The Best of Boston

The Best of Boston

Martin Müller
Martin Müller
Certain adjectives have always been associated with Boston: historic, straitlaced, intellectual. Fun has not been one of them—until now.

The city's famed puritanical streak seems to have faded to a barely visible smudge. Although a blue law or two survive--no liquor is sold on Sundays, for example--Boston is rife with opportunities for indulgence. Stylish luxury hotels are cropping up alongside the old-world, jacket-and-tie classics. A wealth of restaurants, from innovative to ethnic, are luring visitors away from clam chowder and boiled dinners.There's also great shopping, happening bars, and smoking jazz. Of course, the ur-American landmarks still stand, next to the gorgeous parks and outdoor cafés that give the city the air of a European capital. So pick your pleasure. Fun is no longer banned in Boston.

WHERE TO EAT

THE HOT TABLES

  • No. 9 Park 9 Park St.; 617/742-9991; www.no9park.com; dinner for two $120. Boston Brahmins and their progeny are flocking to Barbara Lynch's subtly sophisticated dining room for food that's rich, rich, rich--and divine, from the prune-stuffed gnocchi with foie gras to the crispy duck with Bing cherries.
  • Radius 8 High St.; 617/426-1234; www.radiusrestaurant.com; dinner for two $110. The canteen of the New Economy crowd is circular (get it?), modern (cool grays, contemporary art), and fabulous, with a menu of creative Continental fare (oxtail ravioli and celery-root crème fraîche) as finely tuned as the surroundings.
  • The Federalist 15 Beacon St.; 617/670-1500; www.xvbeacon.com; dinner for two $160. Think expense account. Foie gras on gingerbread with cherries is plenty good, but it's the setting that really counts: mahogany-lined walls, busts of founding fathers, and silver chandeliers make the XV Beacon hotel's dining room the best-looking one in town.
  • Blue Ginger 583 Washington St., Wellesley; 781/283-5790; dinner for two $90. The most talked-about restaurant in the Boston area right now isn't even in Boston--it's in suburban Wellesley, a 25-minute cab ride from downtown. Chilean sea bass marinated in sake is the can't-miss item on Ming Tsai's East-West fusion menu, but trust us: it's all spectacular.

THE CLASSICS

These erstwhile trendsetters are now members of the Establishment, but that doesn't mean they're not going strong. Lydia Shire's Biba (272 Boylston St.; 617/426-7878; dinner for two $85) still draws a loyal following to the swank Adam Tihany-designed room that looks as fresh as it did in 1990. The stellar Asian-French food at Back Bay's Ambrosia on Huntington [This restaurant is now closed] proves fusion is far from over. Hamersley's Bistro (553 Tremont St.; 617/423-2700; www.hamerslysbistro.com; dinner for two $90), the French-American standby that put the South End on the map in 1987, is better than ever, even compared with the worthy competitors that have sprung up around it. Among those newcomers: Truc [This restaurant is now closed], the low-key favorite that's matured into a great one with a market-fresh French-Mediterranean menu. Innovative Asian knockout Salamander reopens next month in a new location--with satay bar--at Trinity Place [This restaurant is now closed].

HOTEL DINING

The trend toward superb hotel dining may well have started in Boston. In fact, with some of the best restaurants found in hotels (the Federalist foremost among them), you'll see as many savvy locals at the tables as out-of-towners.

  • Aujourd'hui Four Seasons, 200 Boylston St.; 617/338-4400; dinner for two $120. Top-rated nouvelle cuisine with fabulous Public Garden views.
  • Anago [This restaurant is now closed] Less intimate (and confident) than it was in its original Cambridge location, Anago is still spot-on with its simpler dishes, such as wood-fired rack of lamb.
  • Ritz-Carlton Dining Room 15 Arlington St.; 617/536-5700; dinner for two $122. The city's most formal room has a menu that's far from stuffy, thanks to Mark Allen's fresh takes on French classicism.
  • Rialto Charles Hotel, 1 Bennett St., Cambridge; 617/661-5050; dinner for two $100. Celebrated chef Jody Adams's never-boring Mediterranean cuisine is now paired with tango lessons on Thursday.
  • Clio Eliot Hotel, 370A Commonwealth Ave.; 617/536-7200; www.cliorestaurant.com; dinner for two $100. Leopard-print chic and New French fare.
  • Julien Restaurant Le Meridien Boston, 250 Franklin St.; 617/451-1900; dinner for two $100. Perfect-pitch French in a proper, subdued room.
  • Oak Room Fairmont Copley Plaza, 138 St. James Ave.; 617/267-5300; dinner for two $110. Steak, steak, steak, in the city's clubbiest space.

NEIGHBORHOOD GREATS

  • BEACON HILL Torch 26 Charles St.; 617/723-5939; www.bostontorch.com; dinner for two $84. A storefront bistro with more than pretty copper walls: Asian-spiced salmon tartare with wasabi rice impresses even the area's upper-crust crowd.
  • CAMBRIDGE Salts 798 Main St., Cambridge; 617/876-8444; dinner for two $80. Food & Wine named Steve Rosen one of the country's best new chefs in 1999; Eastern European--inflected dishes like golden trout flavored with dill and radish make this tiny place worth seeking out.
  • BACK BAY Parish Café & Bar 361 Boylston St.; 617/247-4777; www.parishcafe.com; lunch for two $25. Wait on line with the rest of Boston for a patio table and one of 21 unique sandwiches, each created by a different local chef. A standout: Chris Schlesinger's smoked ham and jack cheese on banana bread.
  • SOUTH END Aquitaine 569 Tremont St.; 617/424-8577; aquitaineboston.com; dinner for two $80. French bistro with a modern twist, done just as well as you'd expect from the owners of the superlative Metropolis Café across the street.
  • NORTH END Restaurant Bricco 241 Hanover St.; 617/248-6800; www.bricco.idevusa.com; dinner for two $84. The North End has always had the places to go for Italian food--good, hearty, and largely interchangeable. Bricco sets a new standard with its svelte design and beyond-red-sauce menu.

Best Brunch:

Harvest 44 Brattle St., Cambridge; 617/868-2255; www.the-harvest.com; brunch for two $58. Since reopening with a new muted, contemporary look, Harvest is once again the brunch spot of choice for Cambridge cognoscenti. Forget eggs Benedict: here the poached eggs sit atop biscuits and lobster hash.

Best Bakery

Hi-Rise Bread Co. 208 Concord Ave., West Cambridge, 617/876-8766; also at 56 Brattle St., Cambridge, 617/492-3003. Long a secret source for heavenly raisin-pecan loaves, potato bread, and babka. A second (more convenient) location has opened off Harvard Square. Great sandwiches too.

Best Foodie Corner

The intersection of Washington and Beacon Streets in sleepy Somerville, where you'll find not one but three gourmet meccas: Dalí Restaurant & Tapas Bar (415 Washington St.; 617/661-3254; www.dalirestaurant.com), longtime fun house for tapas and sangria; the whimsical Mediterranean newcomer Evoo (118 Beacon St.; 617/661-3866; www.evoorestaurant.com); and Panini [Now known as Toscanini & Sons] (406 Washington St.; 617/666-2770), where Harvard grad students get their scones and lattes.

Best Reasons to Find Cambridge's Inman Square

Chris Schlesinger's seafood classic East Coast Grill & Raw Bar (1271 Cambridge St.; 617/491-6568); super sushi at Jae's Café (1281 Cambridge St.; 617/497-8380); and a great, cheap breakfast at local institution S&S Restaurant & Deli (1334 Cambridge St.; 617/354-0777; www.sandsrestaurant.com).

Best Reason to Skip Legal Sea Foods

Kingfish Hall (Faneuil Hall, South Marketplace Bldg.; 617/523-8862), the new paean to fresh seafood at Faneuil Hall from Boston superchef Todd English.

Best Hotel Bar

Le Meridien's Julien Bar (250 Franklin St.; 617/451-1900), in a former Federal Reserve bank boardroom, now packs in the Financial District crowd for killer martinis and after-hours deal-making--proof that everything old is new again.

WHERE TO STAY

THE NEWCOMER

  • XV Beacon 15 Beacon St.; 877/982-3226 or 617/670-1500, fax 617/670-2525; www.xvbeacon.com; doubles from $395. Boston's most stylish boutique hotel, which opened in January, is a triumph of Federalist design updated for the 21st century, from the glass-cage elevators to the leather-lined walls, stainless-steel gas fireplaces, and spare, steel four-poster beds. The feel is that of a luxe pied-à-terre--which means smallish standard rooms and no views to speak of, but also unobtrusive service and a fleet of Mercedes S430's to chauffeur you around town.

THE OLD SCHOOL

  • Four Seasons Hotel 200 Boylston St.; 800/332-3442 or 617/338-4400, fax 617/423-0154; www.fourseasons.com/boston; doubles from $560. The exterior of this central business favorite is flavorless corporate modern, but inside it's all style: gleaming marble and fresh flowers, a near-perfect staff, and recently spruced-up Four Seasons-gone-New England rooms.
  • Ritz-Carlton Boston 15 Arlington St.; 800/241-3333 or 617/536-5700, fax 617/536-9340; www.ritz-carlton.com/hotels/boston; doubles from $445. Although a bit faded these days, the 1927 flagship of the Ritz-Carlton chain remains the city's classiest address, with stunning Public Garden views (ask for a suite ending in "09"), Newbury Street shopping just out the front door, and old-world grandeur.
  • Le Meridien Boston 250 Franklin St.; 800/543-4300 or 617/451-1900, fax 617/482-5684; www.lemeridien.com; doubles from $340. In a 1922 Renaissance Revival bank building with a modern glass mansard roof, the Financial District's premier hotel has anonymous decoration but smooth service and great views of Post Office Square (worth paying extra for).
  • Boston Harbor Hotel 70 Rowes Wharf; 800/752-7077 or 617/439-7000, fax 617/330-9450; www.bhh.com; doubles from $345. With expansive views, large rooms updated this year, a subdued atmosphere, and easy access to the airport via water taxi, the Boston Harbor almost makes you forget that its waterfront setting is somewhat out-of-the-way.
  • Fairmont Copley Plaza 138 St. James Ave.; 800/527-4727 or 617/267-5300, fax 617/247-6681; www.fairmont.com/copleyplaza; doubles from $229. Since being acquired by Fairmont in 1997 and totally renovated, the Back Bay's temple of gilt, mirrors, and crystal chandeliers has regained much of its luster, with over-the-top public areas and large, bright rooms.
  • The Lenox 710 Boylston St.; 800/225-7676 or 617/536-5300, fax 617/236-0351; www.lenoxhotel.com; doubles from $308. It's not as posh as the city's top hotels--expect anodyne furniture and floral-print comforters--but the redone Lenox has a warm atmosphere and a great Back Bay location.
  • Eliot Hotel 370 Commonwealth Ave.; 800/443-5468 or 617/267-1607, fax 617/536-9114; www.eliothotel.com; doubles from $255. Large suites furnished in typical floral-and-chintz country-house style and a hushed residential setting make up for a location that's near shopping if rather far from the center of town.

. . . and a B&B

  • Charles Street Inn 94 Charles St.; 877/772-8900 or 617/314-8900, fax 617/371-0009; www.charlesstreetinn.com; doubles from $240. A dangerously precious concept--each of the nine rooms is named for and decorated in the spirit of a local artist or writer--has been executed with panache in this 1840 town house on what is perhaps Boston's prettiest street.

SHOPPING
Just because Boston has a Puritan past doesn't mean it lacks an acquisitive heart. Newbury Street is its central artery. Although it's studded with plenty of national jewels--from Armani to Kate Spade to Brooks Brothers--Newbury's cosmopolitan charm lies in its local boutiques and cafés that cater to the refined Yankee matrons and chic Euro students who make up Boston's beautiful people. Other shopping destinations include Quincy Market, for T-shirts from peddlers' carts or sophisticated souvenirs from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts shop; Beacon Hill's elegant Charles Street, for eclectic crafts and antiques stores; the upscale mall in the tony suburb of Chestnut Hill; and downtown's Copley Plaza, Boston's answer to L.A.'s Beverly Center.

CLOTHING
The local mothership of designer shopping is Louis Boston (243 Berkeley St.; 617-262-6100, 800/225-5135; www.louisboston.com), four floors of men's and women's high-end clothing, from Helmut Lang to custom-made suits to Sigerson Morrison shoes. The 1863 Back Bay mansion, home to Louis since 1989, also houses a mini branch of the Mario Russo salon and the delicious Café Louis.

Standing proudly among the bookshops and chain stores that make up Harvard Square is Tess (20 Brattle St., Cambridge; 617/864-8377; www.tessandcarlos.com), a boutique which educates students about the latest fashions, such as Collette Dinnigan and Loro Piana. For extra credit, Tess offers free delivery and private appointments.

When they stop in to pick up Prada, D & G and Moschino goodies, Boston's jetset Euro students feel right at home among the gold walls, Persian carpets, and chrome and steel bay windows at the two-story Riccardi Boutique (116 Newbury St.; 617/266-3158). Their visiting moms can replace their worn Jimmy Choo's and Liberty print frocks at nearby Serenella (134 Newbury St.; 617/262-5568; www.serenella-boston.com).
Creative couture by Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake, and whimsical sculptures of oversized smiling heads and flying nudes dangling from the ceiling add flair to the elegant environment at Alan Bilzerian (34 Newbury St.; 617/536-1001; www.alanbilzerian.com).

Its flagstone exterior, mahogany interior, and stained glass windows make the building that houses John Lewis Inc. Jewelers (97 Newbury St.; 617/859-6665) a gem itself. Inside you'll find unique jewelry from inexpensive silver earrings to costly precious stones.

Colorful shoes in Lucite boxes perched on poles grow in the garden in front of Danielo [This location is now closed], which carries Charles Jourdan, Stephane Kelian, and GianFranco Ferre along with their own line of Italian shoes.

BEAUTY
Pretty is as pretty smells, and Desana Fragrances [This location is now closed] is just gorgeous. The lushly decorated second floor of a brownstone, Desana sells "Custom-blended fragrances and sublime rarities," such as vintage kimonos and handbags, antique flasks, and Illume candles.

The periwinkle and lavender walls of E6 Apothecary [This location is now closed] are lined with hard-to-find products including Tocca Beauty, Gail Grossman accessories, and Deborah Lippman nail polish, making it Boston's best-stocked beauty boutique. A laid-back vibe helps E6 live up to its own billing as "An Alternative Makeup Shoppe."

FOR THE HOME
Koo de Kir (34 Charles St.; 617/723-8111 or 800/944-2591; www.koodekir.com) stands for the French "Coup de Coeur," loosely translated as "to take one's breath away." That's the aim of this funky gift and home store whose motto is "interior design, urban style, and soulful retail." Merchandise ranges from barware to chairs to votive figures.

One of the newer additions to Newbury St., Matsu (259 Newbury St.; 617/266-9707) offers "life-enriching clothes and gifts" with a Zen feel, from handmade paper to brushed aluminum business card cases. Nearby Selleto [This business is now closed] features Mediterranean-inspired items such as bright Italian ceramics, and dried roses hanging from the Provencale-yellow walls.

Mind Candy
Impress your friends--or yourself--with a witty antique print or rare, out-of-print book from the Brattle Book Shop (9 West St.; 617/542-0210 or 800/447-9595; www.brattlebookshop.com), a 175-year-old institution. In its current incarnation, off the Public Garden, Brattle stocks over 250,000 used books from Shakespeare to Susann.

Tea Party
Smart shopping requires proper sustenance. While traversing Newbury Street or Harvard Square, stop into Tealuxe tea bars (108 Newbury St. and Zero Brattle St., Cambridge; 617/927-0400; www.tealuxe.com) for a perfect pot of tea and unbeatable retro ambience. Die-hards can keep shopping while sipping; the bars sell hotel silver and china, reproductions of antique teaware and other tea accoutrements.

THE LAY OF THE LAND
a key to boston's neighborhoods

BEACON HILL
The city's most classically beautiful neighborhood, Beacon Hill is a collection of 18th- and 19th-century brick row houses and cobblestoned streets bordering the Common and the Public Garden. Charles Street, a lively thoroughfare of antiques shops, pubs, and inns, keeps the Hill's atmosphere from becoming stuffy, while central Louisburg Square harbors some of Boston's costliest real estate. Nearby Acorn Street, a tiny alley originally inhabited by servants working in Louisburg Square houses, is among the Hill's most photogenic spots.

BACK BAY
Once a fetid pool of water behind the Public Garden, Back Bay was created by an ambitious landfill project in the late 1800's. It now contains the shopping meccas of Newbury Street and Copley Place, the leafy mall of Commonwealth Avenue, exclusive hotels such as the Ritz, and some glorious riverfront town houses. With everything in close proximity, it's the perfect place to stroll. Sometimes swampland is a smart real estate purchase.

FINANCIAL DISTRICT
Old Money meets New Money: steel-and-glass towers rise above narrow, curving, centuries-old streets, where many Bostonians work but few reside. Nonetheless, trendy dining spots are popping up in the neighborhood--including hotter-than-hot Radius--proving that where there's money, there will always be great places to spend it.

THE WATERFRONT
If you're surrounded by tourists, you're probably somewhere near the Waterfront. Along Boston Harbor, families find edification at the Boston Tea Party Ship & Museum, the New England Aquarium, the Children's Museum, and the Computer Museum, then reward themselves with chowder and lobster at the restaurants along Rowes Wharf and the piers. Just inland lies Quincy Market, a jumble of former warehouses that now resembles the Mall of America crossed with Disneyland's Liberty Square.

DOWNTOWN
Materialists can acquire at Downtown Crossing, an indoor and outdoor pedestrian mall that houses Filene's Basement, Boston's ur-department store. Culture vultures get their fix in the Theater District, where the Boston Ballet performs and stage productions often premiere before hitting the big time on Broadway. Nearby are Chinatown and the erstwhile red-light district known as the Combat Zone, which is still fairly seedy these days, but not quite as "combative."

NORTH END
Once Paul Revere's 'hood (his 1680 house and the Old North Church still stand), the North End was dominated by Irish immigrants in the early 1800's, and later took on a large Italian population. That culture defines the neighborhood to this day: cafés and cannoli shops, restaurants and produce markets, line the crowded streets next to ornate churches and colonial cemeteries. The whole area has the tenor of a constant celebration, even on those rare occasions when there's no religious festival going on.

SOUTH END
This was an affluent and fashionable neighborhood from 1850 to 1875, before Back Bay was filled in and the beau monde flocked to fill its row houses. The South End was out of favor until the eighties; now this enclave of polished bowfronts, art galleries, and first-rate restaurants is synonymous with urban chic.

CAMBRIDGE
Just across the river from Boston, Cambridge is home to Harvard and MIT, as well as many old-time New Englanders and brand-new Americans who give it a culture beyond the universities.
Despite the encroachment of chain stores such as the Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch, Harvard Square manages to remain as attractive as the couple in Love Story. Along with Harvard Yard, where the duo frolicked, the neighborhood around the square is blessed with a dozen great bookstores, talented street performers (Tracy Chapman started here), the esteemed Brattle Theatre (for art and revival films), and a profusion of cafés and ethnic restaurants.

SOMERVILLE
Less manicured than the prettier parts of Cambridge, Somerville is a culturally diverse small city that's seen its popularity rise over the past decade. One up-and-coming spot is Davis Square, which until lately was frequented mainly by students from nearby Tufts University but now draws a broader crowd of yuppies and urban pioneers tired of Cambridge and Boston. The blocks around lively Elm Street certainly hold enough to amuse them, from casual dinners at Redbones or the Rosebud Diner (in a genuine train car) to live music at Johnny D's, the Burren pub, or the jazzy Aquarium.

CHARLESTOWN
The first seat of government for the fledgling Massachusetts Bay Colony, Charlestown was designated part of Boston in 1874. Symbols of its illustrious past include the Bunker Hill Monument and the USS Constitution, which is docked in the old Charlestown Navy Yard, where warships were built from the early 1800's until the yard was decommissioned in 1974. Today Charlestown is more defined by sophisticated restaurants (such as Todd English's legendary Olives), renovated row houses, and the young professionals who inhabit them.

MUSEUMS Yes, Boston has a wealth of artifacts and landmark buildings celebrating its colonial past--just follow the Freedom Trail to find them. But there's plenty of cultural diversion of a more modern sort.

Museum of Fine Arts 465 Huntington Ave.; 617/267-9300; www.mfa.org. An extensive collection of the usual suspects (Greeks, Romans, Impressionists) as well as the more rarefied (a Japanese rock garden and an incredible trove of Buddhas).

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum 280 The Fenway; 617/566-1401; www.gardnermuseum.org. Although the collection of Italian Renaissance, Dutch Masters, and American portrait artists is terrific, it's the fabulous gardens and interior of this Venetian-style palazzo that make the Gardner so spectacular. The café is a popular spot for first dates.

Institute of Contemporary Art 955 Boylston St.; 617/266-5152; www.icaboston.org. Frequently changing installations of contemporary paintings, photography, sculpture, film, and video in a gallery-like setting.

Boston Center for the Arts 539 Tremont St.; 617/426-5000; www.bcaonline.org. A 120,000-square-foot cultural complex in the South End whose seven buildings hold performance spaces as well as a gallery.

Museum of Science Science Park; 617/723-2500; www.mos.org. A planetarium and the dazzling Omni Theater add to the cool factor here, as do great views from the Skyline Room restaurant.


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New England Aquarium Central on Wharf; 617/973-5200; www.neaq.org. A surefire crowd-pleaser, with an outdoor exhibit of harbor seals, three colonies of penguins, and a huge indoor tank surrounded by a spiral ramp that allows visitors to stroll alongside the sharks and sea turtles. The aquarium also organizes whale-watching excursions.

Children's Museum of Boston 300 Congress St.; 617/426-8855; www.bostonkids.org. Hands-on fun is the key here: kids climb mazes, blow huge bubbles, and roll golf balls down tracks, tubes, and loops to learn the basics of physics.

Museum of Afro-American History Housed in two landmark buildings, the African Meeting House (8 Smith Court; 617/725-0022; www.afroammuseum.org) and the Abiel Smith School (46 Joy St.; 617/720-2911), this small museum also gives guided tours and has maps of the Black Heritage Trail, which traces the history of African-Americans in 19th-century Boston.

John F. Kennedy Library Museum Columbia Point; 866/535-1960; www.jfklibrary.org. Exhibits on the native son's life and presidency in an I. M. Pei building that maximizes the ocean views. Through November 1: "Jacqueline Kennedy Travels Abroad" and "John F. Kennedy, Man of the Sea."

Arnold Arboretum 125 Arborway, Jamaica Plain; 617/524-1718; www.arboretum.harvard.edu. The first link in Frederick Law Olmsted's Emerald Necklace, a chain of public parks. This is the country's oldest public arboretum, with more than 14,000 species of trees, woody plants, shrubs, and vines in its 265 acres.

Harvard Museums Harvard University's little-known but stellar museums are pleasantly uncrowded (though all are open to the public) and within easy walking distance of one another. The Fogg Museum of Art (32 Quincy St., Cambridge; 617/495-9400), situated around an Italian Renaissance courtyard, focuses on American and European masters and has Boston's most significant collection of Picassos. The Sackler Museum (485 Broadway, Cambridge; 617/495-9400) houses Harvard's remarkable trove of ancient, Asian, later Indian, and Islamic art; high points include Chinese bronzes and Greek and Roman sculptures, vases, and coins. The Harvard Museum of Natural History (26 Oxford St., Cambridge; 617/495-3045) encompasses the Botanical Museum, with its famed collection of glass flowers; the Museum of Comparative Zoology, whose public areas are devoted to fish, mammals, and other wildlife; and the Mineralogical & Geological Museum, which is reputed to have the finest mineral collection in the world. Finally, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology (11 Divinity Ave., Cambridge; 617/496-1027) displays artifacts and dioramas from North American Indian communities, Africa, and the Pacific Islands. Through September 2001: "Heads and Tales: Adornments from Africa."

AFTER DARK
Choice of nightspots is what separates the men from the boys in Boston. The fake-ID crowd pours out of the plethora of local colleges to cram into the sweaty, sticky dance clubs on Lansdowne Street between Fenway Park and Kenmore Square. Post-adolescents looking for more grown-up amusement choose among café-style boîtes, smoky jazz clubs, and traditional Irish pubs. While most bars and clubs in Boston close early—at 1 or 2 a.m.—the concentration of revelers on weekend nights makes it seem as if the whole city is looking for love in all the right places.

CAFÉ OLÉ Sonsie 327 Newbury St.; 617/351-2500; www.sonsieboston.com. A bistro in back, a low-lit bar and café in front—both hugely popular with local sophisticates. On summer evenings the rattan chairs spill onto the pavement, but the place is packed in winter as well; last year, Matt Damon had his New Year's Eve party here.

29 Newbury 29 Newbury St.; 617/536-0290; www.29newbury.com. Down the street from Sonsie you'll find a similar café society, albeit in a more intimate setting, where early- evening cocktails can be had at tables in the glassed-in patio or at the well-stocked bar.

BAR BELLES
Bar Code [This business is no longer in operation] Partyers sit at banquettes along the wall to see, or join the flock around the bar to be seen. Housed in an old stone police building but decorated in ceiling-fan-and-mahogany French colonial style, Bar Code has lines outside but friendly service inside. There's also a restaurant on the lower level.

Bomboa 35 Stanhope St.; 617/236-6363; www.bomboa.com. Samba music, zebra-print banquettes, and a bar that changes colors heat up chilly Boston nights at this Brazilian-themed lounge in front of an eponymous restaurant. Even the tropical fish in the lounge's aquarium seem to be having fun.

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC
Wonder Bar 186 Harvard Ave., Allston; 617/351-2665. Everything a typical hole-in-the-wall jazz club is not: spacious, elegant, and comfortable, with raised seating areas, a long bar, window-front banquettes, and a kitchen that's open until midnight. But it does deliver live jazz from 10 to 2 nightly, with no cover.

The Good Life [This business is no longer in operation] Beatnik wannabes in Cambridge's Central Square cruise into the newest and largest of a retro-bar chain (there are two other locations in Boston). Red Naugahyde booths, cocktail recipes on the place mats, and Rat Pack memorabilia give the joint a rec room feel. Groovy live music as well.

The Burren 247 Elm St., Somerville; 617/776-6896. Perhaps Boston's most authentic Irish pub, featuring impeccable Guinness, good food, and traditional Irish music nightly. The flower- bedecked exterior offers café seating in nice weather, but regulars seem to prefer the dim, cozy inside.

ROCK AND ROLL Milky Way 403-405 Center St., Jamaica Plain; 617/524-3740; www.milkywayjp.com. For (slightly) more active entertainment, trek out to the "lounge and lanes" at this huge basement complex in Jamaica Plain, a working-class neighborhood that's now attracting a small crowd of edgy hipsters. Milky Way is their default hangout, with pool tables and a jukebox, a multicolored bar, live music, tasty pizza from the upstairs Bella Luna restaurant, and, yes, candlepin bowling, a "sport" that is native to New England. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose—even now, the familiar old Boston endures.

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