Category Archives: SoWa

Boston neighborhood profile: South End

Boston is where I live, but the South End is home. If you visit Boston, you’ll understand this city is defined by its neighborhoods. Each have their own history, architecture and personality. The South End was one of America’s earliest large-scale residential developments and much of that pre- and post-Civil War architecture remains. A good example is Boston’s Union Park in the South End, which was built in the late 1850s.

In the first half of the 20th Century, the South End would become the home for many immigrant groups notably Greek, Lebanese, Africans, and Caribbean/West Indies. It also became home for many in the city’s Black population (e.g., 395-397 Massachusetts Ave was home to Martin Luther King Jr. in the early 1950s). In the early 1970s many artists and gay men moved here for the cheap rent. By then the neighborhood had a well-deserved seedy reputation and was afflicted by urban blight and crime. It wasn’t until the 1990s that Boston’s population started to rebound and places like the South End started to flourish again. That gentrification would also result in Boston’s gay population moving out to Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Davis Square and elsewhere.

Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End

About The South End: The South End is a contradiction. It has some of the most affluent properties and toniest addresses in the city. Yet, it’s home to the city’s largest soup kitchen, Pine Street Inn, large public housing complexes, Boston’s safety net hospital Boston Medical Center and its neighboring Healthcare for the Homeless. Despite its affluence, these institutions (thankfully) aren’t going anywhere. It is this socio-economic mix that has saved the South End from becoming one-dimensional and gives it personality.

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. However, one of the most beautiful buildings in the South End isn’t Victorian, it’s Gothic Revival architecture. The Cathedral of the Holy Cross (est.1875) made from nearby Roxbury puddingstone and gray limestone stands in stark contrast to the Victorian and newer glass and steel residential buildings in the SoWa district of the South End. If you get a chance, look inside. The Cathedral was recently lovingly cleaned and restored and it is beautiful inside and out.

For more information about this beautiful neighborhood, I recommend reading the Boston’s South End: The Clash of Ideas in a Historic Neighborhood, by longtime South End resident, friend, and neighbor, Russ Lopez.

What to do in the South End: The South End is a picturesque, residential neighborhood with many parks to enjoy. If you spend any time here, you’ll likely find yourself walking through some of these green spaces. Some of our favorite parks are The Underground, Peter’s Park, Blackstone & Franklin Squares, and the Southwest Corridor, which divides the South End and Back Bay.

Aside from strolling through the parks and streets of the South End, I love the local theater companies that (when there isn’t a pandemic) perform at the Black Box Theater and Calderwood Pavilion. I think of the South End as a mini-theater district with The Huntington, SpeakEasy Stage and Company One all providing entertaining shows. Additionally, the First Friday of each month from 5-9PM is SoWa First Fridays where scores of art galleries and artisans open their studios to the public. The theater companies and First Fridays bring many people here for a fun date night or evening out with friends – especially when followed by drinks and dinner (but more about that later).

In addition to window shopping (there are many unique shops, complete listing here), enjoying the parks, or checking out the local arts scene, the South End hosts several markets and events. One of my favorites is the SoWa Open Market, which runs each Sunday (May thru October). It includes an artisan and farmer’s market, food trucks and a vintage market (this runs year round). There are also many interesting exhibits and events hosted at the BCA Cyclorama and at the new events and exhibition venue, The South End Power Station, but if all that sounds exhausting, don’t worry there are many places to relax.

Photo from @southendbuttery

Cafes in the South End: One of the things I love about this neighborhood is its many cafes and restaurants. Visitors may feel lost with very few national chains present (which by the way is a good thing), but it adds personality and allows local chains and sole proprietorships to thrive. In 2015, I wrote about the cafes in the South End. Since then a few have closed and a few have opened but the point is there are many places to meet a friend to enjoy a good cup of coffee and tempting treat or two. A favorite new coffee shop is MOD Espresso on Harrison Ave. If you’re in the n’hood, stop by and let me know what you think.

In 2014, I hosted a blind tasting to find out who made the best chocolate chip cookies in the South End. Should I write a new post about the many cafes or host another blind tasting to find the best chocolate chip cookies in the n’hood? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

Aquitaine Group Boston
Source: Aquitaine Group

Restaurants in the South End: Every restaurant I wrote about in my 2018 post, Best Places to Eat in the South End, have weathered the pandemic and remain open. If we can set the current pandemic aside, dining out in the South End has changed for the better in recent years. There are more affordable and casual dining options, and a greater variety of cuisines to enjoy.

The neighborhood has some of the best Italian and French restaurants Boston has to offer (too many to list). It also has great Asian restaurants (personal favorites include Elephant Walk and Myer’s + Chang), Eastern Mediterranean cuisine (Kava and it’s sister restaurant, Ilona as well as the fast casual, Anoush’ella are superb). Several excellent Spanish restaurants are home to the South End but Toro is my favorite. For sushi, I prefer the unpretentious Seiyo near Mass Ave. or Red Lantern. There are many options for pizza, but my favorites are Union Park Pizza (take out only) and PICCO (which stands for Pizza & Ice Cream Co.). In recent years, several Mexican and Latin restaurants have opened but my favorites are the relatively new Burro Bar and the longstanding Orinoco. I still blush thinking about my first time at Orinoco. In my haste to get inside, I accidentally knocked over Keith Lockhart. We fell into each other’s arms as we crashed into the wall so I suppose I can say I’ve hugged the famous conductor of the Boston Pops.

The list of great places to eat in the South End is long, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. If you’re looking for a suggestion, ask me, and I’ll be happy to make recommendations based on your preferences.

On The Bar
Boston Chops South End bar is a personal favorite for drinks and a bite

Favorite Bars in the South End: There are many places to enjoy a cocktail or drink, but if you want to enjoy live music go to the tiny and quite famous, Wally’s. It is one of the oldest jazz bars in America (opened in 1947) and has hosted some of America’s greatest jazz musicians. A few blocks over from Wally’s is Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen, and in the opposite direction, up Tremont Street is the Beehive. All three locations have excellent live music and are places worth visiting. Darryl’s and the Beehive also have kitchens that crank out consistently good food if you’re hungry.

If you’re a beer drinker, go to JJ Foley’s, an Irish pub that has been operating in the South End since 1909. This place has a lot of character and serves a mean shepard’s pie. On the other end of the neighborhood, is a relative newcomer by comparison, Five Horses Tavern, which opened in 2013. Both places will make any beer drinker feel at home.

If you’re looking for something more kitsch, check out the subterranean, Polynesian bar and restaurant with great tiki drinks Shore Leave or longtime neighborhood favorite, Delux Cafe with its ticky-tacky decor and quirky staff. The bars you’ll mostly likely find Sergio and me at is the gorgeous 20+ seat bar at Boston Chops and the welcoming lounge at Burro Bar South End (if you like spicy drinks order the el Diablo). However, I also love the gorgeous U-shaped bar at Barcelona Wine Bar and the cozy wine bar at Aquitaine (they have an excellent Sancerre rosé by the glass).

gay boston

Gay Bars in the South End: Only a few gay bars remain in the South End. Cathedral Station is located on Washington Street and is the only downtown gay bar with a patio. They cater to the gay sports leagues and the bear community. You’ll usually find an older crowd here, but all are welcome at this friendly bar. The other gay bar in the South End is Club Cafe. Over the years it has become increasingly mixed but they still market themselves as a gay bar. Club Cafe has the Napoleon Lounge where cabaret music is performed, a dance floor in the back and a dining room and bar at the front of the house. If you’re gay and in Boston, you’ll eventually end up at Club Cafe.

While it’s true that Boston has very few gay bars, Boston’s LGBTQ+ community is redefining what is a gay bar and claiming space to meet, have a drink, gossip, watch a game, etc… whether the establishment is marketed as a “gay bar” or not. Good examples would be Boston Chops South End, Burro Bar South End, Trophy Room, Anchovies, and Elephant Walk. On any given night you will see gay friends meeting for drinks and as a result the local LGBTQ+ community has come to think of these places as ‘unofficial’ gay bars. While they are no longer around, virtually every gay man in Boston thought of Pho Republique, Rocca, Tremont 647, Sister Sorel, and Stella as some of Boston’s best gay bars, yet none were marketed as such.

If you happen to be new to Boston or planning a visit, feel free to reach out with questions. If you’re familiar with Boston’s South End, your recommendations are welcome in the comments section.

SoWa Market returns on Sunday

New England Market

SoWa Open Market is each Sunday, 11:00a.m. – 3:00p.m. at 500 Harrison Ave.

After a 6-mos hiatus, the SoWa Open Market returns to 500 Harrison Avenue this Sunday. This year’s market includes the artisan, farmer’s and vintage markets. Spring Brook Farms, The Herb Lyceum, When Pig’s Fly Bakery, and Blackbird Doughnuts are a few of the 20 vendors who will be there every week. Here is a full list of vendors participating in this year’s Farmer’s Market.

In addition to the markets, many of the galleries and studios along Thayer Street will be open to the public. However, due to health and safety regulations, the market will initially open without the beer garden and food trucks but check back for updates later in the season.

The 2021 SoWa Open Market hours are Sunday from 11am – 3pm (Vintage Market 11am – 4pm) Sunday, May 2, 2021 through October 31, 2021.

SoWa Open Market returns, COVID-19 safety protocols will be enforced

For more information about the individual markets and safety protocols put in place to ensure everyone’s health and safety, visit their website, sowaboston.com/sowa-open-market.

South End Restaurant Brasserie readies to open

Earlier this month it was reported on the Boston Restaurant Talk blog that SOWA Hospitality Group (a division of GTI, Inc.) would be opening a new French restaurant in the space formerly known as Gaslight.

The new restaurant called, Brasserie, will likely open the second weekend of May. Today, signage is being added to the 560 Harrison Avenue building and the parking lot is being freshly paved. Friends & Family events are scheduled for next week to get the staff and kitchen ready for a full opening and daily meetings are taking place with staff as the team readies to open.

I’m optimistic Brasserie will be successful because veteran restauranteur, Jeff Gates, has been overseeing the opening. SOWA Hospitality Group made the decision to make no discernable modifications to the space so Brasserie looks like a Gaslight reboot rather than a new restaurant, but perhaps that was the intention all along. Regardless, it will be good to see the lights come back on and the patio once again full of people.

For more information visit their website at brasserieboston.com or you can follow the restaurant by liking their Facebook page.

Brasserie, bienvenue au South End. Je vous souhaite beaucoup de succès.

Three new restaurants to open in South End: Brasserie, Roma 500, and Pho on Thayer

Preview(opens in a new tab)

The restaurant industry was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. By September 2020, WBZ-TV reported that 20% of all restaurants in Massachusetts had closed for good. Spring 2021 has reversed those trends as many restaurants come out of hibernation and news of new restaurant openings replaces the more depressing news of closures that we became accustomed to last year.

With an increased optimism comes new investment to bring life back to spaces that pre-pandemic were popular and profitable. Seizing this opportunity, GTI Properties has hired Jeff Gates to oversee the food and beverage operations at the SOWA Power Station, which is being converted into a special events space and to open and manage three new restaurants in SOWA – one of which will open next month.

Brasserie, located at 560 Harrison Avenue (formerly Gaslight) will open in May, according to a Boston Restaurant Talk blog post. If that timing is correct, a quick walk by suggests that not much will likely change in decor or design but Gaslight was a juggernaut so the key to Brasserie’s success will be staffing and management.

Roma 500 at 500 Harrison Avenue (formerly Cinquecento) will likely open later this year. Unlike Brasserie, significant renovations and remodeling are required. Roma 500 will have an enlarged outdoor dining patio and bar. No other South End restaurant has an outdoor bar, making this a unique (and welcome) addition to the neighborhood.

Finally, Pho on Thayer, at 460 Harrison (building B) will open in new space that was briefly used by Mohr & McPherson but is now vacant. Late last year Jeff Gates petitioned the city on behalf of GTI to transfer the Hungry I liquor license to Pho on Thayer so the restaurant will have a full bar.

Stay tuned for more details as they come available, I’ll be sure to share that information here.

OTTO Pizza to open in South End

A new pizzeria is about to open in the SoWa district of the South End neighborhood. The popular (and ever expanding) Portland Maine-based pizzeria, OTTO Pizza, will be opening at the 345 Harrison Avenue apartment complex (located across from the Ink Block in the South End).

No opening date has been shared, but I’m looking forward to the addition to the neighborhood. Pizzerias provide a more affordable dining and take out alternative in the South End, and this neighborhood needs more “fast, casual dining options”. As a result, I think OTTO Pizza will find a great deal of success filling this underserved and under-represented dining niche once it opens.

SoWa Power Station and Pho on Thayer (new restaurant) seek liquor licenses

SoWa Market Food Truck

GTI Properties had Jeff Gates (former parter of The Aquitaine Group) speak at last week’s East Berkeley Neighborhood Association (EBNA) – formerly known as the Old Dover Neighborhood Association. He shared GTI’s plans for two interesting projects; a new restaurant called Pho on Thayer at 530 Harrison Ave. and converting the long abandoned Power Station 540 Harrison Ave. into an event space.

This week Jeff will again be speaking on behalf of GTI at a Virtual Abutters Meeting on Thursday, December 10th at 6PM, seeking approval for the transferance of two all-liquor licenses for these properties. Jeff shared some preliminary sketches of the proposed Asian restaurant, Pho on Thayer that included decor, layout and design. I assume no plans have been created for the Power Station since none were shared but you can check out the progress on Instagram, here.

If approved, both projects would bring life to commercial space that has been mostly vacant and unused. However neighbors had questions about noise and traffic at last week’s EBNA meeting. If you live in the neighborhood and have questions about either project you can join the Virtual Abutters Meeting (info below).

Virtual Abutters Meeting
6PM Thursday, December 10th
WebEx: https://bit.ly/2JEBANe
Dial In: 408.418.9388
Access Code: 179 762 8102

South End Stroll

The South End Business Alliance (SEBA) and South End Local have partnered to create a “multi-date” 2020 Holiday Stroll and with so many local and small businesses struggling I’m hoping more people will come out to buy local this year and show the South End businesses some love.

South End Stroll
December 3-5, 2020
List of Participating Shops / Businesses

More than 90 local businesses and working artists will be opening their doors (of course there will be strict adherence to state guidelines and everyone must wear a mask and observe social distancing protocols).

Underground GetDown is June 29th

Get Down at the Underground FREE public party at Ink Block on June 29 is being hosted at the Underground at the Ink Block park that is under the I-93 expressway. The event is being hosted to celebrate new murals in the park that are done by street artists, Dana Woulfe (Boston), GoFive (Boston), Greg Lamarche (NY), Indie184 (NY), Marka27 (NY/Boston), Matthew Zaremba (Boston), Muro (Spain), and Silvia Lopez Chavez (Boston).

RSVP for your Free tickets or to purchase VIP 21+ tickets here

This is a FREE event but there is a 21+ VIP area that you can reserve tickets for now. Early bird access to these tickets provides a slight discount if purchased on or before Sunday, June 23rd.

South End ParkUnfamiliar with the Underground at the Ink Block park? Learn more here. You can learn more about the featured artists, here. Check out my post about this cool park check out my post from September 2017, South End’s newest park Underground Ink is open.

SoWa Open Market returns this Sunday

Photo courtesy of SoWa Open Market

Starting this Sunday the SoWa Open Market will return, kicking off its 16th season on Sunday, May 5th. The market will be open every Sunday through October and will include over 175 artisans, farmers and food trucks in the trendy section of the South End, referred to as SoWa. The market is hosted in the parking lots between 460 – 540 Harrison Ave.

Photo courtesy of SoWa Open Market

This season will feature the return of the SoWa Beer Garden. Created in partnership with Craft Collective. Each week a different local brewer will take over the taps. Brewers will include Fiddlehead Brewing Company, SingleCut Beersmiths, Finback Brewery, Banded Brewing and many more. Special events are scheduled throughout the season; one which will be happening soon is the Mother’s Day rosé pop-up with The Urban Grape. In addition there will be plenty of  live music, lawn games, and shopping.

SoWa Open Market
Every Sunday through October
10AM – 4PM
460 – 540 Harrison Avenue

South End Power Station to become event space

GTI PropertiesLast week GTI Properties in the South End issued a press release, sharing plans for the Power Station which opened in 1896 but fell into disrepair in the last century as the neighborhood and much of downtown Boston languished. However, in recent years, it has served as a parking garage and on occasion as a special event venue like my photo from Illuminus Boston in 2014 shows.

After the SoWa Winter Festival concludes renovations are expected to commence, converting this historic building into an open-concept event space, providing the South End (and Boston) with one of the coolest places to host an event. The renovations, which will start in mid December, will retain all the elements that give the building its charm – the vaulted ceilings, massive windows and “the industrial brick and beam glamour”.  The renovations will bring additional comforts like bathrooms, heat, running water and more.

With ample parking available, its proximity to both I-93 and the Mass Pike and just a short 10 minute walk from the Orange and Red lines on the MBTA, one can expect this will become a popular venue for many events so stay tuned. As I learn more details, I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
GTI properties

 

New South End residential complex “The Smith”

south end residential project, Harrison Albany BlockDevelopers behind one of the largest new residential projects in Boston—a 650-unit apartment complex spread out over more than 3 acres of land between Albany Street and extending to Harrison Avenue officially broke ground and started construction last week on September 18th.

Formerly known as the Harrison/Albany project and now called The Smith , this development will include: 650 residential apartments; approximately 75,000 square feet of new and renovated office space; nearly 20,000 square feet of retail and cultural space; up to as many as 650 below ground parking spaces; as well as open space available to the public.

SoWa real estate boom in Boston’s South End

The Boston Sun reported the amount of development allowed along the Harrison-Albany Corridor in the South End has far exceeded what had been planned, and it is forcing them to revisit the traffic and infrastructure models put into place in 2012.

The Quinzani’s project, the Harrison Albany Project and the 345 Harrison project (which is now open) were all projects that took the City by surprise.  Those projects combined, resulted in 32% more development than had been anticipated in 2012, and account for approximately 1,900 new apartment / condominium units. The crazy thing is that figure doesn’t even include the 250 unit building that the Ink Block announced earlier this month called The Ollie on the corner of Albany and Herald Street. That is a lot of development for what essentially is a 6 block corridor at the edge of the South End.

New South End development: 7INK by Ollie

National Development7INK by Ollie is a 14-story residential building that developers are saying will include 250 shared suites and micro-studios. Scheduled to open in 2020, Ollie will be Boston’s  first all inclusive, co-living development. Ollie will be located at the corner of Herald and Albany Streets on the former site of the Independent Taxi Operators Association building in the north east corner of the Ink Block.

The building will provide a full range of services, unique community engagements and shared amenity spaces. The development will have additional perks such as coming furnished and receiving complimentary weekly cleaning with fresh linens and towels as well as bath amenities.

For more information about the new residential building proposed by National Development visit their website at, ollie.co/boston.

This weekend: First Fridays and the SoWa Art Walk

SoWa Art Walk

By Evan Rosenberg || 450 Harrison Avenue – Artist Studio #307A 

This weekend celebrate and explore Boston’s most vibrant arts community at the Annual SoWa Art Walk. Make the most of this two-day event on your own, with friends or even as a date – it’s free to peruse and makes for a great opportunity to  see Boston’s creative economy up close. Perhaps the best date option is perusing studios and galleries this Friday as part of “First Fridays” where each month artist studios and galleries welcome people from 5 – 9PM.

I’d also like to give my friend and Boston-area artist, Evan Rosenberg a shout out and encourage you to stop by and visit his debut showing from his current series, Therapy, which will be at Abigail Ogilvy Gallery’s 450 Harrison Ave showroom on the 3rd floor in studio #307A.

Did you know the SoWa Art & Design District has more than 300 working artists studios, and is the largest concentration of contemporary art galleries in the city? Plan on coming out either Friday evening for First Fridays or for the SoWa Art Walk on Saturday and Sunday.

SoWa Open Market opens on May 6th

SoWa Open Market returns on Sunday, May 6, 2018

In four weeks the SoWa Open Market 15th season will open and this year the organizers have announced a new beer hall and taproom, housed in the iconic SoWa Power Station will be a part of the market every Sunday, from May 6 through October 28, 2018. Partnering with the Craft Collective, more than 60 curated “adult beverages” from local breweries will be featured in this year’s “SoWa Beer Barn”. In addition to great beer, there will also be lawn games, live music, yoga classes, and lots of food trucks.

In addition to the new beer hall and food trucks located by the Gaslight parking lot, further up the street the Market will host their weekly farmer’s market as well and continue to feature artisans every Sunday, May 6 – October 28, 2018 from 10 AM – 4 PM.

More information about the SoWa Open Market