cover charge after taking in the exhibit you can partake in their waterfont dance party “DJs on the harbor: Classic DJ Throwdown”.
Of course there are more options such as First Fridays Open Studios, Boston Guerilla Queer Bar which will be overtaking a straight bar in the theater district this month, or joining guys for a drink at Fritz Bar in the South End to watch the Red Sox kick off a hometown series against the Yankees.

Restaurant Review: Scampo

Scampo is in the very cool Liberty Hotel in Beacon Hill. It is also one of Lydia Shire’s signature restaurants. It is one of those places that I always enjoy when I go because its surroundings are so beautiful, the service is consistently excellent and the food is as delicious as it is memorable. This is not a restaurant to visit if you are on a budget. Dinner for two (appetizers, main dishes and a shared dessert – not including drinks or tip) will cost ~$100.00. However, the menu is fantastic (maybe one of the best in the city). Service was flawless from start to finish. Our waiter provided excellent suggestions and went out of his way to make our evening special. My partner finished his meal a good 5 minutes earlier but his plate was not cleared until I finished; making me feel unrushed and allowing me to savor every bite.

My dinner consisted of a few glasses of wine, sharing two starters and a delicious main. We started with “Patrick’s naan w/ proscuitto” and the vine ripe heirloom tomotoes, basil and fresh mozzarella salad. My main dish was large and flavorful. I ordered one of the special meals that evening; slow cooked pork in a wine reduction sauce, accompanied by marinated cherries, vegetables and risotto.

Want a special night out? Put Scampo on your list – its one of Boston’s best.

Starter: Patrick’s naan w/ proscuitto $18
Starter: Mozzarella salad $14
Main: Pork special $39
Scampo is located in the Liberty Hotel Boston, MA 617-536-2100
Reservations strongly recommended
Scampo on Urbanspoon