From rotary survival advice to pizza war trench talk, we have you covered.
Whether you’ve been hiding out in Allston since it was still possible to rent a basement hole from a retiree for peanuts, or you’re just arriving on these shores and taking out the first of many loans you may need to subsist here, chances are you’ve figured out that this is an extremely quirky place with its own customs and traditions, some of which stick out like luxury highrises (that are filled with empty apartments owned by investors who live out of town). No amount of change or even gentrification has managed to wipe away the attitude and authenticity of this city and its inhabitants, not yet at least. But in order to navigate these waters in the age of global warming, it still helps to know some basics.
We considered making a much longer list, but then we realized that everything we publish is essentially a part of a compendium along these lines. Our whole schtick is to be your cultural crutch, that cool companion which connects with publicists, promoters, influencers, and innumerable others in order to direct readers toward the best time they can possibly have around Boston.
The only catch is that there will be some local potholes on your way to the party. Lucky for you, we’re here to hold your hand.
The accent. There’s so much to know about the New England accent, while at the same time you don’t need to know too much at all. Just don’t bite it, write it, try it, or buy it (in any form, including t-shirts that say things like “Chowdah Head”). Avoid any unfortunate Harvard Yard parking scenarios (though if you’re literally looking for a spot in that impossible corner of Cambridge, your best bet is alongside Cambridge Common on Garden Street). Also: no two natives sound the same; articulation and inflection can shift several vowels from Maine down through Cape Cod and the South Coast; and, perhaps most confusingly, it doesn’t matter if some chuds in Westie are too simple to see that the world is laughing at them and this city every time those dicks on SNL do a bit about Dunkin’ and the Red Sox—it’s their goddamn right to blindly laugh along, and anyone who disagrees can GFY.
Avoid Sullivan Square if you’re on foot, in a car, or taking public transportation. Even helicopters have a tough time on this crash course; as we wrote in 2018, of all the black holes and Bermuda Triangles in Greater Boston, these throes are the most unseemly, amounting to a mess that, somewhat ironically due to nearly $600 million in infrastructure improvements planned for this area through 2030, doesn’t seem to get any more tolerable in the short term. Even for this tortured region, Sullivan is something of an evil clusterfuck oasis, an otherworldly portal into gridlock that uniquely cripples multiple municipalities at once. As multiple bike and truck crashes over the years have demonstrated, this is a danger zone by any means.
There’s a nuance to what tourist-y stuff is acceptable and what is complete schlock, and it takes more than experience living around here to grasp this concept. As letters to this paper through the years from grassier neighborhoods like Hyde Park show, just because someone is a fourth-generation Bostonian doesn’t mean that they know much about the city. What we’re basically saying is that neophytes and long-timers alike should mount a Duck boat and hit a museum every now and then, while there are countless lesser known tourist-worthy destinations like the Boston Black Heritage Trail which are well worth exploring, as well as actual nature with mountains and trails if that’s more your speed.
Yes, speed, you’ll need a lot of it. Please feel free to fill up on whatever octane stokes your boat. Dunkin’ Donuts is our Brawndo, like it or not, but we also boast outstanding independent roasters like George Howell. According to one survey accounting for multiple metrics, Boston’s roughly tied for tenth place among US cities for having the best coffee scene. Which kind of makes sense if you figure that Frasier lived here before trading his Cheers mug for a macchiato in Seattle. If you’re too young for that reference, just wait until we send you for tours of Fort, Beacon, Mission, Bunker, and Savin hills. Almost everything around here that appears to be old actually is old with a backstory, and is worth Googling. We’re all guilty of walking with our domes nailed to our phones, but it’s important to trip on as many cobblestone antiquities as possible before you get priced out to the ’burbs.
Only the biggest assholes go around comparing pizza from the Boston area to pizza from New York. Is New York pizza generally great? Sure it is. But if there’s one thing this region has going for it in this department, it’s slice diversity. That’s what we said—slice diversity—in that certain squares across the state offer a range of approaches, from South Shore bar pizza, to more Neopolitan choices like Santarpio’s, to Greek pizza, to, yes, Brooklyn-style, which we will argue is done particularly well by the pie-makers at Same Old Place in Jamaica Plain and Mama Gina’s in Somerville. For a hearty ongoing discussion about this topic and some excellent tips (along with a whole lot of shitty ones), we recommend joining the Boston Pizza Wars Facebook group.
And speaking of superb eats, some of the best bites are outside of downtown, as in beyond Boston. This may seem insanely obvious to anybody who has been to any city, but it goes triply for this place. As for drinks, there are still plenty of trusty Boston standbys left—we love quite a few of them, from Bukowski’s (which is actually right downtown, in the most tourist-y corner of Back Bay no less) to the Jeanie Johnson in Jamaica Plain. Just note: whether it’s a certain kind of bar, or a record store, or anything else someone is claiming doesn’t exist anymore, chances are it does, but to find it you may have to pass over a couple of bridges.
Sports. All we really have to say about sports is that you can have a brain in your skull and still root for the Sox and the Pats like a good kid (that’s local speak for anybody from between the ages of five and 80, often written and pronounced “khed”). This isn’t one of those cities like Philly where only neanderthals are into sportball; with that said, if you’re new around here, please keep in mind that we have more than enough meatballs to juggle, and don’t need you and your stumbling clique getting rowdy by Fenway. Or around North Station, for that matter.
While we hate to play into cheap All Bostonians do this … tropes, it’s nevertheless true that one thing typical and oddball locals have in common is that they will hate this list and others like it with a hostility they usually reserve for Yankees baseball and their daily commute. They’ll curse it and holler on Twitter and say that the assholes who wrote it know less about Mass than a Wahlberg who’s lived out in Cali since daddys in scallys stuffed Nattys in saggy black khakis and Wacko was batty for Paddy. But then they’ll turn around and share a roundup of SNL’s best Dunkie’s sketches written by a 19-year-old intern in New York for a Los Angeles website. Like we said, the place is quirky.
Finally, you should know that Boston is as great and edgy and fantastic as it’s ever been. Is it prohibitively costly? You bet. Will your rent on a one-bedroom be about the same as it would be to lease a five-bedroom estate with a pool in Ohio? Most likely. But there has always been a lot of money in these parts—it’s freaking Boston!—just like there has always been great art and music, alongside all the awful shit like bigotry, discrimination, and those damn police. And just like there have always been pockets of radicals producing everything from albums to alternative newspapers, the creative current running through this city continues to spark. Sometimes to find it, you just need to dig a little deeper.