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This isn’t just any square mile, mind you. Few cities can boast
a mile with such a rich concentration of history, nightlife,
shopping and hotels. This mile, encompassing much of the Downtown
Crossing neighborhood, starts at the eastern edge of Boston Common
near the final resting place of Paul Revere, and runs east to the
spiffed-up South Station where high-speed trains and new airport
connections start, and north to the restaurants of Faneuil Hall and
the waters off Long Wharf. In between is the Old South Meeting
House where, in 1773, angry colonists declared “No tax on tea!”
launching the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution. It is
an exciting, walkable area, the heart of the financial district and
of tourism, and thus the centerpiece of any visit to Boston,
business or pleasure.
And make no mistake, the city is getting more than its share of
both business and leisure visitors these days. In the past five
years, the number of tourist visits to Boston has grown steadily.
In 1999, there were 14.56 million, rising to 16.28 million in 2004.
Projections by the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau
are for 2005 visits to reach 16.7 million, a 3 percent rise. The
addition of low-cost carriers Jet Blue and Song into Logan airport,
and a supply of hotel rooms that grew by 3.1 percent in 2004 and
5.4 percent in 2003 has certainly helped the city’s tourism
industry as well. Domestic travelers accounted for 75 percent of
total spending and leisure travel spending outstripped business
travel spending, all of which means if you don’t currently have a
client looking to book a Boston vacation, there’s a good chance you
will have one soon.
So here’s a look at the city’s ground zero a square mile of
Classic and Contemporary
There’s no shortage of hotels in our square mile, and on top of
any list has to be the six-year-old XV Beacon, at the base of
Beacon Hill on the edge of the Common. Located in a former
turn-of-the-20th-century office building, the hotel is so chock
full of delightful surprises and touches of grace that it is an
attraction in and of itself. The 61 rooms all have fireplaces and
queen-size poster beds. Every room is individually designed and
each floor contains either a two-room suite or adjoining rooms that
can be converted into a two-room suite.
What amazed me most, however, was the stunning hotel restaurant,
The Federalist. Near the entrance hangs a Gilbert Stuart portrait
of a colonial bigwig. While the main floor is nice, groups of 10 to
45 people can, and should, ask for the large table in the wine
cellar. One wall is made of a tile fresco excavated from an ancient
Roman house, a stunning piece of opulence. Wines here include a
1907 bottle of Heidsieck Monopole salvaged from a schooner sunk by
a German U-Boat.
Just down the road, on Tremont Street, is the Nine Zero. Boston
is not immune to that breed of hotels that some call “boutique.”
Unfortunately, at many of these places, the operating principle
seems to be that if the owners put some nice toiletries in the
bathroom, a soft mattress pad on the bed and a martini shaker on
top of the mini-bar, they’ve suddenly turned a room the size of a
Motel 6 special into something worth charging $395 a night for. The
Nine Zero was booked solid on a weeknight in June, so this recipe
seems to be working.
To this formula the Nine Zero has added the ability to purchase
almost everything seen in the hotel, from bathrobes to sofas, on
its Web site. Of course, agents do not receive added commission if
the clients they booked into the hotel decide to drop $3,000 on a
sofa or $65 on a bathrobe.
The Nine Zero does make for a chic place to stay, and it
couldn’t be more conveniently located, across from the Common and
the main pick-up point for Trolley Tours. But the rooms are small
even my “Spectacular-class” room. (The rooms come in three classes:
“Intimate,” with one queen-size bed, “Fantastic,” a king bed, and
“Spectacular,” on the top three floors with a view.)
Service was adequate, even if there were some disappointments.
For instance, when I called the front desk to ask why there was no
switch to turn the fan off in the bathroom, I was told at first
that there was a switch, and it was my mistake that I couldn’t find
it. Then, after consulting with the hotel’s “engineer,” I was told
there was no switch because the fan could not be turned off. I kept
the bathroom door closed and told myself that the undying hum was
white noise for sleeping.
Personally, I’d rather stay in a solid landmark hotel like the
property next door, the Omni Parker House. This year marks the
150th anniversary of the 551-room hotel, making it America’s
longest continually operating hotel. John F. Kennedy made his first
public speech, at age seven, in the Press Room here the same place
where he later announced his candidacy for Congress (and where he
also had his bachelor party). Malcolm X was a busboy in the hotel
restaurant in the early 1940s, and Ho Chi Minh was a pastry chef
here from 1911-1913. The Boston Cream Pie was invented here, as was
the term scrod, meaning “catch of the day.” Undoubtedly, a stay
here makes for an only-in-Boston experience.
Recommended by the helpful people at the Greater Boston
Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the Boston Harbor Hotel can be
reached from Logan airport via a seven-minute ferry ride.
Complimentary services include shoe shines and a favorite newspaper
delivered daily. Rooms have harbor views, work desks, separate
seating areas, two-line speakerphones and high-speed Internet.
For pure consistency, the Wyndham Boston is another good bet. With
solid, no-nonsense rooms in a property located a block from Faneuil
Hall, it will satisfy most clients. Members of Wyndham’s ByRequest
program (anyone can join for free online), can customize the way
their rooms are set up, including asking for the towels to be
folded neatly on the foot of the bed.
While the Wyndam might not have much in the way of charm, the
Langham Hotel Boston, which is housed in a former Federal Reserve
Bank, certainly does. Built in 1922, the Renaissance Revival
structure has a granite and limestone facade with red awnings. When
it was turned into a hotel, a glass mansard roof was added,
allowing a third of the rooms to feature sloping glass windows that
look out onto the leafy Post Office Square park. Clients looking
for something different may be interested in the Langham’s
second-floor suites, which are lofts containing a living room
below, an upstairs sleeping loft and bathrooms on both floors.
The hotel’s formal restaurant, Julien, is wildly ornate in a
French style, with lots of gold and burgundy, and is named after
the city’s first French restaurant which opened on Post Office
Square in 1794.
In the Heart of the Action
A great complement to reservations at any of these hotels and a
solid opportunity to increase commissions is the Go Boston Card, an
all-inclusive pass to the city that includes admission to over 60
attractions, and discounts on shopping and dining, much of it in
the Downtown Crossing area. The card comes in one-, two-, three-
and five-day options, starting at $45 per adult and $25 per child
for one day and climbing to $115 for adults and $55 for children
for five days. Agents receive 10 percent commission.
Included in the card is a pass for the Beantown Trolley Tour
Boston, a bus tour run by Gray Line that allows people to hop on
and hop off at any stop along the way. Three of the 19 stops are in
Downtown Crossing. The buses will run clients to all those other
wonderful parts of Boston not mentioned here Cambridge, Back Bay
and Charlestown among them.
Also included in the pass is Duck Tours, a sightseeing ride
conducted on W.W.II-era amphibious vehicles which roll past
land-based sights before tucking their tires away and plunging into
the Charles River for a city-view cruise. It’s a unique way to tour
the city to be sure.
The card includes admission to the Old South Meeting House, the
Old State House Museum and Boston’s Children’s Museum. It grants a
15 percent discount on entrees at Cheers and 20 percent off
breakfast at the Elephant & Castle Pub.
The card also includes admissions to many of the attractions
along The Freedom Trail, a 2½-mile-long walking tour marked by a
wide brick line that connects 16 of Boston’s most historic sites.
Much of The Freedom Trail passes through Downtown Crossing the
Boston Massacre Site, Park Street Church and the Old Corner
Bookstore are all stops along the trail, which starts at the Boston
Common visitor center.
And in case anyone asks, Fenway Park, where the Red Sox play, is
just five quick stops away from Downtown Crossing on the
fun-to-experience “T” subway.
While there may be no guarantees on when the Red Sox will next
be in the World Series, for the foreseeable future the city of
Boston, as a destination, is a sure winner.
Langham Hotel Boston
Omni Parker House
For the best of Boston’s attractions, direct clients to take The
Freedom Trail out of downtown. It will stop first at the Old North
Church (yes, the “One if by land, two if by sea” church), then it
crosses the Charles River on the Charlestown Bridge and climbs
Bunker Hill, site of the monument commemorating the battle between
the American and British fought June 17, 1775 (where Americans
heard the order, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their
Once on the other side of the river, send clients over to
Harvard Square in Cambridge. Hot attractions in this little village
founded in 1630 are the old bookstores, one-of-a-kind boutiques,
like Black Magic Chimney and Fireplace on New Street, and the many
events including serenading the autumn equinox with RiverSing 2005
on Sept. 22, and a roiling Octoberfest celebration Oct. 2.
Back on the city side of the river, the Museum of Science on
Beacon Hill has updated itself with state-of-the-art dinosaur
exhibits, a special Discovery Center for children 5 and under and a
wraparound movie screen.
And in the thriving Back Bay neighborhood, there’s good old
Fenway Park where the Red Sox may or may not be playing in the
World Series again this October. Tickets are hard to come by, but
tours are available hourly, seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
or until three hours before game time, whichever is earlier.
Also in Back Bay is one of the strangest and entertaining sites
I’ve ever seen, the Maparium, a three-story hollow stained-glass
globe with a bridge through the center that has some astonishing
acoustics a whisper at one end can bounce off the glass walls and
sound like it’s right in your ear even if the person is 25 feet
Boston Red Sox: boston.redsox.mlb.com
The Freedom Trail: www.thefreedom trail.org
Harvard Square: www.harvardsquare.com
Museum of Science: www.mos.org
There I spotted Tia’s Seafood Restaurant and Bar. It was exactly
what I’d imagined, a harborside spot, hopping with an after-work
crowd and offering a classic Boston menu. I couldn’t decide what to
order. The fried fresh belly clams with coleslaw and French fries
sounded awfully good. But so did the one-pound lobster special. I
ordered both. With a pint of beer. Oh Lord was it good, the clams
tasting of the cold ocean and the crispy batter, the lobster meaty
and holding every ounce of melted butter it was dipped into. I ate
Afterward I said to myself, “Well I’m no Red Sox fan, but, you
know what? I like this town a lot.”
Downtown Crossing is full of taverns, trendy eateries and
tourist-friendly spots. On another night I ate at an outdoor
seafood restaurant (do you sense a theme?) at Faneuil Hall called
The Salty Dog. Not an original name, and when the fried fisherman’s
platter arrived it looked like it might be a typical mess of
formerly frozen fish. Aaargh!
But it weren’t no frozen fish! It be scrumptious! The fried
scallops were each as big and meaty as a filet mignon, the chunks
of cod as fresh as the magician delighting a crowd with his
juggling and his banter in the public square nearby.
Other places to recommend include the trendy Umbria Ristorante
Ultra Lounge, on Franklin Street, where the special one night was a
veal T-bone with pancetta mashed potatoes. On Devonshire Street is
the more downscale Elephant & Castle Pub, where the shepherd’s
pie is famous. The manager recommended I try a nightcap at her
father’s bar, The Littlest, which is on the block behind the Nine
Zero. The bar takes its name from the fact that it is the littlest
bar in Boston, about 100 square feet.
They manage to keep an ample supply of grog on hand,
www.brushhilltours.com (Beantown Trolley Tour)
www.bhh.com (Boston Harbor Hotel)
Umbria Ristorante Ultra Lounge (no website; 295 Franklin Street
The Barking Crab (no website; 88 Sleeper Street, 617-426-2722)