There’s no such thing as saying too much about devastatingly charming and chic Charles Street, ‘Main Street’ for blue-blooded Beacon Hill. Nothing screams out here. It all whispers in proper Brahmin tones. This quaint scene becomes more dear at Christmastime, when the shops and gas street lamps are festively decorated, as is the rest of Beacon Hill. More on that in another post.
The street’s charm comes from its gorgeous Georgian, Federal and Greek Revival style architecture, and brick sidewalks, that are typical of Beacon Hill. Within these lovely structures are where the stylish boutiques, salons,restaurants and hardware store so well stocked you could almost outfit an entire small apartment. The street’s charm is also derived from the flower boxes, wooden benches outside a couple of restaurants, and the hardware store’s bright red pickup truck parked out front on occasion.
There’s nothing touristy about this busy street that links one part of the city to the other, even though there are pretty inns–this is where the residents of Beacon Hill and other Bostonians shop and dine, pick up the dry cleaning, grab a bottle of wine, drop off packages at the post office and have shoes repaired at one of the few cobblers left on the planet. It is a vital part of the neighborhood.
Most of the shops lining the brick walkways are independently-owned, with a few exceptions where ‘chains’ have infiltrated, cleverly disguised to blend into the historic surroundings, but in keeping with the local vibe are tolerated.
This is an old established, world famous neighborhood that thrives with a mix of ages, many young families, and hipsters who are either making the big bucks to live here with ease or living with roommates to make ends meet. It’s hard to say if the bars are populated by office workers or students from nearby Cambridge (MIT campus is about a fifteen minute walk over the windy Longfellow Bridge.) or the rare med student or resident not ready to crash after non-stop days at one of the world renown medical centers a block over on Cambridge Street.
Sidebar: At the corner of this block, Beacon Hill gives way to the West End. This is a particularly noisy and congested area with a constant stream of ambulances and medivac helicopters. The traffic and pedestrian traffic does decrease at night, but the sirens never stop.
As a village center that provides for nearly every need and desire, it’s no wonder why locals are content to transact most of their business on this ‘main street.’ Restaurants are top notch and the pricey shops are stylish and small with attentive proprietors.
Some businesses come and go, while others are a neighborhood institution. One very popular small ‘chain’ recently filed bankruptcy, and not too long ago a spa products shop and sweets shops were welcomed into the fold. I was sad to see that Cafe Vanilla, an authentic French cafe patronized by French nationals and French speakers has been replaced with another cafe. Life goes on.
There are noticeably fewer antique shops than ten years ago, and one that had been here for about 13 years just closed, but a few remain.
Antique shops can be expensive, and there are very expensive items on this street, but don’t be discouraged. There are always bargains to be bartered.
If you love silver, china, a few unique pieces of furniture, unusual furnishings, and hunting around in a dusty shop overflowing with just about every kind of what-not, stop into Marika’s.
I can always find a few small, inexpensive and unusual gifts in these shops, along with the occasional, totally cool, very expensive kind, but mostly, I relish the overall experience of leisurely hunting for a gift and then grabbing a snack or beverage.
This llnk lists all of the shops www.scenicshopping.com/state-massachusetts-boston-charles_street.html
There is no shortage of excellent restaurants on Charles Street for any size appetite and budget. Choose from soup and a sandwich, salad and pizza, coffee and pastries or a full gourmet dinner. There are also one or two popular bars.
For some strange reason, on this street of independent shops and artisans, Starbucks is the local coffee hangout. There are actually two here!—one that is quite small and the other is much roomier and located at the primo corner of Charles and Beacon, across from the Common and Public Garden.
I haven’t tried them all, but there are a few restaurants I seem to always patronize whether i am alone or with family and friends:
Panificio (yummy pumpkin pancakes, good omelets and the ONLY place that bakes genuine gingerbread men at Christmas), Figs (too small and crowded, but love the wilted spinach salad and the fig goat cheese pizza), Paramount (also tight seating, has good breakfasts), Bella Vita Caffé (good gelato and desserts, cappuccino, and sandwiches), Artu has great Italian (love the grilled eggplant and chicken parm), King and I ( excellent Thai anything. I always order the Pad Thai, 57 Chestnut (around the corner; been there for Sunday late breakfast and late night drinks. It was good and I love the bar!) Beacon Hill Bistro has lovely Christmas Eve dinners and used to have Easter prix fixe sittings (almost always my preference for fine dining), but have gravitated towards brunch. JP Licks is a Boston original ice cream bar from Jamaica Plain, (known locally as ‘JP’) that has become a fast favorite with a following.
Besides, if Julia’s favorite market, Savenor’s, is on this street, what more need one say?