By Kelley Granger
Beacon Hill residences blossom within walking distance of the Liberty Hotel
After an easy three hour drive across Route 84 and I-90, I was ready to enjoy an 80-degree spring afternoon taking in the best of Boston – but I hadn’t anticipated the road closures and traffic obstacles in the city on this balmy Sunday. An hour later, ditching the car was the first thing on my mind and the $42 overnight parking fee in Beacon Hill was sounding more like salvation than swindling.
Though most famously known as Beantown (for the colonial ubiquity of baked beans, apparently), Boston is also known as the Walking City, and for good reason aside from vehicular frustration – navigable neighborhoods are interspersed with parks, walkways, and bicycle paths. And going by foot is the best way to take in the symphony of colors that is Boston springtime – Magnolia and Cherry trees blossom, tulips spring up in bold and dazzling colors and Japanese Tree Lilacs bloom bushes of delicate, creamy white flowers.
Luckily, my accommodations for the evening were only a 10 minute walk away from Boston Common and the Public Garden, where one can take in much of the budding season. The Liberty Hotel is nestled along the Charles River and rises above Beacon Hill in formidably fashionable architectural style. It’s hard to believe that the gorgeous building was once a prison – built in 1851, the granite structure was the Charles Street Jail prior to its $150 million reincarnation as a luxury hotel. One look at the lobby, and you’ll be ready to cry “Give me Liberty, or give me death!” like Patrick Henry. Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but so is the interior design. In an effort to maintain at least 30 percent of the original structure as required by the National Register of Historic Places, the hotel lobby features the original catwalks and banisters that belonged to the jail, effortlessly combining prison and concrete-like elements with high design (think exposed brick, wrought iron chandeliers, mug shot murals and more). The tower section of the hotel was built new, and floor-to-ceiling windows in the guestrooms feature incredible views of the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, the river and other sections of the city. If you’re in town on a Thursday night, don’t miss the Liberty’s Fashionably Late – a new weekly fashion show that highlights the wares of local boutiques (ex. Hudson Jeans) and takes place in a packed lobby, where hotel guests and locals flock to see the models strutting their stuff and making use of the prison catwalk for, well, a catwalk. Afterward, you can rub elbows with the mug shots of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan at Alibi, the hotel’s cocktail lounge and one of the hottest spots in the city.
Stepping outside the Liberty, the Esplanade awaits just across the street and winds for three miles along the Boston shore, offering scenic strolls, bike paths, a number of memorials and statues and more. Sailing and kayaking is available at the Community Boating center and a discount is offered for Liberty guests. The Beacon Hill neighborhood is also a great walk – check out the historic 19th century brick row houses (many of which feature wonderful small-space landscaping ideas) and the shopping and cafes on Charles Street (try a slice of Boston’s best thin-crust pie at the Upper Crust pizza shop). If you want to be a bit more voyeuristic in your garden viewing, 12 of Beacon Hill’s private gardens will open up to the public for this year’s Hidden Gardens Tour one day only, on May 21 (visit http://www.beaconhillgardenclub.org for tickets and more information). Continuing down Charles Street, you’ll run right into the Public Garden and Boston Common, which is the oldest public park in the country and a great place to bring a blanket and picnic basket and listen to a bongo and acoustic guitar jam, sunbathe or nap under a gigantic, hundreds-of-years-old tree.
The lobby at Nine Zero, where the complimentary wine hour is held, and the Granary
To mix it up a bit, I spent the next night on Tremont Street at Nine Zero Hotel, which is even closer to Boston Common. The hotel, which is all about promoting its swanky design, has a happening lobby where it hosts a complimentary wine hour each evening at 5 p.m. Even rolling in during later hours, the lobby level is throbbing with hip music. While the guestrooms are beyond comfortable and a generously sized bathroom is stocked with my favorite Aveda amenities (the invigorating rosemary mint scent), the eye-popping stripes and some of the materials can feel a bit clunky in the rooms. Open the closet and you’ll find Karen Neuberger pajama sets and comfy socks for sale and a satchel of Mario Russo hair care products to buy from the bathroom. Before you begin despairing that none of these extras are free, take note that the hotel does offer some unexpected perks, like in-room yoga via a special television channel (and they’ll deliver a basket containing yoga essentials to your room).
Best of all, this spot is close to history and some nightlife options. Across the street is the Granary Burying Ground, a cemetery established in 1660 that houses some of Boston’s (and the United States’) most famed forefathers, including Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and more. For dinner, drinks or evening entertainment, check out 6B Lounge around the corner on Beacon Street – they have a killer turkey club sandwich and signature Cosmopolitan that’s concocted with peach vodka and fresh peach puree. On Sundays, the open mic night is an amusing mix of music, comedy and other random acts.
If you prefer a more upscale dining experience, follow Tremont Street to the South End and you’ll find a trendy neighborhood that houses Tremont 647, where the “adventurous American” cuisine is a hit (imagine a place where you can get rosemary scented, fontina stuffed tater tots and a bottle of biodynamically farmed wine). Every Tuesday, enjoy the stylish, dim atmosphere while indulging in $2 tacos, or late night dim sum from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. Thursday through Sunday. Cocktails, like the watermelon margarita, are banging, but if you have the urge to explore more don’t miss the espresso martini and extensive wine list at Aquitaine French Bistro (just down the road at 569 Tremont).
A spring getaway in Boston is a refreshing break in a city that is so welcoming to visitors that as soon as I opened my map, I was often stopped by locals asking if I needed directions (though I assume this may be different if you visit wearing Yankee paraphernalia). Getting lost in this city is a joy, so try going without an agenda, or try one of these walks:
The Norman B. Leventhal Walk to the Sea
Starting from the State House in Beacon Hill, trace four centuries of Boston history and numerous landmarks on the way to Long Wharf at Boston Harbor. Download a map of the mile-long walk at http://www.walktothesea.com.
The Freedom Trail
Walk the path of the American Revolution on this 2.5 mile trail that takes you past 16 national historic sites. Information is available at http://www.thefreedomtrail.org.
The Boston Spirits Walking Tour
If you’re more into “frightseeing,” as one company coined it, check out the walking tours that explore the gruesome history of hangings in Boston Common, the ghostly hotelier at the Omni Parker House and more. Visit http://www.newenglandghosttours.com for tickets and times.
The Liberty Hotel
215 Charles St.
Boston, MA 02114
Nine Zero Hotel
90 Tremont St.
Boston, MA 02108