Hipster Boston: Forget Brooklyn, Beantown is trendy without even trying
On The Town
Forget Brooklyn. Vicki Notaro explores an Irish-American heartland that has become trendy without even trying.
When it comes to hipster 'hoods in the US, Brooklyn usually springs to mind. Williamsburg, to be precise - although any real hipster worth their salt knows that Billyburg is totally over, and it's all about Red Hook right now. Another guess might be Austin, Texas or Portland, Oregon. Both are at the forefront of the young, urban creative movement and bursting with taco restaurants, whiskey bars and flea markets (oh, and people wearing glasses ironically).
There is another city making a surprising play for the hipster crown of the east, however. Boston has always been seen as uber-traditional, a place where Irish emigrants have settled in their hundreds of thousands, and as close to the Emerald Isle as it gets in the States. But there's no mistaking its recent resurgence of cool. Boston is visibly buzzing, and the hipster vibes are spreading from Cambridge (always a hotspot as the location of Harvard University) to infiltrate the entire city. The thing with Boston though, is that it's not trying hard to be cool. It just is.
Let's be honest. Bostonians are a certain breed. They're wild about the Red Sox and will never trade their Dunkin's for artisan coffee. But the things that they've always thought cool are now at the crest of a hipster wave. Craft beer, for example - the current trendiness of which can be credited to Jim Koch, who introduced the Boston Beer Company and its Samuel Adams brew in 1984. Always experimenting with different ales and lagers, this microbrewery (samueladams.com) is not to be missed - and it's in the very hip neighbourhood of Jamaica Plains, reminiscent of Dublin's Smithfield.
Doughnuts are also very cool, having replaced cupcakes as the most Instagram-worthy confectionery there is. Needless to say, Bostonians have been fans of Dunkin's finest for decades. You'll find a DD on pretty much every corner, but if you want to get ahead of the dessert curve, head to Mike's Pastry (mikespastry.com) in the North End for some cannoli. The traditional Italian pastry is popping up on hipster menus from London's Shoreditch to DUMBO in Brooklyn, but it's been causing queues in Boston's own version of Little Italy for years.
This city is fantastic to visit any time of year, but crisp, leafy New England has a reputation for being at its most beautiful in the fall. It's the kind of region that has proper seasons, each distinctive and wonderful, and Boston is no exception. Strolling through the amber-tinged Common is an absolute pleasure. It's also the setting for our hotel - the Revere, a bustling hub that's slick, friendly and full of attractive people. On arrival, we're presented with sparkling cider (the new Prosecco?) and shown to a room with a curious, and very welcome, combination of minimalist aesthetics and expensive fittings.
From here, it's a short walk across Boston Common to The Paramount restaurant (paramountboston.com). Hipster giveaway No.1 - there's a queue out the door. But it moves quickly, and we're soon munching on a beard-lover's brunch staple of eggs, avocado and erm... sweet potato fries. As a pooch lover, I notice that there are dogs everywhere in Boston too (the Revere is dog-friendly). I also notice a theme - every furry friend I stop to pet is a hybrid, crossed with some kind of poodle. Very hipster.
Another thing that Boston is crawling with is pubs. Mass immigration from these parts will do that to a place. But after delicious grub at Deep Ellum (deepellum-boston.com), we find ourselves in the area not expecting to find anywhere particularly cool to drink. We're wrong. Carrie Nation (carrienationcocktailclub.com) is a Prohibition-era cocktail bar merely a stone's throw from the ornate State House, and makes superb Old Fashioneds.
The next day, feeling a little worse for wear, we leave the Revere and wander down a residential side street. Thereupon we stumble across a tiny joint, five minutes away from the main street, that promises the best breakfast we could imagine. There's a queue outside Mike & Patty's (facebook.com/MikePattys), but by now we've learned that bodes well.
What follows is THE best sandwich I have ever eaten - and dear reader, I have eaten more than my fair share. Fried egg, bacon, cheddar, avocado, red onion, mayo and relish on toasted multigrain, washed down with iced coffee, 'The Fancy' sure lives up to its name. Afterwards, we learn it's been awarded the honour of Best Breakfast Sandwich in the city from Boston Magazine.
We finish our flying visit with a sojourn to Somerville, Boston's hipster epicentre. We hit The Hub (hubcomics.com), a comic book shop that wouldn't be out of place in Berlin, go bowling and eat pizza at Sacco's (45 Day St) on Davis Square, and sink cocktails at backbar (backbarunion.com), highly rated on Yelp and evidently cool due to its lack of a capital letter.
Boston is trendy without trying. Unlike Brooklyn, where you simply can't avoid the hipster shtick, here you have to go looking for it. And strangely, the whole scene feels more friendly and accessible for it.
What to pack
Warm layers. New England can get very cold in the autumn and winter, and snow is the norm at some point during the season (exactly when is open to interpretation). There's lots to do indoors though, so wear things that can be peeled off and put back on again.
We shan’t deny that Christmas is coming. NYC is famous as the east coast shopping destination of choice, but with Faneuil Hall Marketplace (and its year round Christmas shop), the Prudential Center and the Cambridgeside Galleria, even the most ardent shopaholic will be sated in Boston.
Fenway Park. The baseball season has ended, which means no Red Sox games until 2016, but the iconic park holds daily tours. It’s been the setting for lots of famous films (Remember The Town’s climactic scene?), and sells delicious burgers and hot dogs year round. See boston.redsox.mlb.com
Cambridge is a beautiful town just across the river from Boston itself, and easily accessible by the T (their version of the DART). A town filled with students of Harvard, you can visit the gorgeous campus, drink in student bars (that don’t scream student at all) and wander around the pretty town centre. It’s even prettier in Autumn. See harvardtour.com
Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies to Boston's Logan Airport daily from Dublin, with prices from €249 each way. See also visitbostonusa.com.
Where to stay
The Revere Hotel (reverehotel.com) costs from $179/€158 per night for a double, room only, in November and December. The boutique five-star's proximity to Boston Common, indoor heated swimming pool and attached bar and restaurant make it an attractive choice in the city.