Harvard notwithstanding, some incredibly bright folks attend that other top Cambridge college, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Kendall Square. The architecture of its various buildings is wildly diverse, ranging from the neoclassical walls of Building Ten to some striking modern structures by the likes of I.M. Pei and Frank Gehry. At the heart of it all, cutting through the center of campus and radiating out from under the university’s imposing dome, is the so-called “Infinite Corridor,” a long passage—punctuated by unexpected art installations—that connects many of the institute’s departments. MIT doesn’t have the same connection with Kendall Square that Harvard has with its eponymous square, so the area lacks a striking identity. But you’ll find some good bars and restaurants here, as well as a popular arthouse cinema, the Kendall Square Cinema.
Where to go in Kendall Square
Blame it on the alcohol: owner Lucy Valena started a mobile espresso bar back in 2008 thanks to a loan from the Sam Adams Brewery. Her venture has since morphed into a brick-and-mortar shop that doubles as an art gallery. (Exhibitions generally run for six weeks at a time.) The varieties of flavored latte include such enticing options as lime peel & agave or molasses & lemon zest. With white walls sporadically splattered in bright blues and pinks, Voltage looks colorfully modern, like an Apple store that fell into a fireworks display. Try out the “Atticus Finch”—you won’t be disappointed.
Leaving behind the diner/bar legacy of its predecessor, the B-Side Lounge, Lord Hobo has embraced the booze-snob trend, bringing Cambridge locals quality after-work cocktails and late night micro-brewed pints--at a cost. Still, the clientele that crowds the dim space is an interesting mix of young professionals, Inman Square-based indie kids and MIT students.
While many of the area’s bars fill up on weekend nights, there’s seemingly always a spot for you at Abigail’s long bar. The underrated cocktail spot has something for everyone—ranging from “Lite N’ Easy” offerings like the Pimm’s Cup to the party-starting (or, depending on your tolerance, night-ending) Hadron Collider—a half-pint of stout, a shot of Jameson and a glass of champagne. The bartenders are friendly and knowledgeable and there’s even patio seating in the warmer months.
The tiny, beloved bar area at restaurant Hungry Mother eventually led to the opening of sibling State Park, a full scale bar nearby. You can split a pitcher of Tom Collins with friends at the indoor shuffleboard table or jukebox. Or grab a seat at the bar and focus on what’s really important—drinking. The cocktail list is a bit short, but the knowledgeable bartenders will make anything you ask for.
West Bridge’s soaring yet cozy space is one of the area’s great successes when it comes to softening the office-block feel of Kendall Square’s many restaurants. It traffics in inventive and expertly created dishes made for sharing, with a menu divided between appetizer-sized small plates, larger entrees and entrees meant to feed two to three. The Egg in a Jar (a duck egg baked in a mason jar with hen of the woods mushrooms and potato puree, $12) is a cult favorite small plate, and it sits on the menu alongside options like lamb belly with juniper and pear ($13), gnocchi with goat cheese ($11) and mushrooms with burgundy snails ($13). Plaid-shirted bartenders are quick to recommend a cocktail if you’re not sure what you’d like—and the rotating tap list has been known to include sparklier options like prosecco.
A source of second-hand and vintage threads for cash-strapped students and rockers since the 1980s, Garment District shares its crumbling warehouse premises with a costume shop—the perfect combination if you're off to a fancy-dress party. On the ground floor is the fabled Dollar-a-Pound—literally a pile of clothes, shoes, belts, bags and assorted junk dumped in a pile on the floor. It's a rummager's dream, but due to inflation, you'll actually pay $1.50 a pound. Head upstairs for a vast array of second-hand jeans, branded clothing and vintage attire, some of it unworn—we loved the immaculate 1950s PJs.
The long line snaking back from these cheerfully-colored trucks is a testament to its delicious, veggie-packed Vietnamese menu, as is its newly opened brick and mortar post in Kendall Square (1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge, Mon-Sat, 11am–8pm). Sandwiches are prepared with barbecue pork, grilled chicken or tofu and shitake mushrooms, stuffed into a crusty baguette with pickled carrots, daikon radishes and spicy mayonnaise. Or opt for lighter fare like a rice bowl or noodle salad, and make sure to try the insanely refreshing Thai-basil limeade.
Boston is a pretty serious beer town - and Cambridge has never been one to be outdone. Thus, the Cambridge Brewing Company approaches the task of drawing beer geeks to its bar with panache, brewing classic styles such as the Regatta Golden, as well as bolder cask-conditioned brews and seasonals like the Arquebus Barleywine. Grab a seat on the nifty patio and enjoy a sampling session.