With its population split between BU students, hipsters and working-class families, Allston doesn't exactly scream destination. But trust us—beneath that veneer of spilled PBR and curling hardcore show posters lies a wealth of hidden gems. Street icon Mr. Butch may be gone and the Allston Cafe and Harper's Ferry shuttered, but there are still plenty of cheap eats and great music venues in the ’hood.
Where to eat and drink in the North End
Equal Exchange Café
You can't get more crunchy-granola conscientious than this organic, fair-trade North End café. Expect a label denoting the place of origin for almost every menu item, including the coffee beans, which come from as far afield as Nicaragua and Uganda. The food is entirely local, with sandwiches from Danish Pastry House, bagels from Iggy's and baked goods from Haley House, Glutenus Minimus and Totally Sweet. The spicy hot chocolate has a kick to it, while the cappuccinos deliver some deliciously malty undertones. Equal Exchange also serves surprisingly tasty tofu spring rolls.
Music and nightlife in Downtown Boston
Catering to an upscale, international crowd, Bijou draws dance DJs with the same kind of cache. Arrive early (around 10 or 11pm) if you don't want to wait in line—or worse, not get in at all. The space is small and intimate, but often loud and crowded. Go for the dancing and, if you're feeling spendy, reserve a VIP table ahead of time to really live it up among the posher set.
The Wilbur Theatre
When the big names in comedy come to Boston, you'll find them at the Wilbur. Since the closing of the Comedy Connection in 2008, the Wilbur is your best bet if you want to see nationally renowned comics like Jim Gaffigan, Lisa Lampanelli, Patton Oswalt, and Margaret Cho. The room is classy, and has relatively recently acquired a liquor license (we all know that this is key), and it’s always exciting to see a great comedian in a packed 1,100-seat theater. Spring for the floor-level seats if you are tall (see: above 5'6"), as the balcony does not afford a lot of legroom.
The name has changed, but the song remains the same. The cul-de-sac of clubbery that is Boylston Place is a reliable hot spot on weekends, and the Estate (formerly Mansion) holds its own as the strip's largest space. Hip hop and mashups make up the bulk of the playlist, and the interior boasts lots of leather, fireplaces and balconies.
Arts and culture in Back Bay
The Mapparium at the Mary Baker Eddy Library
Here's proof that Boston really is at the centre of the universe, or at least the world. The Mapparium—the world's largest walk-in globe—is among the city's quirkiest landmarks. Located at the Mary Baker Eddy Library in the Christian Science Plaza, it is, essentially, a three-story model of the globe built to scale. The perfect sphere runs 30 feet in diameter, traversed by way of the glass bridge that bisects its interior. It's a somewhat eccentric proposition in itself, but several unusual features up the oddball quotient considerably.For one thing, there are the weird acoustics. Sound bounces off the globe room's non-porous glass walls, amplifying it tenfold. The effect is pleasantly hallucinatory—whispers across the room register directly in your ear. Another idiosyncratic feature is the map itself. Instead of depicting the world's current geography, the 608 stained-glass panels recreate the planet as it was in the mid 1930s, when the project was completed. Most of the borders are outdated; several of the countries shown have long since been swallowed up by larger, hungrier, hardier entities. It is, as the piped-in voice overhead reminds us, "a world that no longer exists."Built in 1935 for the then-astronomical sum of $35,000, the Mapparium was originally conceived as a symbol of the Christian Science Monitor's global audience. Its creator, Boston-based architect Chester Lindsay Churchill, designed the rest of the library as well. Ironically, it's the map's obsolescence t
Boston Public Library
The BPL is actually two libraries. The original structure, designed by Charles McKim and completed in 1895, is now the research library, while an extension opened in 1972 to function as a general library. Frequented by local students and casual book-browsers, the complex is well worth visiting. Most days you can join an informal art and architecture tour conducted by volunteers (call for times), but the labyrinthine structure is a joy to get lost in as well. At the center of the building is the cloistered courtyard, with its central fountain—a tranquil place to linger. Bates Hall (the expansive second-floor reading room named after an early benefactor) runs the entire length of the library, and features a majestic barrel-arched ceiling. Another highlight is John Singer Sargent's recently restored epic mural, the Triumph of Religion, which dominates the third floor gallery; there are also murals by 19th-century French painter Puvis de Chavannes, among others. The modern wing of the library—which echoes its parent's materials, lines and proportions in a modernist vocabulary—has had its critics but has aged well.
The best shopping in the South End
Table & Tulip
Need further proof that the South End is London writ small? A visit to this tucked-away gem will transport you to Notting Hill. Andrea Halliday’s full-service floral enclave charms with seasonal arrangements (flowering branches, fringed poppies, peonies) as well as vertical planters and flower chandeliers. Weekly house deliveries carry SAD sufferers through the winter months, while brides revel in Halliday’s passion and attention to detail.
Opened by a mother-daughter duo, this South End boutique is the perfect place for ladies of all ages to try on girly wares from hard-to-find designers, with an emphasis on proprietor favorite Lauren Moffatt. Tucked away just off the main drag of Tremont Street, the shop's rustic, whimsical decor is positively enthralling.
Marc Hall Objekt
If you can’t afford the South End condo, at least spring for the sophisticated floral trappings at this SoWa shop. Hall, a renowned event designer, offers stunning botanicals and bulbs as well as antique and modern vessels and a choice selection of home goods, including candles, lighting and antique mirrors. Regular floral workshops mean you can replicate Hall’s genius at home.