Story and Photos by Dave O. Dodge, Sept. 11, 2014.
Home to some very colorful events that helped form this great nation, as well as iconic neighborhoods that are brimming with diversity, Boston offers visitors a glimpse of its rich history and heritage at every turn.
Autumn is really the best time to visit Beantown, as its warm days, cool evenings and changing leaves set the perfect stage for strolling along ancient cow paths-turned-city-streets, discovering charming pubs, quaint cafes and dusty bookstores (yes, they do still exist).
You will be amazed with all that is within walking distance in “The Cradle of Liberty” another one of Boston’s many nicknames. The South End, not to be confused with Southie, has seen a wave of gentrification throughout the past 40 years. Once the home to vacant brownstones, crash pads and other unsavoriness, the gays bought them up and restored them to their former glory.
But, like any migration, most have moved on to greener pastures, Jamaica Plain (JP) or Savin Hill, creating more pockets of restoration of the beautiful architecture. Still for the highest concentration of gay-owned businesses, the South End is the place to be.
Start your stroll at Club Café, a classic watering hole that’s withstood the test of time. You just never know what to expect upon walking through the doors. “Dine, Drink, Dance” is their creed so, along with an upscale restaurant with multiple bars that feature everything from a cabaret and supper club to drag bingo and karaoke.
Another very fashionable neighborhood is Back Bay. Here the streets align in a perfect grid and it’s difficult to imagine that is was actually an active landfill for more than 50 years. Back in the mid-1800s there was an idea to reclaim the bay that lay west of Boston Common, and many barges of soil later; the neighborhood was born.
Here, the streets — including Arlington Street, which borders the beautiful Boston Public Garden — are lined with restored Victorian brownstones, iconic government buildings and houses of worship that rival any European city.
The renaissance of the Back Bay neighborhood dates back to the 1983-opening of Copley Place. This ultra-chic shopping and office tower boasts retailers such as Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York, Mont Blanc and Louis Vuitton, and attracts fashion-seeking tourists and residents daily with their colorful and eye-catching window displays.
The best thing about shopping here is that a two-minute walk (or runway strut) leads you to The Shops at Prudential Center, another highbrow shopping arcade with equally tempting designer stores, including the recently remodeled flagship store of Saks Fifth Avenue.
Throw in the brand new Mandarin Oriental Hotel and the refurbished Westin Copley — each located like book ends in this library of fashion — and it is quite possible to never smell the fresh, New England air during for the remainder of your visit.
Sip and Savor
There is no shortage of LGBT community in this part of town; however, you won’t find a “gay bar.” Instead, check out the famed Lenox Hotel and their pub on Boylston Street, almost directly across from the bombing memorial, or Solas Irish Pub, an outdoor café where fresh fish and chips are served with a pint of Guinness and true Bostonian hospitality.
The architecture in Back Bay makes as much of a fashion statement as the nearby designer shops, with each period of economic growth displayed in the details of each building. Nowhere is it more evident than the reflection of the old John Hancock Tower in the gleaming glass panes of the New John Hancock tower. Count the Trinity Church, a Romanesque revival-style structure that dates back to 1877, and you have a architecture trifecta.
Start with a little history and have a drink in the Oak room at the newly restored Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel. Originally built in 1912, the hotel can be recognized by its traditional red awnings and Parisian inspired outdoor cafe, where you can smell the croissants baking.
The Boston Garden — the oldest in the United States — is well worth a visit. The garden’s swan boat ride might seem a little silly for adults, but for kids it’s been rite of passage more than 130 years. Cross over into the Boston Common, home to cows and the British troops during the occupation, and climb the gradual slope of Beacon Hill for a view the golden dome of the Massachusetts State House.
There is a plethora of things to do and see within walking distance — all Boston is mighty, but small on the scale of size — so deciding how to spend your time will be the most crucial part of your visit. Walk the Freedom Trail and follow the painted red line of history, climb the obelisk Bunker Hill Monument for a bird’s eye view of the city or take in a ball game at Fenway Park. Come for a lesson in history, but stay for the long enough to watch the sunset from the Top of the Hub, where they make the best Lemon Drops.
IF YOU GO
Armed with a map and a comfortable pair of walking shoes, you can cover a lot of our young nation’s history (superior shopping and fine local fare are optional), all within steps of your hotel’s front door. Here are some of the things not to miss while you are in Boston.
THE MOTHER CHURCH
This house of worship, on the perimeter of Back Bay, is the world headquarters to the First Church of Christ, Scientist. While this may be not the friendliest destination for LGBT tourists, the structure alone is worth a selfie backdrop. Founded by New Englander Mary Baker Eddy, the original “Mother Church” sits among various expansions, a massive reflecting pool and several fountains. christianscience.com/church-of-christ-scientist/the-mother-church-in-boston-ma-usa
THE DADDY OF ALL VIEWS
High above of all things fashionable and historic is another must see. The Prudential Tower’s 52nd floor treats locals and visitors to the best vistas in the city. The Top of the Hub Restaurant and Lounge offers award-winning cuisine that comes with breathtaking views (on a clear day you can see all the way to New Hampshire). topofthehub.net
All this shopping, walking and sightseeing is guaranteed to work up your appetite. And, at Stephanie’s on Newbury, visitors and locals rub elbows for lunch and dinner. Here they specialize in “sophisticated comfort food” and offer unforgettable cocktails. If the weather is on your side, ask to sit on the sidewalk café and enjoy the people watching. stephaniesonnewbury.com
Dave O. Dodge is a freelance travel writer based in Phoenix.