The Secrets of Authentic Beantown

Secret 1: Bostonians don’t call it Beantown.

Kara Baskin
Sep 25, 2018 · 8 min read

Photographs by Nico Therin
Illustration by Daniel Triendl

Bloc Cafe in Union Square features freshly baked bread and Intelligentsia Coffee.

SUMMER IS WHEN Bostonians crawl out into the daylight, shed their L.L. Bean field jackets, and, after a long slushy winter, do something you wouldn’t expect to see in quaint and academic New England: They frolic. You’ll see them on Lansdowne Street drinking beah and complaining about the Sahx, or in line at Rancatore’s for an ice cream cone, or camped in the shade on one of the rolling hills at deCordova Sculpture Park. So go on, join the wicked-cool parade. Let the butter from a fresh lobster roll trickle down your wrist. Discover the magic of America’s birthplace.

Watch This Neighborhood: Summertime in Somerville

SOMERVILLE HAS LONG BEEN KNOWN as the birthplace of Marshmallow Fluff and…that’s basically it. But in the grand tradition of fallow neighborhoods turning into fertile homes for artists, musicians, and eccentrics — and, this being Boston, college kids — Somerville’s physical and spiritual center, Union Square, has roared back to life. This spring the neighborhood welcomed a shiny new micro-bazaar, Bow Market, home to more than 30 vendors. Marshmallow Fluff, we see you, and we raise you organic wine, premium hangover food, and “mantiques.”

The Caffeine Fix: Bloc Cafe
“Cozy, strong coffee, great sandwiches. I go most Sundays to drink too much coffee and write.”Randy Ross, performer, Airbnb Experience host

Bow Street: The Seven-Stop Walking Tour

Remnant Brewing

Sip barrel-aged sours at the market’s centerpiece beer garden, from local brewing vets of Castle Island and Harpoon.

Celeste

This bright sliver of Peru opened earlier this year and already has a loyal crew of expats watching soccer and drinking pisco sours.

Head to newly opened Celeste for lomo saltado and ceviche.

Blue Bandana Relics

Owner Keith Tate calls his stock “mantiques”: anything that captures rugged, manly, semi-ironic Americana.

High Energy Vintage

Plunder this boutique for cool vintage footwear, quirky tees, retro vinyl, and old-school video games.

High Energy Vintage is always stocked with loads of secondhand finds.

The Comedy Studio

Harvard Square’s fun house gets a new home in Somerville. Go for the 10 p.m. show on Saturday night for max rowdiness.

Hot Box

Regional cuisine reigns at this walk-up stand that doubles as a hangover clinic and munchies solution (mmm, sliced roast beef).

Casa B

This dark, bi-level spot is charming for a drink and a snack upstairs, but if you know what’s what, you’ll reserve a downstairs table for tapas.

Rum mixing at Casa B.

Where the Chefs Eat

At Pammy’s in Cambridge, the lighting is so perfect that it makes the best Wagyu short rib you’ve ever had taste even better. Glowing orbs fill the room and dangle over the bar like teardrops, all set to a wattage of such precise warmth, it’s as if it were calculated over at MIT. The restaurant is run by married fine-dining vets (he’s the chef, she’s the Pammy). Sit at the communal table that bisects the floor and you’ll feel like you’re eating over at their house.

Swing by Pammy’s for American-slash-Italian favorites.

Food & Drink: East Boston Food Crawl

The city’s best-kept culinary secret, according to Airbnb Experience hosts Molly Ford and Sarah Jesup, bloggers at the Food Lens, sits right next door to Logan airport, where old Italian meets…old Irish (and new tacos).

KO Catering & Pies

You can’t go wrong with the Irish beef stew with a floater at this harborfront shanty dishing out Aussie meat pies. (FYI: The floater is the gravy. Get it.)

Rino’s Place

Perfect red-sauce Italian, especially clutch if you land midday and crave lobster ravioli.

Santarpio’s

Boston’s finest pizza outside the North End since 1903: well-charred crust like a Neapolitan, foldable like a New York slice.

Taqueria Jalisco

Tacos nearly as good as SoCal. (Promise.) Try the tender beef tongue.

Find the 12-bar stool Baldwin Bar on the first floor of the Baldwin Mansion.

Where the Barkeeps Drink: Beah Heah!

RAN DUAN runs two of the Boston area’s best cocktail spots, the Baldwin Bar and Blossom Bar, known for its tiki drinks and Sichuan food. His picks:

Deep Ellum

A late-night hang and gluttonous indulgence: poutine, house sausages, plus beers on tap.

Matt Murphy’s

For some reason, their Guinness just tastes better. Also, they make their own ketchup!

J.J. Foley’s in the South End

“It’s like Cheers! So much history, walls packed with artifacts. It could be a museum.” — Stephanie Schorow, Airbnb Experience host, author of Drinking Boston: A History of the City and Its Spirits

Where the Chefs Eat: Ice Cream Edition

CHEF ANA SORTUN is a star on the scene for her trio of Mediterranean spots — Oleana, Sarma, and Sofra — but her one true love? Ice cream. “There’s something about the tradition and history in Boston,” she says. “Ice cream feels richer.” Try her Greek yogurt soft-serve at Sarma, then try these five next.

Patrons line up at Dairy Joy for its signature soft-serve.

1/ Christina’s in Inman Square

Endlessly original flavors at this Cambridge spot. Sortun’s pick: ginger molasses.

2/ Dairy Joy

This roadside stand offers soft-serve coffee-and-raspberry twist. Sortun likes hers dipped in a chocolate shell.

3/ Gracie’s

Sortun endorses the chai chip at this goofy-flavor spot: Salty whiskey! Honey cornbread! (Pumpkin squash?)

4/ Kimball Farm

Sortun loves the “coffee turtle”: vanilla ice cream, coffee, caramel, chocolate sauce, and a cardiogram.

5/ Rancatore’s

Go to the original shop in Belmont for the biggest test of your faith in Sortun’s taste: orange fennel. Courage.

There are 30 acres of art at deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum to explore.

Museums: Outsider Art

Boston is home to your classic bangers, like the Museum of Fine Arts, but there’s also a quirkier set of institutions that you can only find here.

deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum

Forty minutes outside Boston but worth every mile, you’ll find this lush park filled with Technicolor artworks placed like jewels in the grass.

Institute of Contemporary Art

Like a giant glass VR headset stretching to the very edge of the harbor, this bright, airy light box was built by starchitect firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro­ — its first building in America.

Larz Anderson Auto Museum

A tiny collection on the hilltop of a park in Brookline — just 14 cars, but the oldest dates from 1899.

Sailing on the harbor is a quintessential Boston experience.

Before You Go

READ

Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane
Pretty much anything by Lehane, Boston’s poet laureate of crime novels, will get you nice and soaked in the New England atmospherics — but you might as well start with the best and bleakest.

WATCH

The Brink’s Job, with Peter Falk
“It shows the spirit of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s in Boston. It shows people who rooted for outlaws as heroes.”Stephanie Schorow, Airbnb Experience host

LISTEN

Blow Your Face Out, by the J. Geils Band.Randy Ross, performer and Airbnb Experience host James and Livingston Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Aerosmith, Peter Wolf. — Ralph Jaccodine, Berklee College of Music faculty and Airbnb Experience host

Live Music: Pixie Dust

RYAN WALSH, front man of the local band Hallelujah the Hills and author of Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968, about how Boston helped inspire Van Morrison’s seminal album, shares his favorite venues in the city that gave us the Pixies, the Dropkick Murphys, and, uh, Boston.

Great Scott

If you’re searching for New England’s version of the Roadhouse from Twin Peaks (which is an actual inn, by the way), this is the place to wind up: eclectic bills and a feeling like you’ve been here before, and an apt home in grungy Allston.

Paradise Rock Club

This 933-person stalwart off the Green Line in Brookline is surrounded by Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, and MIT. Which is why every good band plays here.

Midway Cafe has been going strong for 30 years.

Midway Cafe

A beautifully ragged dive bar in Jamaica Plain that caters to Queeraoke sing-alongs, Grateful Dead cover bands, plus heaps of newbies and upstarts tearing up the stage.

The Sinclair

This relatively new venue in Harvard Square is stripped down to the barest bones, and is a place to see edgier, emerging talents like Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen, and ­Waxahatchee.

Toad

Don’t be deceived by this shoebox-size room in Inman Square — with the right band and audience, it can feel like a stadium raver. Catch the band Fandango every Wednesday night for R&B ­covers and dancing.

Club Passim

More of a live music laboratory than a club, this Cambridge spot is the kind of place where you could see the same folk (or jazz) act today that your uncle saw in 1968. Tons of history, and it still sounds great inside.

About the author: Kara Baskin is a reporter who works primarily with the Boston Globe, writing about food and culture, and as a contributing editor at Boston magazine. She used to be the Boston editor for New York Magazine’s food website, Grub Street. She has also written for The New York Times, Washington Post, and Time. She grew up outside of Boston and think lobster rolls deserve mayo, not butter.

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