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The Widener Library is the biggest academic library in the U.S.
The Widener Library is the biggest academic library in the U.S.

Where it's hip to be square Add to ...

Grolier Poetry Book Shop: A Ginsberg haunt Lining the route from Harvard to MIT are dozens of bookstores, including the unique 80-year-old Grolier Poetry Book Shop. A favourite of poet Robert Lowell and Beat icon Allen Ginsberg, and the oldest poetry-only bookshop in America, Grolier boasts more than 15,000 volumes. If you're lucky, you may drop in during a poetry reading. 6 Plympton St.; 617-547-4648; grolierpoetrybookshop.org

The Middlesex Lounge: Where geek meets chic Up Massachusetts Avenue toward MIT, the landscape gets a bit grittier, although once authentically scruffy areas are going upmarket. Mixed with the old blue-collar and hippie haunts are small upscale furniture stores and some industrial-looking buildings like the Middlesex Lounge, a SoHo-esque dance and Kobe burger place. Boxy and cool, Middlesex is strangely out of place in MIT territory. 315 Massachusetts Ave.; 617-868-6739; www.middlesexlounge.us

Miracle of Science Bar and Grill: I'll have an Hb, please For a great lunch in the "brainy is sexy" style, stop at Miracle of Science Bar and Grill. This bright, airy restaurant has a blackboard menu laid out like the periodic table ("Hb" is hamburger and "Cb" is cheeseburger). Customers drink from lab glass while perusing photos of Albert Einstein at a fire-slate bar lined with lab stools. "When we clear the tables," explains server Chris O'Keefe, "we find scraps of papers with formulae and numbers."

"I wrote my whole doctorate on this stool," one patron tells me, and later when I try to strike up a conversation with some young women at the next table chatting about something I think is jet propulsion, I am rebuffed. "I can't talk right now," one says. "I'm explaining something!" MIT prof Noam Chomsky and Pulitzer winner Junot Diaz are regulars, as is MIT rugby coach Steve Wilhelm, who shrugs and says, "I don't get it, but science for them is a kind of turn-on." 321 Massachusetts Ave.; 617-868-ATOM; www.miracleofscience.us

MIT Museum: Super geeky, super entertaining The real scientific turn-on and kid-friendly place is the under-publicized MIT Museum. Everything about the museum, from its boutique - featuring Polymer Property Observation Kits and double helix bracelets - to its artificial intelligence exhibit, is super geeky and entertaining. In the gallery dedicated to scholarship in artificial intelligence, we meet the robot Kismet, with its strangely precise humanoid facial expressions, and we see how the Black Falcon hand, a surgical robot, works. The largest collection of holographs in the world rounds out the visit. 265 Massachusetts Ave.; 617-253-5927; web.mit.edu/museum

Modern architecture: Renowned and reviled Also worth noting is the modern architecture at MIT, lauded and criticized in equal measure. The school has commissioned an assortment of significant and controversial buildings from Steven Holl, Frank Gehry, Fumihiko Maki and Kevin Roche, the last three of whom were winners of the Pritzker Prize, the Nobel of architecture. The oddly beautiful Stata Center, designed by Canadian-born Gehry, is all soaring glass, tilty towers, warehousey elements and glass-walled labs. Holl's dormitory, Simmons Hall, was not wildly welcomed. Yet with its anodized aluminum frame and 5,500 small windows that explode in colour when seen at just the right angle, it dazzles. According to Holl, it was inspired by a bath sponge. web.mit.edu/infocenter/stata.html

The Charles Hotel: sleek, Sophisticated and smart Though it's easy enough to stay in one of Boston's many hotels just over the river, staying at the Charles Hotel - next to Harvard's famed Kennedy School of Government and right on top of that marsh where the Puritans first set up shop - contributes to the overall Cambridge experience. The Charles reads sophisticated and smart. In a municipality where the social A-list is made up of Nobel laureates and where the lithium battery was invented, the top hotel boasts free charges for electric and hybrid cars and houses the sleek Rialto restaurant run by James Beard Award-winning chef Jody Adams. Elegant in an intellectual hub's sort of way, the hotel's lobby library is stocked with titles from its Pulitzer and academic guests. It's a favourite of "celebrities of the mind" such as former U.S. secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger and other world leaders, from the prime minister of India to the president of France. 1 Bennett St.; 800-882-1818; www.charleshotel.com. From $264.

Oh yeah, the nightlife, baby Nightlife in Cambridge can be charmingly geeky too. The Harvard Film Archive has showings almost every evening and the American Repertory Theater pushes the boundaries of modern drama. Finally, there are the endless under-the-radar cafés where PhD students and professors pontificate. Nowadays there are more laptops than tomes on the tables, but thank goodness still plenty of conversation about Nietzsche and string theory, strong coffee, and lots of sexy and brainy denizens. Welcome to Cambridge, 2009. Harvard Film Archive, 24 Quincy St.; 617-495-4700; hcl.harvard.edu/hfa; American Repertory Theater, 64 Brattle St.; 617-547-8300; www.americanrepertorytheater.org

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