Boston's soul is its historic harbour, replete with tumbledown piers, old warehouses and overgrown patches of weeds where abandoned boats and engine parts decay. One can feel the ghosts of the common sailors and immigrant boys who unloaded the barrels of molasses from the West Indies, salt from Sicily and exotic spices from China. But this derelict waterfront, once the mercantile hub of a young rebellious country, is undergoing a metamorphosis: Long stretches are now lined with sleek yachts, shiny hotels and oh-so-expensive condos. Blending urban landscapes with sleek architectural design, this historic maritime area boasts miles and miles of must-see attractions.
With its artsy Fort Point Channel enclave full of galleries, the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the HarborWalk past every wharf in the neighbourhood, its museums, hip new eateries, old-school bars, harbour tours and little water taxis, the Waterfront is a mash-up, desolate and bustling, and on the cusp of becoming what developers and dreamers are calling the New Boston.
Begin a Boston visit with the city's evolving HarborWalk. Four kilometres of this 62-kilometre walk follow the length of the Waterfront from the Coast Guard Station at Fairmont Battery Wharf, past the fine New England Aquarium and the Children's Museum, to the Institute of Contemporary Art. Along the way, you'll find observation points, binoculars and fascinating signage with historic photos. Stops include an exhibit of old maps of the Bay and a view of the once fortified harbour islands from an observation deck. For the weary, the best place to take a break is on the harbourfront terrace of the InterContinental Hotel. Here you can order a mint-and-lime-infused frozen tequila or, for true authenticity, a cool iced tea to sip while gazing out at the very spot in the harbour where the Boston Tea Party took place (the original one, of course). 374 Congress St., Suite 307; 617-482-1722; bostonharborwalk.com
THREE CENTURIES OF SHIPBUILDING
Don't miss the mini Maritime Museum on the Fairmont Battery Hotel property. Step inside and - to the piped sounds of sea shanties - learn the history of Battery Wharf and get a feel for Boston's three centuries of shipbuilding. This tribute to Boston's salty past is right next to a U.S. Coast Guard Station and its active duty ships. Located on the spot from which Paul Revere began his historic journey, the station boasts a floor crafted of lumber recycled from the old wharf and a giant oak timber from an 18th-century ship. Don't miss the video tracing the history of Battery Wharf from its start as a cannon emplacement. If you still can't get enough of ships and sailing vessels, you can scan the harbour from the museum's outdoor observation deck, open to the public 24 hours a day. 33 Battery Wharf; ww.bostonharborwalk.com
MEET THE ARTISTS, BUY THEIR WORK
The Fort Point Channel district has long been a hideout for Boston's boho set. Before the stop-and-start development in the area, artists resided and worked in barely livable warehouses and old factories. Now, there are official renovated "artist designated buildings" on A Street, Farnsworth and Summer streets. Most recently, the neighbourhood's artist organization opened an artist-run store-cum-gallery, Made in Fort Point. It's a shop on one side and gallery on the other, filled with paintings and photographs and work from neighbourhood jewellers. A visit to Made in Fort Point is an instant way to get a feel for this vibrant enclave and to meet local artists. Don't miss photographer Brian Bresnahan's hanging aluminum-framed light boxes or Ontario native Ann Scott's sensational landscape Afternoon Shadows. 12 Farnsworth St.; 617-423-1100; fortpointarts.org
When Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art opened its new building in what was then a desolate area of the waterfront, citizenry and critics alike were perplexed. The structure, which looks like a hulking chunk of quartz when approached from the rear, seems to float like an otherworldly translucent space station when viewed from the harbour side. Its glass walls and endless reflections create a dramatic backdrop for the small permanent collection including Tara Donovan's compelling Untitled (Pins), a one-metre cube made from thousands of compressed silver straight-pins. Roni Horn's 5-ton glass sculpture fills the museum's West Gallery until mid-June, and the provocative work of Mexican tattoo artist Dr. Lakra runs until early September. 100 Northern Ave.; www.icaboston.org
THE SPIRIT(S) OF IRELAND
Boston's new upscale Irish watering hole the Whiskey Priest is just in front of the ICA, not far from the original settlement of Irish immigrants fleeing the great potato famine. Irreverently named, this pub is filled with devout sports fans who worship in front of its 23 flat screens. Celtic homeboys or the just plain adventurous dine on crubeens (that's pig's feet) and what better way to wash them down, says owner Ciaran McNelis, than with a shot of Middleton Rare or Glenrothes. The Irish gastro-pub with its nearly 30-metre mahogany bar has killer Irish music, 100 bottles of whisky on the wall, and the promise of endless Celtic camaraderie. Craic Agus Ceol! 150 Northern Ave.; 617-426-8111; www.whiskey-priest.com
Menton is a new project from revered Boston chef Barbara Lynch, known for her fine food and impeccable vision of what Bostonians want to eat. (Pronounced mon-ton, it's named after Lynch's favourite French village.) Inspired by French and Italian cuisines, Menton is, for foodies feeling flush, a must-try. As Lynch says, "It's a place to get really dressed up." The high ceilings, Austrian glassware, German porcelain, fine French linens and Le Cinq service from waistcoated waiters are an elegant prix fixe fantasy escape from underwater mortgages and collapsed pension funds. The menu, created by Lynch and her wunderkind executive chef, Colin Lynch (no relation), includes delicacies such as kataifi-wrapped langoustines with peas, pumpkin seed oil and pickled rhubarb. 354 Congress St.; 617-737-0099; MentonBoston.com
With its speakeasy vibe and weekly live musical homage to Ol' Blue Eyes, Lucky's Lounge isn't new and isn't dolled up to look old. The joint is thoroughly old-school. This strictly local hangout, with a mix of dusty guys who just climbed down from a backhoe and dressed-to-the-nines singles from the financial district, is housed in an old brick warehouse below street level. There's no sign, a dimly lit interior with a reddish glow coming off the wood-panelled walls, and the cool tunes of Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra. This nightspot has well-worn, cozy booths and a supper-club ambience. The menu does buckle to current taste trends and has excellent Kobe sliders and such, but stick with a rib-eye or some fine fried chicken and feel as slick as the Rat Pack guys and their babes. 355 Congress St.; 617-357- 5825; www.luckyslounge.com
MIAMI IN BOSTON
Those PhDs, MBAs and MDs for which Beantown is so famous let loose once a week at after-work salsa, sushi and tequila fiestas. From June to September, Miriam Ortiz, a teacher of salsa dancing, joins friends at the harbourfront restaurant Sushi-Teq for Tequila Tuesdays. Palms (potted) sway, salty breezes cool the air and Chef Oga pairs sushi with 69 variants of tequila (reputedly the biggest tequila stash in Boston). All the while Ortiz demonstrates sultry salsa moves and invites Sushi-Teq diners and drinkers to join in. A few shots of Patron and the number of Latino wannabes increases exponentially, so get there early. The InterContinental ; 510 Atlantic Ave.; 617-217-5150
Where to stay
Fairmont Battery Wharf A must-stay for history-conscious travellers. The luxe Canadian managed hotel with superb views of the harbour is built right on the spot where U.S. Revolutionary hero Paul Revere hit the road for his famous journey. There are telescopes in some rooms and binoculars on demand for salty views. And no need to battle Boston traffic when arriving by air: The hotel organizes airport arrivals and departures by water taxi. Add in the hotel's restaurant, Sensing, with a menu created by Michelin three-star chef Guy Martin, and walk-a-block access to the Italian district's cafés. Rates from $249 to $2,200 for the Harbor Suite. 3 Battery Wharf; (800) 257-7544, fairmont.com/batterywharf.
Golden Slipper Weirder and wetter is this floating bed and breakfast. Boston is a seaside city so why not sleep aboard a Catalina Chris Craft tied up at one of the waterfront's historic wharves. Just steps from Boston's old Italian section and a 10-minute walk from historical sights, see Boston from the sea. Rates from $185. www.bostonsbedandbreakfastafloat.com