Let’s face it, NYC’s hunger for novelty and change often doesn’t produce the most worthy results (see: health-conscious cocktails). So little wonder about our esteem for cities like Philadelphia and Boston, where such change occurs at a more, let’s say, considered pace.
The latter’s Fort Point neighborhood is a case in, well, point. Long a harborside area known for its…parking lots, it nevertheless actively cultivated and supported the local artistic community. But we know the formula by now: developers discover it, and up go the skyward condo buildings and the prices. Yet Boston is a very different place from New York, and even amidst the gleaming new high rises, an artistic soul is yet tended to here.
Envoy Hotel lobby
To wit, on our recent stay at the stunningly designed Envoy Hotel, located right along the waterfront, we discovered that a space within the hotel was given to the Fort Point Arts Community, to stage exhibitions by its member artists. FPAC is non-profit founded back in 1980 – and it sees to the needs of the more than 300 artists who still live in the district (visit their site for gallery listings). And it fits quite nicely with creative mission of the hotel, if we do say.
The area, now rife with tech company offices (even Amazon is here), is noticeably changing. Just up the road, Harpoon was the city’s first microbrewery (dating to 1986), and is still producing its excellent Winter Warmer and Dark Beer / Stout, amongst others. But just around the corner from the Envoy, Scorpion Bar does velvet-roped, signature margarita fueled evenings in extravagantly decked out, nightclubby surrounds.
Here’s what we discovered.
The Institute of Contemporary Art
It arrived before the recent rush, opening in a spectacular new waterfront location in December 2006. But the ICA itself actually dates to 1936, and is regarded as one of the most important American contemporary art institutions. Its thought-provoking shows will make you smarter (the current Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today) and also more engaged with the socio-political zeitgeist (We Wanted a Revolution, Black Radical Women 1965-1985, opening June 27 – and spot on for the current prevailing mood). The Diller Scofidio + Renfro building is a breathtaking example of the firm’s architecture-as-art ethos.
Where creative sorts are massing, there must be coffee to brood over. And the Fort Point outpost of Caffe Nero (a Brit import) is an aesthetically charming mix of industrial chic and Euro bric a brac, with excellent cortados and breakfast pots. Nearby Barrington Coffee caters to the cool kids, with artful interiors and uncommon brews from Guatemala and Nicaragua. Flour Bakery does salads, grain bowls, brioche au chocolat and vegan cakes, with a spacious terrace on comely Farnsworth Street.
And then came the trendy restaurants. Barbara Lynch’s Menton is the area’s culinary showpiece, a very French, Relais & Chateaux dining experience – with an 8-course tasting menu, and a classy bar serving Euro-centric cocktails like the Cassis Spritz and Florence Sour. Anchoring the Congress Street “scene,” Pastoral is a rustic-chic, artisan pizza kitchen, with creative antipasti (octopus panzanella, escarle caesa) and fourteen craft beers on draught. Sportello does interesting pastas – braised rabbit strozzapreti, cavatelli cavolfiore – in “mod diner” digs. And perpetually packed Smoke Shop BBQ offers up award winning plates of its namesake meats, as well as local whiskey flights, in a buzzy atmosphere.
Exalted chef Barbara Lynch’s low-lit, connoisseur’s cocktail spot Drink has no actual drinks menu – they’re all done to order (you know, like…bespoke), paired with excellent mushroom crostini and steak tartare. Dark woods, parquet floors and artful chandeliers set the tone in the lounge area of Bastille Kitchen – toast to the French Revolution on a smart leather coach with a bourbon-and-fig Marquis or a Parisian Mule. Lucky’s Lounge is the area’s longtime fixture, a gritty, retro rocker bar that serves a stiff drink, pulled pork sliders, a Sinatra brunch and rousing live music.
The Envoy Hotel
Frankly, one of our favorite sleeps…period. The Envoy Hotel‘s glass and steel construction allowed for stylish, loft-like rooms with floor-to-ceilings windows framing honestly jaw-dropping waterfront views (the bathrooms also come with impossibly chic bathrobes.) The snazzy lobby area – complete with electronic billiards table – spills into the Outlook Kitchen & Bar, a sleek, all-day dining affair (the duck confit toast at brunch is ridiculously delicious) serving cognac mac & cheese, pear & pistachio salad and spicy tuna poke, all under the direction of charismatic Cuban chef Tatiana Pairot Rosana. But the real bragging rights come by way of the Lookout Rooftop & Bar, which does top notch cocktails against the glittering backdrop of all those spectacular downtown high-rises.