It has been just over two months since I moved from Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood back to New York City. It’s funny to think I’ve only spent my life so far in two states. Perhaps every four years I’m going to keep trading off, reacquainting myself to all the former environs, having to redo the favorite list.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so what better way to channel nostalgia and a bit of holiday homesickness than writing a guide to things I loved. Places will close and change when I’m away, a kind of sad truth of moving. At least, they’re a way of reflecting on my time spent.
It is possible that I’ve been to almost every bookstore in Boston during my last four years so this is by far my biggest category of favorites.
The best overall bookstore, a browser’s delight and open later than most things in sleepier than I like Boston, is the impeccable Brookline Booksmith. The delightful Globe Corner in Harvard square closed but gratefully the Booksmith assumed a great deal of their map and travel collection. Wanderlusters, rejoice!
For more travel, lingering, and reading literary magazines without purchasing them I actually admit I love the Barnes and Noble in disguise Harvard Coop. The down the street independent The Harvard Bookstore is not actually a part of Harvard but that doesn’t stop tourists from always asking where the sweatshirts are when they walk in. It is a great all around bookstore though, with strong academic and non-fiction sections as well as a solid used book cellar.
The best place to browse, sip a cup of coffee, or order a tuna melt is by far the dinner meets bookstore meets coffee shop Trident Booksellers. It’s a great spot for a cheap but happening brunch, too.
For used fiction, I’m going to go out on a limb and say there is no where better than Boomerang’s back room in Jamaica Plain. Sure, it’s a thrift store primarily but I’ve come across almost everything on my to do read list there at one point. The Brattle Bookshop wins for the beauty of outside used books browsing in an alley downtown, and for editions of early books full of intricate illustrations. Raven Used Books is the best and smartest used bookstore I’ve ever been to: it’s full of literary and academic gems just calling out to my wallet. You can find it both Newbury Street (better for fiction), Harvard Square (better for academic and non-fiction.), and North Hampton in Western Mass when you start wandering west, you pilgrim.
Odds and Ends:
I have a special spot in my heart for Black Ink in Harvard Square or Beacon Hill for the finding the best offbeat gift, card, or special thing you are lusting after. KitchenWare on Newbury is a go to for the home cook, and Berks in Harvard Square was for all my leather booted needs. Cardullo’s in Harvard Square for fancy provisions and gifts because to this day my mom swears she worked for Mr Cardullo back in her waitressing days and that he was a real piece of work.
Artifactori on Beacon Hill was a go to for browsing. The Goodwill on Comm Ave, is a perfect place to pick up discarded gems by the Boston University youth. Oona’s in Harvard Square is for everything you dreamed your vintage closet could be someday. The Closet on Newbury Street is the best deal for upscale items on the cheap. Not for the faint of heart but the dedicated thrifter, nothing beats combing the racks of Urban Renewal in Allston.
I also feel it is time to reveal a Massachusetts suburban secret: If you can make it out of the city via plane, train, or automobile head to the Fitchburg Salvation army. That place is a viable mecca and regional landing place for all things wonderful.
I tend to always find myself searching for the cheapest of anything that I can eat, so most of my life in Boston was informed by this eternal bargain hunter ethic.
New Saigon sandwich in Chinatown for bahn mi, graciously eaten in the grass of the common. Clover Food lab in Harvard Square has a place in my heart because no matter the multitude of food trucks turned brick and mortar I love that you can sit, drink a beer, and order a fairly cheap falafel plate for dinner with fries. The seasonal salad gets me every time.
For imbibing, I always ended up at Grendel’s Den to feel like a college kid, Deep Ellum for a fancy cocktail and silent movies, or Tasty burger in Fenway because you can easily eat at the bar while watching Boston sports without being too obvious. Secret sports viewing is vital.
My life blood is coffee so this was my trio: The Thinking Cup for Stumptown to put on airs, Algiers Coffee house because it reminds me of New York City’s Cafe Reggio where I can linger for a long time without buying much and 1369 to read and people watch in Central Square.
At a bit more mid-range, I always found myself gravitating to The Salty Pig so I could build a board of pig parts plus a fancy pizza with more pig parts. Pig is key.
There are so many things I love about Boston that are off the tourist beaten track: the Copley library courtyard in summer, that you can walk the emerald necklace through Jamaica Plain all the way to the Common, that part of the esplanade where kayakers come in through this hidden seeming waterway, walking the Mass Ave bridge all the way into Cambridge because you can, movies at The Brattle or The Coolige Corner Theater, the view of the harbor from the ICA at night, that part of the Red Line where it emerges on the Longfellow bridge and everyone is compelled to look out at the Charles river no matter their curmudgeonry, picking just one gallery to spend the day in at the MFA, when you cross from the garden into the common and that particular slope of Beacon HIll sits on the horizon, the certain stretch of Route 2 where the city comes into view for the first time as you’re driving east.
Farther a field: deCordova is a hidden gem of modern art and rolling sculpture park greens, West Concord has the best bread and sandwiches in a cozy shop, and Mass Moca is worth that zip car trip out west. And for the record, I actually love the cold, rocky New England beaches north of the city.
See you soon Massachusetts for the holidays! You’re swell.