Welcome back to school. Whether you’re new to the college scene, from another country, or grew up in Roxbury, there’s always something new to discover in the city. It takes years to figure out the map, especially when it keeps changing. That’s the best part.
To help, we gathered some of Boston’s best musicians, most of whom once went to school here themselves, to share insider tips on hidden spots. Where do they go when they need to write, study, or get thoughts down? What’s the best spot to decompress? Where can you find an affordable meal that doesn’t taste like wood? And where do they meet up with friends to chill?
Thanks to them, now you’ll know where you should be going and what musicians should be on your radar. Just promise you won’t share all of their secrets.
PSYCHEDELIC MATH ROCK
STUDY UP: Most of us still frequent Pavement for a place to get work done.
DECOMPRESS: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is one of the best places in the city to wander to. The garden in the center of the museum is a great space for meditating.
DISH IT OUT: La Befana in Allston makes tasty and cheap pizza.
HANG LOOSE: Places like Refuge or Lone Star (Hell yeah, late night menu!) are our typical Allston spots.
SHARP-WITTED INDIE ROCK
STUDY UP: I always had an easy time getting work done at Refuge, which is weird, because I don’t like their coffee very much.
DECOMPRESS: Probably not leaving my bed when I get to that point, but if I do, I’ll go see something at the Coolidge Corner Theater, a show at Great Scott, or just drive around the suburbs and listen to WMBR.
DISH IT OUT: If it’s breakfast, Allston Diner has my favorite tofu scramble in the city, and since there are carnivorous options too, my non-vegan friends don’t feel like I’m tricking them into eating something healthy. Also, gotta give props to Dosa Factory!
HANG LOOSE: The Plough and Stars has been a favorite bar since I heard it shouted out in Francine’s song “Ratmobile”; Speedy Ortiz’s song “Plough” is named for it, too. Then again, there’s nothing better than eating a FoMu sundae with a friend — although I’m certainly not sharing my ice cream with anyone, no matter how good of a friend they are.
LGBTQ PROTEST FOLK-PUNK
STUDY UP: I’m biased because I’m a collective member there, but the social justice coworking space Make Shift Boston in the South End is hands down the best vibes place in the city to go get some work done, hold a party or event, or check out some awesome art or music. The JP Boat House is a really nice place to read if the weather is good. Best coffee shops to work in are Diesel, Ula Cafe, and Andala in Central Square, Boston, and Cambridge public libraries are awesome, too.
DECOMPRESS: If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s nothing like a long walk along the Charles River; to the sketchy rocks in Ringer Park, Allston; to the top of Hemlock Hill in the Arnold Arboretum; around Fresh Pond, Hammond Pond, or Jamaica Pond. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, get an amazing view of the Boston city skyline from the top of Washington Tower in Mount Auburn Cemetery, or Prospect Hill Park in Union Square, Somerville. If you have access to a car, check out the Stony Brook Reservation, Fells Reservation, or Menotomy Rocks Park in Arlington. Or if you need to get out of Boston for a day and want to see the “Grand Canyon of Massachusetts,” take an hour drive to Purgatory Chasm near Worcester.
DISH IT OUT: One large Chilacates burrito can basically feed you for an entire day if you pace yourself with it. Cafe Beirut, Boston Shawarma, and Shawarma King are legit. There are an increasing number of hipster spots catering to students and tourists who don’t know better that charge way too much for mediocre food. Support Boston’s amazing local immigrant- and POC-run establishments instead.
HANG LOOSE: If it’s nice out, pack an epic picnic and a bottle of wine and go to one of the parks or nature preserves I mentioned earlier, or dress up super fancy and casually BYOB and set up in the comfy chairs at the lobby of one of our downtown hotels—if anyone asks, you’re staying in Room 245. Andala Cafe in Central Square has a cavernous downstairs for a big group, and Milky Way/Bella Luna in JP also never fails.
FUNKY DISCO-TINGED DANCE
STUDY UP: I always tried to adjust my eating schedule so that I could eat at odd times and be in empty food spots for all of that. Either that or I’d hide in the music library at Northeastern’s WRBB with all the records—nobody else ever went in there.
DECOMPRESS: Boston Symphony Orchestra performances! The College Card is like $25 and then you’ve got the basic equivalent of a season ticket. Nothing beats overwhelm like being taken completely out of your element for a few hours and hearing truly incredible music with all the rich old people. Bonus points if you regular-lize your BSO attendance schedule and befriend one of said old people over several weeks.
DISH IT OUT: Saus, out by Haymarket, just ’cause a Belgian quick-serve spot is pretty unique. You come off as really cool and hip if you introduce friends to it, plus the fries are perfect for sharing.
HANG LOOSE: There’s so many good restaurants, and I spend all my money on them. Just download Foursquare and search “dinner.” I became a “Foursquare Insider.” Your friends will think you are so cool when you always have a half-dozen restaurant recommendations for them offhand.
STUDY UP: For writing, I try to get myself out of the city. But if I’m looking to get some work done, I usually pop into Diesel Cafe or Bloc 11 in Somerville. Caffeine is essential, and they definitely know what they’re doing over there!
DECOMPRESS: The Arboretum in Jamaica Plain is a great place to ‘get out of the city’ without actually leaving.
DISH IT OUT: You haven’t lived until you try the crab rangoons at Siam Ginger in Union Square.
HANG LOOSE: I always try to support the local music scene as much as I can, so my go-to spots are ones with free or cheap live music and great drinks. You can’t go wrong with Atwood’s Tavern or State Park in Cambridge.
STUDY UP: The Brookline Library on Washington Street is my favorite zone for getting work done. It’s huge and has all sorts of quiet nooks and crannies that can be helpful for zooming in on whatever I’m trying to do. It’s got a pretty decent selection too, so browsing with even just a loose aim often leads to something pretty interesting.
DECOMPRESS: Whenever I’m freaking out about whatever I freak out about, I go to Float in Somerville. Laying in a bath of water in complete darkness and silence helps me out a lot.
DISH IT OUT: Garlic ’n Lemons is great and fairly close to where I live, but I don’t think that’s much of a secret anymore. That place is pretty packed on the regular.
HANG LOOSE: I usually just go to shows when I want to catch up with friends. The Boston Hassle, Illegally Blind, and Allston Pudding are all very good resources for said shows.
R&B BEATS FROM UNDERGROUND
STUDY UP: When I need motivation, I have to be immersed in nature. I’ve spent a lot of time taking in the Arnold Arboretum.
DECOMPRESS: When I’m in over my head and need to take the edge off, I bike through the esplanade into Allston and usually end up with something from Buffalo Exchange.
DISH IT OUT: If I’m not cooking myself, I go to P&R for sure. Every dish is fire, and the ice cream is legendary.
HANG LOOSE: It’s funny; Boston is such a small city that I’ll bump into half of everyone I know on Newbury Street and the rest at the docks on the Charles 15 minutes later on the same day.
DREAMY NEOCLASSICAL HARP
STUDY UP: Bates Hall at the Boston Public Library is my favorite spot to get work done—a classic, majestic space with dozens of green reading lanterns adorning rows of antique desks. It’s great because you can hang there all day without anyone rushing you along, and if you feel blocked you can literally go leaf through almost any book in the world for inspiration.
DECOMPRESS: If the weather is nice, I’ll go for a run around Jamaica Pond, which is just down the street from where I live (a fitness instructor once told me “when in doubt, work out”—a phrase that weirdly rings in my mind when I’m stressed). If it is the middle of winter, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is like a snow globe of spring with its Venetian walls and indoor garden.
DISH IT OUT: Chilacates is a little taco spot in JP—super affordable and totally delish. Also Otto in Coolidge Corner is an excellent spot for pre-movie pizza.
HANG LOOSE: I love the vibe at State Park. Pinball machines, clever cocktails, and a menu that honors my home state of Virginia is what keeps me suggesting it as a meeting point.
PROGGY DOOM METAL
STUDY UP: Whenever I need a quiet place to study, I always go to the Boston Public Library. With nothing but a library card, you are granted access into a historically beautiful workspace where quietness is encouraged and there always seems to be a place to sit.
DECOMPRESS: If I ever felt overwhelmed and needed to decompress, I would always walk up Mount Auburn Street (I worked at Darwin’s at the time) to the Mount Auburn Cemetery. It’s spectacular, and something about the graves and trees would always calm me down.
DISH IT OUT: The best spot in the city for an affordable meal is Super 88 at Packard’s Corner. Not only is it cheap, but there is a wide selection of restaurants and cuisines to choose from. On top of that, the supermarket there has the best deals in town.
HANG LOOSE: If I am bringing friends anywhere in town, it will depend on where we are. If we are closer to Harvard Square, I love Shays Pub right near JFK Park. The outdoor patio is great for people-watching, plus you can smoke. If I was closer to Allston, it would have to be my old standby, the Silhouette.
HORSE JUMPER OF LOVE
SLOWCORE WITH STACKED AMPS
STUDY UP: The JP branch of the Boston Public Library is a newly renovated big glass cube. It is streaming with natural light during the day, which helps with the cabin fever. The floors aren’t carpeted, so they’re not filled with library dust. They also can’t throw you out for not buying anything.
DECOMPRESS: When I’m stressed or overwhelmed or sad, I like to put my headphones in and walk out the door and then head to City Feed for a coffee and then shop at Boomerangs for some used CDs or books about nature, or go for a nice bike ride to the Arboretum! You could ask a friend to play catch or shoot some hoops—there are so many open spaces and basketball courts in Boston where you can do that. Being active is a great way to decompress!
DISH IT OUT: Ganko Ittetsu Ramen in Brookline is so good. I get the tan tan ramen. Check out Blue Nile, a small Ethiopian restaurant in JP, and get the vegetarian platter for two to sample multiple things on the menu. And try Santarpio’s in East Boston for some pizza and a meat skewer!
HANG LOOSE: Plenty of museums in Boston will let you in for free with your student ID. Check out the Harvard Museum of Natural History with a pal and check out a huge whale skeleton.
CHAMBER POP FOLK
STUDY UP: Honestly, some of my fondest memories have taken place in the parking lot of the Herb Chambers car dealership, or anywhere within sight of his serene, almost koan-like billboards. Just knowing Herb’s out there somewhere, watching over us, makes me feel safer. The man loves cars. But if I could let my mind wander anyplace, I’d be at the Museum of the Modern Renaissance in Davis Square. Whole mythical backstory there I’m still trying to suss out. I’ve been trying to get in for years now but there seems to be no fixed schedule. Mr. Shaplyko, please return my emails.
DECOMPRESS: Ringer Park in Allston is a classic, the pinnacle of Boston’s pickup 3-on-3 (“King’s Ball”) scene. Dudes occasionally come through with loose joints for their team, or just a gallon of milk. Beware of flashy BC grad students with no court vision.
DISH IT OUT: IHOP in Harvard Square if you’re feeling like certain trash; the good folks take care of you and have almost certainly seen worse. Super 88 Asian Mart in Allston is the most satisfying $8-11 meal in the tri-state region.
HANG LOOSE: Spot me catching up with friends on the top floor of my dank new Somerville apartment or I guess just lobbing stuff into the river from the train tracks under the BU bridge.
SLAM POETRY HEAT
STUDY UP: Dudley Cafe is the kinda place that you can’t nap in, but where the couches are comfortable enough to tempt you. It’s like doing work at home.
DECOMPRESS: Styllistik! I know it’s strange, but as soon as I walk in in the Salon I feel like royalty, and Rebeka knows how to massage that scalp and put you at ease!
DISH IT OUT: Slades and Alex’s Chimis definitely. There’s nothing better than walking in and getting soul food or Dominican food for the low!
HANG LOOSE: Haley House is home. Go take your shoes off and watch the House Slam poetry slam and some great people with community initiatives.
STUDY UP: I’m a big fan of Darwin’s in Harvard Square. Their food and coffee are really good, they usually play decent music, and there are lots of power outlets. People are always camped out at Darwin’s reading, writing, and working, so it’s a good environment to stay motivated and focused, or to bear witness to a really bad first date. You have to be prepared to wait (or fight) for a seat, but it’s worth it, especially if you score a big comfy arm chair.
DECOMPRESS: I’m obsessed with the Charles! I have a few spots along the river that I visit to recharge: the Weeks Footbridge in Lower Allston, the decks on the esplanade in Back Bay, and the decks on Herter Park in Lower Allston. The Weeks bridge has huge railings you can sit on and toggle between watching the water and watching tourists stage uncomfortably long photo shoots. I also love the arboretum in JP (Especially Peters Hill—best view of Boston!) and the Forest Hills Cemetery for strolling and taking photos. The cemetery is 275 acres of creepy historic statues juxtaposed with sweet, scenic gardens. You can kind of wander off the grid and into a time warp, which is relaxing and rejuvenating, until the sun sets and they lock all the gates and your GPS is useless and you have to hide behind gravestones while the security guards make rounds until eventually you surrender and flag them down for a ride because you’re literally crying alone, lost in a massive graveyard. Some cool famous dead people there too, namely Anne Sexton and e.e. cummings.
DISH IT OUT: For breakfast, Twin Donuts forever; somehow, no matter what I order or how many people I order for, it always comes out to like $6.59. For lunch or dinner, Azama is cheap, fast, open late, and actually has healthy veggie options. I love them.
HANG LOOSE: I’m a little hesitant to give up our confidential gossip headquarters, but my friends and I can be found dishing at the Deep Ellum patio in Allston, the bar or rooftop at Felipe’s in Harvard Square, or a booth at the Middle East in Central Square after band practice.
PARAMORE-FUELED POP PUNK
STUDY UP: Any parks with a lot of green space is great for writing or studying, such as Boston Common/the Public Garden or the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain. Frank likes to go to the dentist.
DECOMPRESS: We like to get FoMu ice cream in Jamaica Plain to decompress or rosemary fries from Clover in Cambridge. However, Brandon also likes to take a warm bath with candles and aromatherapy oils with a glass of scotch and listen to ambient post-rock when he’s feeling overwhelmed.
DISH IT OUT: You can get an affordable meal at Twin Donuts in Allston, My Thai Vegan in Chinatown, or, for drinks, Charlie’s Kitchen in Cambridge.
HANG LOOSE: When we want to catch up with friends, Veggie Galaxy in Cambridge is a top contender. Also Russell House in Cambridge or Charlie’s Kitchen for Tuesday night karaoke.
IDIOSYNCRATIC INDIE POP
STUDY UP: Whenever I need to write or work on something, I go to a cafe usually. Most of the time I end up at Pavement, a chain with locations all around Boston.
DECOMPRESS: A really great relaxing space is the esplanade by the Charles, specifically the dock that’s off Mass Ave. It has a pretty view of the water during the day, and at night you can see Cambridge all lit up.
DISH IT OUT: My favorite place to eat around Northeastern is Amelia’s Taqueria, which has really good burritos. There’s one in Allston as well.
HANG LOOSE: To catch up with friends, it’s always fun to go to any of the restaurants around campus or just wander around inside the Prudential Center if the weather is bad. Also, it’s fun to go to craft events like Boston Hassle’s Black Market or SoWa’s weekly fair.
MASS AVE HIP-HOP
STUDY UP: I get the majority of my writing done in my car during my travels, but any urban setting in the city brings the best material out.
DECOMPRESS: Down the way is the best place for me to catch myself sometimes. It’s a different type of energy in the South End, or maybe it’s just what I know best and where I feel most comfortable.
DISH IT OUT: P&R on Blue Hill Avenue in Mattapan. If you’re from the town and haven’t had a patty with coco bread and cheese from here, you aren’t living your life to its fullest potential.
HANG LOOSE: Darryl’s or Slades—they’re walking distance from each other. Get the same thing from both places, though, always good music and good food.
PESSIMISTIC NOISE ROCK
STUDY UP: I can’t write in public. It feels uncomfortable, so I usually just write in my bedroom.
DECOMPRESS: Sometimes I’ll go for a walk.
DISH IT OUT: Eating out is expensive. Make your own food, even if you stink at it.
HANG LOOSE: I stay home. Or I go over to my friend’s house. A club is too loud. Coffee shops are too quiet. Bars tend to smell like urine.