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What's New in Historic Boston

What's New in Historic Boston

Trip Plan Tags: 
arts + culture,
design + architecture,
North America,
United States

Sure, Boston's history is second to none, but its burgeoning modern-day attractions are what everyone's buzzing about. Visit the flashy Institute of Contemporary Art, scour the creative fringes of the burgeoning South End, or even stay the night in a converted prison!



Myers + Chang, Massachusetts

1145 Washington Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02118
Tel: 617 542 5200

Like any enfant terrible, chef Joanna Chang had her dessert first: At bakery and café Flour, she seduced Boston with sticky buns and homemade "Oreos." Her follow-up is this kitschy Asian diner she opened with husband Christopher Myers (they met when both worked at Rialto). Unlike the conventional restaurants of Chinatown, Myers + Chang is pure rock 'n' roll, from its location in the perennially cool South End to its blasting soundtrack to its vest-wearing waiters who are quick to recommend a house-made aloe-yuzu soda. Almost all of the dishes on the Chinese-Thai-Vietnamese menu are served family-style, including spicy dan dan noodles, wok-roasted lemongrass mussels, and tea-smoked pork spare ribs. And most ring in under $15, which makes this place a big draw for the area's last few starving artists and budget-conscious young professionals. Which means you'll have time to down a few sake bombs at the bar while you wait for a table. Like dim sum? There's a dim sum brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

Open Sundays through Wednesdays 11:30 am to 10 pm, Thursdays through Saturdays 11:30 am to 11 pm.


See + Do

Institute of Contemporary Art, Massachusetts

100 Northern Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts 02210
Tel: 617 478 3100

Founded in 1936, the ICA showcases work by the likes of Nan Goldin, Mona Hatoum, Paul Chan, and Julian Opie (major exhibitions rotate three times per year). But it's the institute's new building, a cantilevered structure by New York–based architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, opened in 2006, that's really special here. Large wooden terraces overlooking the harbor seem like a giant's staircase leading into the museum, though the main entrance is actually on the opposite side of the building. In summer, the steps serve as an amphitheater for free waterside concerts and performances. Inside are white-on-white galleries, a glass elevator the size of a small hotel room, and a glass-enclosed theater—curtains lower to block natural light from flooding in when necessary. The most dramatic space, however, is the Poss Family Mediatheque. Suspended from the main cantilever at a 45-degree angle, its inclined window frames the water with no land or sky in view, making you feel as if you're about to fall in.

Open Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays 10 am to 5 pm; Thursdays and Fridays 10 am to 9 pm (free after 5 pm).



The Visionaries

In 1997, when Frank Gehry unveiled his very funky curving titanium museum in a backwater city in northern Spain ("Bil_where?"), few would have predicted the impact the building would have on both architecture and tourism. Ten years later, the so-called "Bilbao Effect"—the idea that a mid-tier city can boost tourism by hiring big-name architects to give it a design makeover—has been applied in destinations from Milwaukee and Minneapolis to Newcastle, England, and Abu Dhabi. The results have been mixed, but there's no question that sensational new architecture gets some people excited enough to get on a plane. So to mark the Guggenheim's tenth anniversary, we took a closer look at the skyline-altering projects that Gehry and his razzle-dazzle colleagues have created, as well as what they've got on the drawing board. From Herzog & de Meuron's Olympic Stadium in Beijing to Thom Mayne's otherworldly Phare Tower in Paris (which will be taller than the Eiffel Tower), we haven't seen a bigger boom in massive public projects since Ancient Rome. Which gives you new reasons to visit both the cities you've never thought of as interesting and those you claim to know like the back of your hand. Just think of Bilbao's Guggenheim as the shining example.



O Ya, Massachusetts

9 East Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02111
Tel: 617 654 9900

On a side street in the gritty Leather District, O Ya's location is as unconventional as its tantalizingly novel sushi menu. Opt for a counter seat at this industrial-Zen Japanese joint to observe the sushi chefs as they pan-sear foie gras nigiri before topping it with a balsamic-chocolate kabayaki (grilled eel) sauce, or dress thin slices of wild Toyama Bay yellowtail with a mignonette of Thai basil and fried shallots. Dishes from the kitchen are equally inventive, such as crispy shiso (Japanese mint) tempura topped with a bite of succulent grilled lobster, charred tomato, and ponzu aïoli. Of course, such elevated cuisine comes at a lofty price, especially since one person could easily consume five to seven of the small plates (up to $20 apiece). The $140 tasting menu of 14 or 15 sample-size portions isn't necessarily a better value, but it is good for the uninitiated and indecisive. A recent spate of attention—including a Food & Wine Best New Chef award for O Ya's Tim Cushman—makes snagging one of the 37 seats a challenge. Book several weeks in advance for prime-time weekend slots, or inquire at your hotel—the concierge may have an in.

Open Tuesdays through Thursdays 5 to 9:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 5 to 10 pm.


South End

What Newbury is to fashion, and Charles is to antiques, the South End is to home decor. This perennially up-and-coming neighborhood still has some rough edges, but they are being smoothed out more and more each day as the historic brick-lined blocks welcome high-end boutiques and restaurants—and residents to frequent them. The main action takes place on three streets that run parallel to each other: Tremont, Shawmut, and Washington. Stop at Lekker if you are in the mood for some Dutch porcelain (1317 Washington St.; 617-542-6464;; closed Mondays). Around the corner from Lekker, the diminutive Hudson sources its fine and vintage home accents a little closer to home—expect to see the latest from Oly and Shabby Chic by Rachel Ashwell in addition to throw pillows designed by the store's owner, Jill Goldberg (312 Shawmut Ave.; 617-292-0900;; closed Mondays). Fuel up at South End Formaggio, which stocks an immaculate selection of wines, cheeses, charcuterie, and gourmet sandwiches (268 Shawmut Ave.; 617-350-6996; before heading to Turtle, Storey Hieronymus Hauck's outlet for showing off her favorite under-the-radar fashion designers from near—Boston's own Cheng Lin—and far—Elm of Iceland (619a Tremont St.; 617-266-2610;; closed Mondays). If you happen to be in town on the first Friday of the month, head a little west of the beaten path to SOWA Artists Guild, where over 50 emerging artists open their cubby hole-sized studios to give the public an unobtrusive glimpse into their hearts and souls (450 Harrison Ave.; 978-337-4191;


Beehive, Massachusetts

541 Tremont Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116
Tel: 617 423 0069

An old-fashioned dinner club, the Beehive is always buzzing, whether at its weekend jazz brunch or at night, when patrons crowd three deep around the bar, and there's live music with no cover. The entertainment is diverse—jazz one night, bossa nova the next, even burlesque and belly dancing on occasion—and paired with themed menus. The regular menu is a mishmash of Mediterranean/American/Central European standards, such as seared zaatar-spiced swordfish, Moroccan couscous with chicken and lamb, and mustard-and-herb-crusted roast rack of pork. It's all served up in a 200-year-old space beneath the Boston Center for the Arts (formerly a theater and boiler room) with exposed brick and beams across high ceilings. Many of the servers are local artists whose work is on the walls. Tables fill up after 8 pm, and the line begins to stretch outside. Go early or on a weeknight to snag a spot, or just head for the bar.—updated by Jon Marcus

Open Mondays through Fridays 5 pm to 2 am, Saturdays and Sundays 10:30 am to 2 am.

$400 or more
Editor's Pick


Liberty Hotel, Massachusetts

215 Charles Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02114
Tel: 617 224 4000

Once home to Boston's most feared and reviled citizens, this remarkable granite structure on the Charles River is now populated by executives and trendsetters. The mid-19th-century jailhouse was deemed unfit for habitation in the early 1970s, eventually shuttered, and reopened in 2007 by hotel developer Richard Friedman, of Charles Hotel fame. Elements of the building's previous life remain, such as the 90-foot-high central rotunda (now the lobby), catwalks linking public spaces, and wrought-iron bars in the hallways. Most of the "inmates" now reside in a 16-story addition, where the rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, streamlined mahogany furniture, and granite-and-glass bathrooms stocked with Molton Brown toiletries. Of the 298 rooms, 18 are in the jail building—they have the same amenities as the new Tower rooms, but with dramatic arched windows and exposed brick. The food is also much improved, thanks to Lydia Shire's upscale trattoria, Scampo (derived from the Italian for "escape"). Even though lockdown is voluntary and Champagne is served upon arrival, there is one thing about the place that hasn't changed—you still have to pay a hefty "bail" to get out.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.