Boston’s own mayor-for-life, Tom “Mumbles” Menino, prides himself on the fact that his city is a pedestrian paradise. He’s right–it is. Although a cynic may point out that Boston is also a driver’s third circle of hell. See, out west, people had time to design cities. Boston just sort of happened, and when they ran out of room, they filled in the ocean with trash and built luxury condos on top (true story). The end result is a totally maddening sprawl of one-way streets, “residential parking only” signs, and the angriest drivers in existence outside of Mad Max movies. Then we let Bechtel redesign the highways.
So if you decide to visit our city, and you really should, it is in the best interest of your mental well being that you familiarize yourself with the Boston Subway known as the T. What better way to do this than while drinking a lot of beers in as many locations?
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Today we’re riding the Red Line. I’m starting you off in Somerville, and we’re working our way back into town. I thought you might like to start out on a full stomach with a visit to Davis Square.
Boston’s known for starting revolutions and its seafood. “Awesome ribs” is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the Boston food scene. Yet, buried down a side street in Somerville’s lovely Davis Square, you can find Redbones: The areas premiere barbeque joint. Best advice I can give is to try some St. Louis style ribs, a side of succotash, and your pick of one of their 30 draft beers. I’m not engaging in hyperbole on that last count by the way, if you like beer you are definitely in for a treat.
And if you’re stuck on what to get, they’ll spin the big roulette wheel on the wall and pick for you. But you don’t want that, do you? Think of the shame. Wander down stairs to check out their second bar “Underbones”, which is decked out in psychedelic paintings of aliens, generals and the cutest version of Baron Samedi you’ve ever seen, all tucking into food and getting loaded.
If you’re not into ribs, back track a little up to Teele Square and hit Angelina’s for a couple of slices of some of the best pizza around. I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret here: Boston pizza leaves something to be desired. If you go too far west, the only thing you can find anywhere is what we New Englanders call “Greek Pizza”. You don’t want it. You want New York Style, and that’s what you get at Angelina’s—and it’s a fantastic example of the form.
What you don’t get there is beer, and as we’re bar hopping here, that’s a requirement. So after you eat, cross the street to PJ Ryan’s. PJ’s is a nice Irish pub that works well as a neighborhood bar. Good beer selection, great staff, and always a lot of fun.
Back to the Red line, and let’s skip Porter and go one up to Harvard square. Nothing against Porter, but it is mostly restaurants, and we’re here to drink, yes? As everyone knows, nothing is easier than getting removed from the bar in a fine dining establishment. Lord knows I can do it in my sleep.
I should say a little something about Harvard Square because it’s kind of well known. The first thing every local will tell you is that it’s no fun anymore. It’s gentrified. All the funky old stuff– like the late, great diner The Tasty– got priced out, and a bunch of outlet stores came in. It’s sad. There was a lot of character here, and I’d say 50 percent of it has been bled out by the invading hordes of yuppies. That’s said, if you haven’t been to the area before, it is definitely still worth a stop.
Everyone who visits Harvard Square winds up at John Harvard’s brewpub and expensive eatery. Thank God you have me. Nothing against John Harvard’s, really. If you’re a tourist, or a loser who wants to spend hard-earned cabbage to look at stained glass portraits of Teddy Roosevelt and Jerry Garcia, that’s where you want to be. The cool people go to Charlie’s Kitchen instead.
Ah, Charlie’s. Picture a two-story diner with great beer and a jukebox aimed at hipsters. Ok, wait; imagine that, except make it really fun. If you’re a vegetarian, and you passed on the ribs, you may want to grab a black bean burger. It is enormous and comes with guacamole. Carnivores are tempted by it, but they come to their senses and get the bleu cheeseburger instead. You’ll want to hang out here for a while. The energy is fantastic, and because you’re not a snotty Harvard brat, the staff will love you. Remember to behave yourself in Charlie’s. It’s one of the best bars in the area, the bartenders are good at their jobs, and they have long memories.
While we’re still in Harvard, and if you are feeling your inner frat shmuck emerge, you may be ready for the Hong Kong. Another multi-level place, Hong Kong is where all the locals who fail the cool guy test wind up—Kind of like the anti-Charlie’s. The food here is, well, I’ve never had the food. I’m sure it’s fantastic. Now shut up and drink your scorpion bowl.
Back on the Redline, up one stop to Central Square, and you meet the bar hoppers Waterloo. Like Davis, you could spend the entire night at Central and go home happy. Or you could wind up face down in the street yelling at a cop. Walk carefully here: Central has a gritty side to it. But if you want to hear some music, this is T-stop you need to hit. There are four music venues in crawling distance: You have the Middle East http://www.flickr.com/groups/mideastclub/pool/show/, with three stages (upstairs, downstairs, and “Zuzu”). Down the street there’s the Cantab, which has a folkie bent to it, and further down Mass Ave is the legendary shoe box Plough and Star.
If cover prices aren’t your bag, then we’re heading for The Peoples Republik, a reference to Cambridge’s derogatory nickname. It’s decorated with Soviet Bloc propaganda. I believe it is ironic. Maybe. Have a couple and trip out on the last supper painting featuring Marx, Lenin, Uncle Joe, and a bunch of PR regulars. Crazy man. One thing to watch out for here: the dartboards are right next to the restroom entrances. Keep your head down, comrade!
If you’ve been doing this right, you may be ready to cash out and slump off to your hotel room in shame. I’m very disappointed in you. So, grab a coffee and get back on the train, we’re not even in Boston yet! Avoid the 1369 Coffeehouse though, that’s too nice; it’s a good place to bring a first time check-each-other-out date for coffee and pie. They don’t want to put up with you. And besides, there’s a Dunkin Donuts every three feet in Mass—go there instead.
You know what? Screw Kendall. There was a skinhead/punk/violent dive bar around here on Mass Ave called Campridgeport Saloon. It was a local staple, and now it’s gone, and Kendall just sort of bums me out now. Also it puts you out in the middle of MIT, which means you have to walk a ways to get anywhere. Plus, the place is crawling with campus 5-0, who are on the lookout for people like you. Although, if I’m taking new people into town for the first time, and if they are sober enough, I may make them get out and walk across the Longfellow Bridge because it affords a great view of the Boston skyline. If you are a lazy person, though, it’s cool; the T goes above ground here anyway. You get the same view, just not for as long.
Welcome to Boston! Everything is closed!
Park Street/Downtown Crossing
These two are together, because they are literally a block from each other. This is the center of it all. From Park you can hit the spidery, nightmarish, green line; Downtown Crossing gets you to the orange line and out into Roxbury. If you hop off the train here you wind up right in Boston Common, where there is approximately one bar for every 3 people.
As I said, we are in the center of things: the pulsing, expensive, heart of the city. You are within stumbling distance of Chinatown, the Theatre District, and Beacon Hill. Chinatown is worth a thousand plus words on its own, as is the Theater District.
Still have a lot of money and feel like a game of pool? If you are walking straight enough to get past the doorman, you may want to check out Felt. Felt is gorgeous. The walls are covered in dark red–what else—felt curtains, there are funky chandeliers everywhere, and a tea light every three feet. The billiards room is upstairs, and if you keep going up there’s a night club. Brace yourselves for beautiful people and techno.
The menu at Felt is on the pricey side- care for a nine-dollar “cheeseburger”?—and the beer selection, well, sucks. They do have enough trendy vodka brands to satisfy any club kid’s snobby little heart though, and I have to admit, they mix a damn fine martini.
If you happen to be on a budget, or if you just hate yuppies, then you may want to skip Felt, cross the common and hit one of two places: Remington’s, or the Sweetwater Café. Remington’s can get you a pitcher of PBR and a not bad pizza for 10 bucks; Sweetwater will get you microbrew for $4.50 and some good, sensibly priced (for Boston) pub food. As a bonus for you despicable tobacco addicts out there, Sweetwater has a deck.
Back on the Red Line up to South Station.
This is the Financial District, home to a lot of dark, closed, office buildings and a smattering of martini bars for people who know what the hell a power tie is. Avoid the bar in South Station as if the door handle was smeared in poison sumac oil.
The problem here is that anything is a bit of a schlep. Up the street, you have the North End and Faneuil Hall, but let’s leave those alone for now and strike out up Congress Street for Lucky’s Lounge.
Ever see the Departed? One of the climactic scenes happens not too far from here. And, if you are unfamiliar with the area, I have to admit, it looks a little on the sketchy side. It’s not though. You have actually walked into the Fort Point neighborhood, which is an expensive, trendy place for artists to rent out lofts and get drunk. At Lucky’s.
Lucky’s has no sign. The entryway is down a half flight of stairs on the corner of a building. You can’t miss it at night because of the people milling around outside, but in the day you would walk right past it. The bar is divided into two sections: on the right you have music, usually blues, and then on the left you have a nice restaurant type arraignment where they serve beer and food named after Pulp Fiction jokes. Overall, it’s not a bad place to end an evening, if you don’t mind the walk back to the T.
Yes, I said, “end”. This is about as far as you should go on the Redline if you started at Davis. From here you wind up in Southie and Dorchester, and, nothing against either place, they’re actually a lot of fun, but it’s kind of rough, and if you’ve hit every bar from Somerville to South Station, it’s best to save it for another evening. Go back to your hotel room, drink some water, pop a couple Advil, and we’ll talk later. Cheers.
What & Where:
Redbones (55 Chester Street • Somerville; 617-628.2200; www.redbones.com)
Angelina’s (230 Holland St, Somerville; 617-776-1240; www.angelinaspizzeriasomerville.com)
PJ Ryan’s (239 Holland St, Somerville; 617-625-8200; www.pjryans.com)
Charlie’s Kitchen (10 Eliot St, Cambridge; 617-492-9646; www.charlieskitchen.com)
Hong Kong (1238 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge; 617-864-5311; www.hongkongharvard.com)
Middle East (472/480 Massachusetts Ave; 617-864-3278; www.mideastclub.com)
Cantab (738 Massachusetts Ave,Cambridge; 617-354 – 2685; www.cantab-lounge.com)
Plough and Star (912 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge; 617-576-0032; www.ploughandstars.com)
The Peoples Republik (876-878 Massachusetts Ave; Cambridge; 617-491-6969; www.peoplesrepublik.com)
Felt (533 Washington St, Boston; 617-350-5555; www.feltclubboston.com)
Remington’s (124 Boylston St, Boston; 617-574-9676)
Sweetwater Café (3 Boylston Pl, Boston; 617-351-2515; www.sweetwatercafeboston.com)
Lucky’s Lounge (355 Congress St, Boston; 617-357-LUCK; www.luckyslounge.com)