100 things we love about Boston and refuse to live without
It goes without saying that this a seriously subjective roundup, compiled by our brain trust and the interjectors who barged into our discussions at the coffee shops and bars where our list blossomed. We’ll tell you this though—as reporters, and in some cases as nomadic couch-surfing creatives, our crew has probably seen more than a few corners of this city that some of our readers, especially you transients and college students, have yet to encounter.
Though we didn’t start with a specific Valentine’s week theme beyond places and things that we love so much it is hard to imagine existing without them, as we finalized selections it was clear that nostalgia took over. Classic institutions and locations—even some that only made their mark in the past couple of years—were all game. (If something is noticeably new and made the list, that probably means the honoree has an old soul, kind of like your cousin who is your age but who always dressed like an accountant and related better to your aunts and uncles than they did to other kids).
As you read and grow incensed that your choice go-to hangout was omitted, or get aggravated about how more than half of our favorite places are bars (we’re journalists, go figure, that drinking thing is more than just a sickeningly corny cliche), consider how highly it speaks of Boston that this scroll could be five times longer and still have notable omissions. In any case, this is our community as we know and love it. Happy Valentine’s Day Boston …
Gone are the days when lobbyists would simply drop into the 21st and throw their credit cards on the bar for the crowd to start feasting, but little else has changed, right down to the ugly drunken politicians hanging in the back room.
You’ll have to drive to Dedham for this exceptional Greater Boston diner, but you’ll know for sure that it was worth it from the first bite of your homemade muffin. Somehow, even basic eggs and omelettes are superior at the 50’s diner. Also accessible by commuter rail.
The words “I’ll meet you at 1369” have resulted in countless people going to the Inman Square location instead of the Central Square location, and vice-versa. But we don’t give a damn, because regardless of which 1369 we’re at we cozy up with a decorative brew and pop open the laptop.
One of the youngest players on this list, we’ll just say that Aeronaut understands the community dynamic, and the brilliant beer and arepas on weekends only help to accelerate this beer hall’s rise through the ranks.
This landmark bills itself as the oldest restaurant in Southie and the only joint with parking in the area. Both of which are reasons to throw it on your bucket list, plus their steak tips are pure crack and you are bound to see some kind of local celeb or politician here, if that’s something you care about.
Before you go around claiming that all news is fake and the world is coming to an end, be sure to check out any number of the Hub’s outstanding independent and local pubs, from the Dorchester Reporter to the Banner, Boston’s African-American paper of record.
The bad news is that along with Durty Nelly’s, the Tam, and few others, Biddy’s really is the last of a dying breed. The fantastic news is that the Hub’s best dive bar still packs heads in daily, and will outlive countless bourgeois drink holes that arise in the immediate area.
So much more than a place to get wheels, though always amazing for that too, Bikes Not Bombs is like the school we dreamed about as kids but get to actually attend as adults.
We can say without exaggeration that a large percentage of Dig interns and contributors have worked at Blanchard’s over time, almost making it a rite of passage. Here’s a toast to the store that had a stellar craft beer selection long before bodegas started stocking IPAs.
Stop and think about it for a second—we live in the middle of a city, and you only have to drive about 10 minutes to go skiing. The Blue Hills aren’t Vail, we get it, but you’re still all spoiled to have snowboarding and skiing so close, and we simply wanted to remind you.
Never mind that Boston’s biggest music festival is landing City Hall officials in hot water, or that the police once used the concert as a testing ground for questionable facial recognition technology. The fact is this is the biggest annual blowout we have, and one of these days they might even feature some local artists.
Boston Hassle / Boston Compass
If you’re not reading the Dig for your alternative news, then you should be reading the Hassle (online) and the Compass (in print). And if you are reading the Dig, you should still be religiously checking Boston’s leading underground outlets for everything that slips through all other media cracks.
We totally want to be pricks and say that we detest the fancy new facade and gorgeous glass WGBH studio at the BPL. We want to, but honestly the annex is totally inviting and the perfect complement to the Hub’s eternal standout cultural pride point.
We may take the bumps and lumps at Brooklyn Boulders for granted, but there was a time when it seemed inconceivable that there would be an indoor mountain range in these parts, as it simply felt like the kind of sweet major amenity reserved for spoiled types in San Fran or New York.
As much as we appreciate the newer Bukowski’s in Inman Square, with all its fixins and accoutrements, our heart will always be with the original, the best hallway for drinking way too much beer in this city or any other.
It’s refreshing to still have at least one bar left where, if you hear an Irish music jam session break out at random, it’s not some kind of gimmick to attract tourists, but rather an organic outburst of the buzzed variety.
We would say that community access television had come a long way since Wayne’s World, but the truth is that it’s gotten more like Wayne’s World in that a lot of programming on the Boston, Somerville, and Cambridge community stations is both relevant and fun to binge on.
Having faced extinction and lived not too long ago, Charlie’s has miraculously maintained its standards under new ownership, making for one of the few places a former Bostonian can return without feeling like the good old days are gone for good.
According to Massachusetts law, there had to be at least one sea or bayside clam shack on this list, and the consensus among our extremely partial panel says the Clam Box at Wollaston Beach in Quincy has the cleanest grease and the baddest batter of all.
It’s kind of strange when you’re on the other side of the country—Austin, Los Angeles, you name it—and people get excited that you’re from the Boston area because of this single sneaker store. One visit, however, and you’ll understand the international acclaim.
You used to be able to get a good boiled dinner on just about any corner in the Irish neighborhoods, and on almost any day of the week. Our doctors are happy that isn’t the case anymore, still you can find us at the Corrib in West Roxbury at least once a month mainlining the stuff.
We’ll step aside while faithful weeknight divas from the different neighborhoods of Boston battle over where you’ll find the best karaoke. With that said, we’ll be at the Courtside, singing some seriously embarrassing shit from the ‘90s.
With its second blowout in less than six months coming up soon, there’s no doubt that the CREATE formula—six teams, each with an artist, chef, and bartender—is a runaway hit sure to expand beyond the Hub soon. Before the battle royale goes national though, this April’s showdown will mark yet another high point for culinary showmanship in Boston.
No other multicultural meeting house even comes close to comparing with the Dance Complex, where at any given hour one can find classes in anything from capoeira to ballet to hip-hop.
If you would have asked us 10 or so years ago if we thought there would still be an amazing record store where you can hang and bang to arcane oldies and new records alike with a clever cast of characters from Boston’s music scene, we would have entered deep thought territory, but we still wouldn’t have been able to dream up this sort of ideal refuge.
In the months since evil Daddy Warbucks was elected President of the United States, everyone’s a radical, while hard-left lectures can be found at your neighborhood Applebee’s. The Democracy Center in Harvard Square, however, will always have a special place in our progressive hearts, as they welcome such sentiments even when giving a damn is out of fashion.
We used to walk across this lot as if it damn near didn’t exist on our way to South Station. Then we protested there during Occupy, and have since returned for the occasional post-work soiree. Thanks to those demonstrators for claiming this space for the people, and for inspiring the move to bless the walls above Atlantic Ave with colorful and thoughtful murals.
A sequel to another floating pyramid that first showed up in the Fort Point Channel nearly 20 years ago, we’re sure it’s only a matter of time before the city hands this brilliant work over to the General Electric brass to use as a buoy for the company yacht.
Put aside some of the other praise on this list for a moment to recognize a simple fact—that Doyle’s is the ultimate Boston bar, from its being a stop on the Sam Adams brewery tour, to the phone booth, to the political ephemera on all the walls, and there is none higher.
The Edgar Allan Poe statue across from Boston Common may be just a few years old, but it was a long time coming, and now that it’s arrived we’ve come to thoroughly enjoy watching the storming poet scare the piss out of tourist children.
Though the whole “Men’s Bar” concept is a thing of the past, nowadays the Eire is a comfortable hangout for anyone who drinks. And while they’ve welcomed US presidents of both varieties, we’re pretty sure our new POTUS would quickly be shown the door.
Republicans beware—minorities in Greater Boston are becoming the majorities, and as a result, ethnic media outlets are increasingly delivering news that is important to everyone. For starters, even if you don’t speak Spanish, be sure to check the pics and headlines in our frequent partner paper El Planeta every week.
As downtown Boston gets more gentrified by the day, it’s nice to know there’s still a home for progressive nonprofits in the heart of the city. Props to E5 for all the hospitality and for its unshakable sanctuary status.
Once known as Future Boston, this incubator serves as a critical congregation hub for countless creatives and entrepreneurs who have otherwise been shut out of many opportunities available in booming Boston.
If you’re ever at a pizzeria in New England, and you’re given two slices despite just ordering one, you can thank Ernesto’s for inventing that extremely gluttonous tradition.
Beside another cherished local prize, the William J. Devine golf course, sits a zoo worth more than just one trip a year, whether you’re venturing for seasonal concerts or date nights. Also shout-out to the abandoned zoo nearby, and to the activists who hope to turn it into an outdoor community center and amphitheater.
There are several places on this list that, despite not having much of a front window game, are inviting and even friendly. At the same time, god bless the Galway House for still belonging to the natives while being super nice to JP hipsters who wear babies on their chests like chunky neck medallions.
Never trendy, always dark and delicious, George Howell Coffee has been at the center of the Bean’s bean culture for a generation, and we absolutely love being able to stop by in person now that there’s a sleek downtown location.
It’s been said that the only true consensus among most Bostonians is that our major sports teams can do no wrong. Not true—anybody who has ever splurged on Brookline’s Golden Temple knows damn well that it’s the best Chinese food in the region, soup to cashews.
From the longest-running, universally welcoming hip-hop party in Fresh Produce to its mix of corporate and creative clientele, the Good Life is as much a staple of the downtown landscape as the State Street building right across the street.
Ours is a Puritanical city, at least compared to nonstop party and street sex epicenters like New Orleans and Austin. We’re not total prudes though, not as long as Good Vibrations keeps on slinging plastic dicks and bedroom tricks in the heart of Brahmin New England.
From memorable recurring parties of both the monthly and weekly variety, to comedy, to random touring acts that no one else had the audacity to book, we go back with Great Scott like old chums, and anticipate spending many more years pumping fists and slamming tallboys there, and that’s just for the comedy shows.
There are head shops, and then there are those very special storefronts that double as art galleries. GSU is the latter, a glorious arcade of glass where you can also catch a convo about cannabis culture.
From the low-slung ceilings to the record player on the bar with plenty of selections, Green Street is a place where you can disappear into a cocktail and some tunes, a perfect spot for everything from solo alcoholism to business meetings and first dates.
Once a radical idea to house the homeless in the South End, over the past 50 years Haley House has become one of the most beloved benevolent institutions in Boston; from its storefront restaurants in Dudley Square to the housing programs and the foundational soup kitchen, the crew has stayed true to its original mission despite growing year after year.
If you haven’t been to the Harpoon Brewery yet because you think that you can get what they have there at your average Boston bodega, then you’re missing out on some of the finest secret recipes around, plus some damn impressive pretzels.
Certainly every living bookstore should be on this list, as we cherish and adore them all. Harvard Book Store, however, stands out as one of the few such independent enterprises anywhere where authors can get inspired and, if they’re so inclined, even have their own work published right inside the store.
There is breakfast, and then there is the kind of smorgasbord they offer at Henrietta’s Table for three hours on Sunday. We won’t say that it is the best $55 you’ll ever spend, but we are saying there is no better place to grub until your heart stops beating.
Other than DigBoston, the best place to keep up on current events is probably the Improv Asylum, where the core and rotating casts keep the shows fresh and hilarious and the references are truly timely. Also one of the few places where tourists and locals mix in peace.
As old school as Italian-American joints get, there’s almost a requirement to inhale an enormous chicken parm at this East Boston marinara Mecca. Also don’t sleep on their breaded broiled scrod either, and be sure to check the old political photos in the side room before leaving.
Of course we’re partial, as the Foley’s on East Berkeley Street has served as a second home for Dig reporters for nearly two decades. Which doesn’t change the fact that the century-plus-old tap (and for the past several years, a stellar grill as well) is the closest thing Boston has to an actual cheers, from the cozy wood interiors to opinionated regulars.
Potentially the most obvious choice on this list, and one that every head we asked demanded grace the chart, Kelly’s is a cut above most others in virtually everything it does, and we’re still mourning the loss of the Allston location.
It’s sad how little coverage there is of black music in Boston. There’s some good news too though, because you can find hip-hop exclusives and deep non-rock news in general all day on KBX.
Though our demographic doesn’t roll too deep on Beacon Hill, we had to show a little bit of love, and what better place on Valentine’s Day than the hottest custom lingerie shop in the city. Relatively affordable too.
We don’t merely adore Kush Groove because the Mission Hill shop and brand’s proprietor, Marcus Johnson-Smith, moonlights as a Dig cannabis columnist, but also because his store is like his column, a place where you can ask about anything you want to know about weed and get some real answers.
Not even its inclusion in major movies and South Boston folklore can spoil the L Street Tavern, which miraculously fills with longtime barflys as well as the area’s incoming twenty-somethings these days.
There’s a solid argument that we should have had far more museums on this list, but at the very least it made sense to include the one whose front lawn we go sun-bathing on in the summer.
What seemed like a fad in the sun for the tech crowd alone has become something everyone anticipates each summer, even though we’re kind of tired of seeing pictures on Instagram of people in those silly swings. Enough already.
In some respects, the Lizard Lounge beneath Cambridge Common is one of the area’s last throwbacks to an era when new subterranean music venues popped up regularly.
Now a stellar beer brand and a brewery as well, let’s keep this as a salute to Lord Hobo the Cambridge restaurant, where the pig’s head pierogies and polenta fries are the only things keeping us from bearing the brunt of the Boom Sauce.
It says a lot about how cool your city is when, unless you roll with an insanely yuppie set, most people you know have probably been to the admired LGBTQ club Machine regardless of their sexual preference, and had the time of their young adult lives dancing their shit off.
Organizing post, co-working space, art gallery, and home base for some of our favorite do-gooders over the past couple of years, MakeShift is one of the most publicly inviting places in the South End, a perfect peaceful intersection of incoming and longtime residents.
A grassroots operation that’s become a meeting hub for new and old East Boston heads alike, Maverick Marketplace has fast become a hang known for everyone from local artists to beer snobs.
Forget about the diehard Sox fans who pop into this Dominican destination on Blue Hill Ave for a possible glimpse of Big Papi. You might catch a celebrity sighting occasionally, but the real reason to dance Merengue involves everything from pastelitos to fried kingfish.
Oh Middle East, oh Middle East, what could we say that you don’t already know about yourself. Just do us a favor, dear eternal corner venue complex, and be sure to take good care of yourself, because we couldn’t imagine our musical lives without you.
If your friend cracked his head on the wall of the Midway during a Saturday afternoon punk show 10 years ago, chances are there’s still a bloodstain. With that kind of ambiance and Queeraoke, Boston just wouldn’t be Boston without this mini kickass party pocket.
The definition of a family restaurant, Mount Vernon also has a little something for everyone from the gambler (Keno) to the hardcore carnivore (roast beef for days). To make things even better, the RB is served uniquely chilled, and is sliced by the bartender in front of you.
We of course love every stage and offering at A.R.T., but through the years, OBERON’s become our favorite. The Donkey Show is only the beginning, as we look here for all kinds of our sex and humor entertainment.
What started as a cool place to stop by and check out the indoor skate facilities has grown into a central congregation for the skate community across New England, as well as a brand that’s recognized around the world.
Either the People’s Republik or the Plough and Stars had to make this list, what with all the barlit nights of joking with our friends and reading by our lonesome along Mass Ave in Cambridge, so let’s just say that we chose both.
This noodle hub on the edge of Chinatown may be the only restaurant in Boston where you can eat three courses, guzzle a beer, shake, and a cup of tea, and get pressured into giving up your table for the next waiting group all in the span of eight minutes.
There aren’t many Irish pubs in this country, let alone this city with a hardcore football (see: soccer) fan base as well as a music scene that’s actually bred DJs who have gone on to tour the world.
Briefly visit the Pleasant Cafe in Roslindale on a typical Friday night, and you will witness what seems like an endless line of locals queuing for their takeout pizzas. Only if you stick around, however, and take in the authentic post-World War II vibe will you truly get to experience the delicious carbohydrate cabaret that complements the booth and neon sign motif.
You’ll have to go to Norwood for this one, but trust us, the Mark behind ReMarkable is a Boston original, and he’s been clearing out the city’s basements for more than a decade. For everything from cheap antiques to discount records in bulk, you needn’t look any further.
Yeah, yeah, yeah—we love J.P. Licks as well, and they are definitely runners up here, but Ron’s Ice Cream in Hyde Park has bowling to boot, plus a throwback parlor feel that’s less and less common these days.
Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar
If being more than a diner is wrong, then Rosebud doesn’t want to be right. On the other hand, if you’re simply looking for a stellar bacon and egg joint with a trendy crowd, the Rosebud has you covered all the same. (Go for the catfish and/or the pulled pork).
A wholly unique Boston treat, this historic Downtown Crossing power lunch-on-the-go spot has a sweeter corned beef than you will get at a traditional Jewish deli, making for a stack of meat that slides down smoother than a milkshake.
The pizza generally sucks in Boston. You know this. But someway, somehow, these geniuses in JP have found a way serve up sweet sauce-style New York slices to the masses. God bless ‘em.
First of all, how many other Cambridge restaurants have even one parking lot—let alone three! This trusty destination for motorists who like lox and pastrami holds a number of superlatives in these parts, starting with the best matzoh ball soup in the state.
Even if you’re afraid of the rich people and wealthy weirdos on Beacon Hill, there are still plenty of reasons—some of the best dart throwers in Boston, for starters—to pay homage to the Sevens when you’re in the area. At the very least, it’s better than the real-life Cheers.
Get a book. Or a magazine. Or a piece of goddamn paper with something that’s worth reading written on it—anything besides that blinking cell phone—and you will be prepared to spend the rest of your day in the most chill subterranean grape and suds hole we know.
A lot of bars where drinking nights on end was once considered a rite of passage for young Boston punks are long gone—but not the Sil. In our experience, there’s no better place in Allston to drink away the pain after a slug on the Green Line. Except for maybe the Model or Deep Ellum.
There are people who are incapable of driving past either Simco’s location, in Mattapan or on the Roslindale-Hyde Park line, without pit-stopping for a dog nearly as long as a baby arm. With extra sauerkraut. We are among those people.
We were always skeptical of clubs that had a separate barroom … until we fell for the Sinclair. From the sound, to the suds, to the grub, to the balcony, the Harvard Square rock agora may be the best in its class nationwide.
Don’t walk into Skippy White’s in Egleston Square asking for the new Kendrick Lamar album. Or anything that you can easily download on iTunes for that matter. Instead, approach Skippy’s looking for nothing in particular, and let whoever is behind the counter school you with some old Hub r&b and gospel stories before recommending some random vinyl.
If you haven’t been to a party at Spontaneous Celebrations in JP, then you aren’t hanging out with enough hippies. Also the good natured outfit behind the epic annual Wake up the Earth Festival, Spontaneous remains a meeting point for activists as well a range of diverse groups that hold blowout events there.
The Sportsmen’s Tennis & Enrichment Center
You’re in the middle of Blue Hill Ave looking for a tennis match, thinking you are out luck. Don’t give up just yet though—find your way to the intersection of Talbot Ave, and you’ll encounter this impeccably pristine oasis open for some swinging.
The only thing better than an island you can drive to? An island you can drive to with a shack that slings some of the tastiest ice cream and burgers in Southie—and that includes all of those fancy new joints too.
We can hardly count the number of tequila bars that have opened since the Sunset Cantina and its sister Grill & Tap first came into our lives—probably because we have been sipping margaritas out in Allston for the past decade and then some.
Boston may be covered in head shops these days, but that wasn’t always the case, and we shall never forget how Sugar Daddy’s has been there for us since way before the end of prohibition, serving as a sort of paraphernalia sanctuary in a city that was hardly warm to cannabis users until now.
We wanted to include something in Watertown on this list, and the first thing that came to mind was Boston punk rock icon Dave Tree’s gallery. Just don’t bring your mom unless she’s into looking at a wall full of drawings of genitals.
Get your ass a car and drive through West Roxbury, then all the way into the heart of Hyde Park (about a block from former Mayor Tom Menino’s house) for this spread of cheese, meat, olives, and more that will rival anything in the North End.
Even in the age of specialty news, one shouldn’t take for granted that the Hub still has sites like Vanyaland that stay on top of all things music at all times, from breaking local hotness to big national pop fascinations through a Bostonian lens.
We’ll keep this one simple: There aren’t many diners in Boston, and this one just may be the best, from the shakes to the heaping specials. Plus they have beer and wine.
We’re not concerned with whether the Warren Tavern is truly the longest operating bar in Boston, as many claim it is. We just want to hole up in the legendary Charlestown haunt because, more than anyplace else in the Town or anyplace else, after enough pints it actually feels like Paul Revere might strut through the door.
As any old school West End resident will tell you, this disappearing neighborhood has been under attack for decades; thanks to the West End Museum and its education program, however, the working people who called that neck of Boston home will never be forgotten, nor will their accomplishments.
How much do we love to laugh in Boston? There’s a simple answer—our biggest comedy club is a freaking theater, for chrissakes. And a theater where you actually feel comfortable drinking and partying, unlike at some of the Wilbur’s fantasy pants neighbors on Tremont Street.
Some people act like college radio in Boston died when Emerson College decided to rebrand the legendary WERS for more commercial tastes, but true schoolers know that the WMBR basement still rocks at MIT.