In the largest city in New England, there are exciting music venues, a floating oyster bar, and new artists and restaurants that show how diverse the city is.
There’s a new person greeting people who come to Boston. It belongs to a 3-year-old who is hunched over a boombox and wearing Velcro sneakers. She is the daughter of the artist Rob Gibbs. She stares straight ahead from a 70-foot-tall mural across from South Station, the city’s biggest train station.
Mr. Gibbs, who goes by the name ProBlak when he paints, is the first Black artist from Boston to be asked to work on the rotating Dewey Square mural. Mr. Gibbs was born and raised in Roxbury, and he has been painting walls in the city for a long time. “Breathe Life Together,” the new mural, will be up until May 2023. His art honors people in Boston who don’t get much attention, and it shows what his neighborhood and home are like. He said, “The best way for me to welcome people to the city is to make them a home-cooked meal.” “This is a meal made at home.”
It’s a way to welcome people back to New England’s largest city, where the number of visitors is almost as high as before the pandemic. In June, 81.8 percent of hotel rooms were occupied. This was not as high as June 2019 (89.8 percent), but it was a huge step up from the pandemic low of 5 percent. And travelers can get there without changing planes from 127 domestic and international cities. When they get there, they will find new art, new music venues, upscale dining options, and rethought hotels.
Installations and displays
In recent years, the Museum of Fine Arts has been interested in how art can help people talk to each other. After the murder of George Floyd and during a national reckoning with race, the museum’s retrospective of Philip Guston, a painter who often dealt with white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and violence in his work, was put on hold for two years so that the museum could rethink and reframe how it would be shown. The museum added things like trigger warnings and resources to help viewers prepare emotionally for the show. Many people in the art world were upset by the postponement. However, in May, the M.F.A. opened the show “Philip Guston Now,” which was praised by many for its thoughtful approach, while others questioned the need for such warnings.
The show will end on September 11, a week after the M.F.A. celebrates the opening of the “Obama Portraits Tour” (September 3 through October 30). This is the last stop in North America before the official presidential portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama go back to the National Portrait Gallery. Along with the Obama portraits, there will be more than 2,600 drawings, paintings, and photos from as far away as South Korea. They are part of a community project in which people were asked to draw a picture of a person who has been a leader in their lives.
At the opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, President Obama spoke about King’s dream of unity. Martin Luther King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, met in Boston when they were both students there. In January, Boston will put up a monument to them. “The Embrace,” a 20-by-40-foot sculpture made by the Brooklyn-based artist Hank Willis Thomas, will be put up on Boston Common, America’s oldest public park and one of the most visible places in the city.
Other new works of art are definitely more silly. Around Greater Boston in June, 10 tiny street scenes seemed to appear out of nowhere. An art group called AnonyMouse came up with the mouse-sized installations, like the tiny “Mouseum” in the Seaport. Since 2016, they have been making pop-ups all over Sweden. People of all ages have made scavenger hunts out of the storybook scenes.
Music venues are getting better.
During the pandemic, there wasn’t much live music in Boston. In 2021, concerts started popping up again, but people had to wear masks and show proof that they were vaccinated. Now concertgoers are back in full force, and Boston has two new places for them to go.
Ten years after opening Cambridge’s Sinclair, a music venue with great sound and clear views, the Bowery Presents hired the same team to design Roadrunner, a 3,500-seat music hall in Boston’s Brighton neighborhood. The venue, which opened in March and is open to everyone, has six bars and a modern, industrial-chic design. The 50,000-square-foot room has a 60-foot stage that can be seen from different levels. Olivia Rodrigo, Leon Bridges, and Lake Street Dive have already played there, and more than 30 acts are already booked for the fall.
When the MGM Music Hall at Fenway opens this month, small details like section numbers written on concrete poles will remind people that they are right next to America’s oldest baseball park. The venue can hold 5,000 people, which is more than twice as many as the nearby House of Blues, but it still feels small because the farthest seat is only 110 feet from the stage. The venue is a project of the Fenway Sports Group and Live Nation. Its creators say it fills a need in the Boston market. James Taylor plays there for two nights to open the music hall, and then Chris Stapleton, Bruno Mars, and Lil Nas X follow.
Craft beer and new restaurants
There are a lot of new places to eat, but perhaps the most popular is Contessa, which is on top of the recently reopened Newbury Hotel and serves Northern Italian food and has a great view. This is New York chef Mario Carbone’s first restaurant in Boston. It has both fancy and homey dishes, like squash carpaccio ($22) as an appetizer and scallops aglio olio pepperoncino ($46) as a main course.
When Maria Rondeau and JuanMa Calderón opened La Royal in February, they did it because they loved their neighborhood. The 48-seat restaurant is a block away from their home in Cambridge’s Huron Village. The menu is inspired by Mr. Calderón’s Peruvian roots and the staff’s Salvadoran heritage. The causa de pulpo, which is a potato terrine with octopus and costs $18, and the lomo soltado, which is stir-fried beef and costs $28, go well with the pisco cocktails, which start at $14.
The Tall Ship is docked on the water in East Boston. It is part oyster bar and part adult playground. With its wide views of the skyline and harbor, it feels both like Boston and like nothing the city has ever seen before. A raw bar on the 245-foot boat sells lobster tails for $40 and sushi rolls starting at $14. But the action is on the pier next to the ship, where there are lots of lawn games, frozen drinks for adults, and shipping containers turned into food stands where you can buy tacos ($17), sandwiches ($14), and food for kids.
High Street Place on the edge of the Financial District is a good place to try dishes from 20 of Boston’s best chefs. At the March opening, Mayor Michelle Wu, who is the first woman and person of color to be elected as the city’s top official, was proud that many of the food hall’s vendors are women and people of color. She also praised the effort to bring Boston’s many cultures to the downtown area. Kutzu combines Korean and Southeast Asian flavors in its $14 rice bowls, $14 banh mi sandwiches, and $14 “pho-men,” which is a mix of pho and ramen. Tiffani Faison, who was nominated for a James Beard award, cooks New England seafood with a bit of New Orleans spice (mains start at $15). And North East of the Border is the first brick-and-mortar location for a popular Mexican food truck (tacos start at $5). At Bubble Bath, you can drink champagne, and at Alewives Taproom, you can drink pints.
Craft beer is popular in Boston, and in response, local breweries are opening up new locations. Cisco Brewers was one of the first businesses to open in the Seaport neighborhood of Nantucket. It has an open-air taproom with food trucks on either side. In March, Lord Hobo, a brewery from Massachusetts, opened a taproom and restaurant in the area. Lamplighter Brewing opened a second location across the river at Cambridge Crossing, a shopping and living area. And Broken Records Beer Hall in Brighton has beers from more than 20 different breweries from all over New England.
A remodeled old standby and swanky newcomers
There are plenty of places to stay, with both new hotels and old hotels that have been updated.
In the Seaport, where things are changing so quickly that it’s hard to keep up, the Omni Hotel has a heated rooftop pool, which is almost unheard of in the city. The 22-story hotel will open in September 2021. It will have four full-service restaurants, a lobby bar, a bakery, and a spa (double rooms start at $413).
The Canopy by Hilton, which opened in March and has 212 rooms, is between downtown Boston and the Italian-heavy North End. The Canopy was made to feel like a local neighborhood. It has a brasserie-style cafe and bikes for guests to use to see the city (doubles start at $244).
The Langham Boston’s 312 rooms reopened in June 2021 after a $200 million renovation. The rooms were designed in a classic American style, and the bathrooms had marble floors and 268 pieces of art. Its craft cocktail bar, called the Fed, is named after the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, which used to be there. From the Financial District, Faneuil Hall, the aquarium, and Boston Common are all just a short walk away (double rooms start at $436).
Cambridge and Somerville, which are on the other side of the Charles River, are also ready to have guests. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and restaurants are close to 907 Main, a boutique hotel with a traditional brownstone exterior and a modern interior (double rooms start at $175). If you’ve been to Boston before and want to check out a new area, you can stay at the Cambria Somerville. Union Square, where the newest M.B.T.A. stop is, is a short walk from the 163-room hotel. The long-awaited and long-delayed subway extension is about to make a huge difference in the neighborhood (doubles from $212).