Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

by Melissa Fannon: “MellieMel” your Girly Guide

Boston is not only my home town, but a city I love to share with friends. Rich with history, art and great eating, Boston is perfect for a weekend getaway. It’s cozy in the winter and lively in the spring for al fresco dining. As much as I love to travel and experience new things, I also enjoy playing hostess by sharing the hidden gems, “new kids on the block,” and old favorites in the city of Boston.

One of the benefits of being an events planner in Boston is that I get an insider’s view of many of the city’s great restaurants and hotels. I love sharing small plates, appetizers and decadent desserts with friends. Here are some of my “go-to” spots that deliver a great meal or drink, and if you are a regular, “everybody knows your name.” (and I am NOT talking about Cheers!) Boston is a friendly place, so if someone says to you, “HOWAYA?” the correct answer is, “Good, and you?”

BOSTON’s “GO-TO” RESTAURANTS:

As the Girly Guide, I have a few “go-to” restaurants I have been enjoying for years. They vary from burger joint to Asian-fusion to classic French. These places are also great to just go in for a drink and an app, and tend to heat up late night. With great food, solid service, and fun atmosphere, t hese are the places to be in 2008!

ASIAN

Pho Republique – South End, Boston

For years, foodies and hipsters have been flocking to Pho Republique. Its modern take on Southeast Asian cuisine is superb, with the tuna sashimi springrolls, crab rangoons and candied garlic spareribs topping my list as the best in the city. The pho noodle soup is a classic, as well as the spicy chow fun noodle dish. The servers are artsy, tattooed and very down- to-earth. The bar is truly a scene, with bartenders serving the most delectable, exotic martinis made with sake, lychees, and other Asian-inspired goodness. It’s especially hip on Thursday nights, when I always seem to overdose on the yummy wasabi peas, especially when drinking a rummy “Monkey Bite.” http://www.phorepublique.net/

INTERNATIONAL

Cuchi Cuchi! – Central Square, Cambridge

Cuchi Cuchi is the ultimate destination for a girls’ night out. Delicious, fashionable, and divine, Cuchi Cuchi even hosts Diva Nights, complete with a tarot card reader and private menu. Every night, the servers dress in the sexiest 1920s starlet costumes, with pin-curled hair and vintage flapper dresses. I highly suggest going on the weekend, as the bar is a frenzy of the most fabulous cocktails you have ever tasted. My award for the absolute best martini in Boston goes to their Strawberry Basil Martini, made with sweet, fresh strawberries muddled with basil and mixed with vodka. The Blood Orange Martini is also a winner, and the food is exotic and delicious, including dishes representing Russia, Guatemala, Italy, Spain, Panama, France, and Morocco, to name a few. We love to go here for birthday dinners to order the decadent Italiano wine decanter with extra long spout (to fill with white wine) to pour into each other’s mouths! There is too much to mention on this amazing menu, but some of my top picks are the fried artichoke hearts with gorgonzola, savory cornets w/tuna tartare (mini salty icecream cones filled with sashimi tuna), the Cuban Cigar (beef spareribs wrapped in dough with salsa), and so much more! Viva La Diva! http://www.cuchicuchi.cc/

ITALIAN

Ristorante Fiore – North End, Boston

Everyone has their favorite Italian restaurant in Boston’s North End. Some will say Giacomo’s or Mamma Maria, others recommend Limoncello, but my vote is Fiore. This has been my go-to place for years, not only for the food, but for also the roof deck. Fiore is unique in this neighborhood because it features two outdoor seating options, one on the street level for people watching, and one on the fabulous roof deck bar. The best time to get a seat on the roof deck is on the weekend during late afternoons in the spring. Fiore’s house specialty bellinis are a heavenly blend of peach nectar and champagne. Or go for the homemade Stoli Doli martini (pineapple soaked in vodka), and you will be yelling “Bellisimo!” in no time. A bottle of Chianti is always a good accompaniment to dinner. My favorite dishes are the calamari with hot peppers or the sautéed mussels with garlic, followed by either the Spaghetti di Mari (an outrageous amount of seafood in a spicy tomato sauce) or the Saltimbocca di Pollo (tender chicken covered marsala sauce, mushrooms and prosciutto). Buon Appetito! http://www.ristorantefiore.com/

FRENCH

Les Zygomates – Downtown Boston

If you want to feel like you walked into a bistro in Paris, grab your beret and ride the Metro to Les Zygomates. With Serge Gainsbourg playing in the background and vintage poster décor, take a seat at one of the two bars for hours of enjoyment any time of day. Whether you go for a power lunch or a special night out, my advice is to go with the daily Prix Fixe menu. I’m a purist when it comes to French dining. Nothing beats the pate de maison starter (c’est bon!), or mussels simmered with white wine, steak frites entrée and crème brulee for dessert. Les Zygomates has a renowned sommelier who selects the best wines in every price range. He has been known to hold impromptu wine tastings (and once gave me a white wine from Santorini a few weeks before my adventure to Greece), as well as special dinner and wine pairing events. They have live jazz every night, including my favorite boss nova trio. With an excellent staff and authentic French vibe, Les Zygomates is perfect “tres magnifique” night out! http://www.winebar.com/

SEAFOOD

B&G Oysters – South End, Boston

If you are an oyster freak like me, then B&G is the place for you. We always sit at the bar, which resembles a Scandinavian sauna with wooden floor and tiled walls, and watch the chefs in action. More of a date place due to it’s small size, B&G is my boyfriend Andrew and my favorite spot to sit down and devour a gigantic tray of oysters from around the US and Canada, and sip a few glasses of Prosecco. I love the sweet and plump East Coast Wellfleets and Duxburys, while he loves the slim and briny Pacific Coast bivalves. The zesty vinaigrette is a great alternative to the ubiquitous cocktail sauce. You have to try the house favorite Maine lobster roll and for dessert, fried oysters on a bed of sea salt, which seriously melt in your mouth. http://www.bandgoysters.com

BURGERS

Charlie’s Kitchen & Burgers – Harvard Square, Cambridge
If your pocket is more full of lint than $20 bills, nothing tastes better than a cheap burger with fries in this Harvard Square institution. Their motto is “Eat. Drink. Save Money.” What can be better? A meeting place of the minds, with a strong indie rock vibe, there are 2 floors to choose from with equal results. I prefer the upstairs bar, where you can sit and chat with Amy Winehouse-styled bartenders, or slide into a big booth with friends. Tuesday night is karaoke night. So get there in time to eat heartily and sing badly, especially after a few pints of Stella or Pabst Blue Ribbon oil cans. www.restaurant.com/charlieskitchen/

HOT SPOTS on the BLOCK:

The South End is the hipster foodie part of town, the loud and proud gay community, with trendy shops and galleries. It’s a high-end residential area where the city’s architects, lawyers, artists, bankers, and designers mingle to eat, drink and be merry. Parking is non-existent, but many places offer valet parking. It’s best to take a cab or walk from the Back Bay train station. The South End is Boston’s answer to SoHo or The Village. It’s cool, hip and somewhat exclusive. Prices are on the higher side, and reservations are most definitely required. Be sure to check out The Beehive, Gaslight, Union, Stella and many more, including:

Masa – South End, Boston

Masa, the Latin bar and eatery, features beautiful, rustic décor. The “especiale de la casa” is the Banderita, a trio of shots which involves taking fresh lemon juice in your mouth first, then adding the tequila, swallowing, then doing a sangrita chaser (tomato juice). Down the hatch – uno, dos, tres! Any of the house margaritas are great, including the Masarita, Mangorita, and Watermelon, which can be made for the table. They have an extensive tapas menu that includes taquitos, calamari, chorizo, and plantains. For dinner, choose from upscale Mexican entrees of lamb, steak, fish, chicken and more. Thursday nights are Salsa Night from 9pm – 1am, with lessons, drinks and dancing all night. Cha Cha Cha! http://masarestaurant.com/

Rocca – South End, Boston

A nouveau Italian hot spot, divine in design, drinks and food. Described as a “kitchen & bar,” Rocca is much, much more. A hipster restaurant with multiple floors, Rocco has outdoor seating and a popular lounge. Stop first in the bar for one of Rocca’s signature drinks with authentic Italian flair. I recommend the Ligurian Lemonade (lemon vodka, Campari, home made Limoncello, honey & fresh lemon juice) or the White and Stormy (white rum, Cointreau, lime & ginger beer). The menu is set up so that you can get a lot of little plates to share. I recommend the Meatball Slider, Rigatoni Baked in a Pot (with veal, tomatoes and Parmigiano), Hand-rolled Trofie with pesto, the Braised Lamb Shank, and Roasted Whole Fish. They are on-trend with the “late night menu” until 1am consisting of many of their most popular items. There are monthly house music dance parties on Thursdays called “L’Ombelico del Mondo,” which bring out all of Boston’s stylish Euro boys and girls to sashay their night away. http://www.roccaboston.com

INSIDER TIP:

You can make reservations for many of these restaurants at www.opentable.com , a great reservations site that is making life much easier for many diners around the U.S. And, once you are a member, you get 100 points every time you eat at a restaurant, They also have ‘early bird specials’ for 1,000 points, making it much easier to earn cash rewards.. Once you get 2,000+ points, they send you a dining certificate (check website for details).

OLD SCHOOL LOUNGES:

The Oak Bar at the Fairmont Copley Plaza

Back Bay, Boston – I may be a modern gal, but I do love tradition. Ever since my parents started taking me to dinner in the Oak Room as a child, I have loved to stop in to the Oak Bar to have their insanely generous classic martinis. They bring you a full martini (classic, chocolate, cosmo, etc) and a little extra on the side. According to the website, the bar is “…reminiscent of a British Officer’s Club in the Orient.” Aye, aye Captain! As the veteran piano player taps out “Moon River” on the keys, you’ll feel you have stepped back in time…when gentlemen wore hats and ladies came to lunch. http://theoakroom.com/

Stanza dei Sigari

The North End, Boston – If you detest loud noise and heavy smoke, stay away. If you love cigars, stiff drinks and The Sopranos, then this is the cigar bar and lounge for you. Here, you can end the night with a glass of cognac and a cigar. I have to admit that I opt for the girly vanilla or amaretto flavored cigars, but I recommend a big stogie if you can handle it…it’s quite a rush! This basement hideaway is great for people watching in one of the oldest Italian neighborhoods in America. Sexy, Italian-American, down-to-earth waitresses serve you in this classic cigar lounge, with library décor and cozy alcoves with red curtains. Perhaps it’s just the smoky haze, but it seems that this lounge gets wilder as the night wears on. http://www.stanzadeisigari.com/

Casablanca

Harvard Square, Cambridge – “You must remember this…A kiss is just a kiss…” and the bartenders make great standard drinks here in this hideaway in Harvard Square. The walls are plastered with the faces of Bogart and Bacall and Louie Armstrong in Rick’s Lounge, and palm-frond ceiling fans add to the French-Moroccan vibe. I love to come here on a blustery shopping day to get a White Russian or glass of cognac. A sophisticated crowd, sans baseball hats and hoodies, flocks here. Be sure to sit in the back bar area if ordering dinner, where the atmosphere is much cozier . http://www.casablanca-restaurant.com/

SEE THE SIGHTS – LIKE A LOCAL:

You can feel like a local at some of these great tourist spots. After all, you are here to do some sightseeing. In fact, even locals like myself enjoy these places! It’s all in how you do it. Now you too can be in the know.

Institute of Contemporary Art (The ICA) – Free Thursdays

The new Institute of Contemporary Art opened it’s doors last year in the Boston Harbor Seaport area. It’s a big glass cube hanging out over the sea, with boats going by, and lots of airy space to walk around and enjoy the fresh salt air. It has a fabulous little gift shop with lots of imported Euro toys, games, jewelry and glassware. You can grab a light lunch and glass of wine at the Wolfgang Puck Café inside without buying a ticket! Thursday nights feature free admission from 5-9 pm, sponsored by Target, so take advantage of this great offer and see some incredible modern art. www.icaboston.org

Martini Time at “The Top of the Hub” –

Your best bet is to get there early before the work crowd gets out, grab a seat in the lounge and order a vodka martini (a little dirty with two olives is my recommendation). With a spectacular and unparalleled view of the city, this is a great place to start the night, celebrate a special occasion, or enjoy some late-night live jazz. It’s on the 33rd floor of the Prudential Building, so your ears will pop on the way up. The food, though pricey, is delicious. www.topofthehub.net

Tour of Fenway Park – Go Red Sox!

For the sports fanatic in you, no trip to Boston is complete without seeing the legendary Fenway Park, home of the World Series Champions. I’ve been lucky to have been to a few games in my time, and even enjoyed the view from the luxury boxes. But nothing is better than sitting in the bleachers with a Fenway Frank in one hand and a beer in the other, yelling “No Batter! No Batter” to the losers on the other team. Tickets to the games are nearly impossible to get, so you’ll have to pony up a few hundred on eBay or pay a shady scalper your hard earned cash for a ticket to see the Sox in action. The ballpark tour is the next best thing, and you always can watch the game next door in my favorite sports bar, The Cask ‘n’ Flagon (http://www.casknflagon.com/) with all the other fans. The burgers, nachos and buffalo wings are great. http://boston.redsox.mlb.com/bos/ballpark/tour.jsp

Kiss Me, I’m Irish: Pubs

Boston is Little Ireland…you can find an Irish pub on every corner. Most serve great bar food and pull a nice pint. Some bars are a little more commercial, while others give you that authentic Dublin flavor with Uncle Paddy and Cousin Shane cozying up to the bar. Many have live Celtic music, while others have game nights or karaoke. Strangely, some bars turn into college frat boy dance parties (read: Sir Mixalot’s “Baby Got Back” and “Funky Cold Medina” by Tone Loc) so be sure to check the schedule on weekends! The places that serve Sheppard’s Pie, Fish ‘n’ Chips and Bangers ‘n’ Mash tend to be your best bet. But don’t worry, the Guinness tastes the same no matter where you go. Try your luck on one of these fine establishments. The Black Rose, The Grand Canal, The Harp, Bell in Hand, JJ Foley’s, Ned Devine’s, The Kinsale, Irish Village (Brighton), The Green Briar (Brighton), Brendan Behan Pub (Jamaica Plain), and Doyle’s Café (Jamaica Plain).

Ghosts and Gravestones Tour

My sister Sara went on this tour with her boyfriend and had a blast while learning about Boston’s mysterious history. She said she learned a lot about the history of the city and had a lot of laughs too. The trolley is painted black, and the tour guide dons crypt-keeper fineries and ghoulish makeup. Sara said he was “way too into it,” displayed by his Olde English accent, but then again, that is part of the fun! According to the site, “The two hour journey will take you on a spine tingling trip through Boston’s historic burial grounds and the streets once stalked by the Boston Strangler.” It’s a great way to learn about The Dearly Departed of Boston. http://www.ghostsandgravestones.com/boston.htm

Welcome to “HOLLYWOOD EAST”

Speaking of “The Departed,” many in the film industry are calling Boston “Hollywood East” for its rise as one of the country’s big movie making cities. There is a growing list of Oscar winning films that are set in Boston, such as Dennis Lehane’s novel turned blockbuster “The Departed,” “Mystic River,” and “Gone Baby Gone,” all of which have placed Boston in the spotlight. Some recent films shot over the past year include “The Women,” “The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “What Happens in Vegas…,” and “The Lonely Maiden”. A great way to enjoy Boston as a movie set is by jumping on board one of the Boston Movie Tours buses. (www.bostonmovietours.com).

HOTELS – HIGH-END “HOLLYWOOD HIPSTER”

The Liberty Hotel, Boston is a luxury boutique hotel which opened in fall 2007. The space occupies what was the Charles Street Jail, where my grandfather worked as a sheriff (my father often recalls a story from his childhood in which my grandfather jokingly locked him in one of the jail cells as a friendly reminder to behave!). Rooms are decorated with subtle shades of tan and gray, the bathrooms have a luxurious and Zen-like feel. Every room is outfitted with cutting edge technology for everything from room service to web access, and is considered to be the most technologically advanced hotel in Boston. Overnight rates run a pricey $315-465/night, but many prefer to hit the bar scene instead. Alibi is the hot spot bar in the lower lobby, the former “drunk tank” of the jail, complete with mug shots of Mick Jagger, Frank Sinatra, and, of course, Paris Hilton, who briefly stayed there in February 2008. CLINK is the café-style restaurant located on the main lobby level, and in spring of 2008, celebrity chef Lydia Shire opened the modern Italian concept, Scampo. The Liberty has become Boston’s celebrity hotel, as the number of film’s shot here rises. (www.libertyhotel.com)

The InterContinental Boston is another of the Hollywood hotels of choice. The rooms are luxe and expensive, catering to the ritzy and corporate crowds. Having planned a conference here last year, I enjoyed the pillow soft beds and spent a few relaxing minutes each night in the whirlpool bathtub sipping a glass of red wine. The Red Sox $10 million dollar pitcher “Dice-K” from Japan lives in the condos upstairs, so baseball fans often hope to catch a glimpse of some World Series champions or other celebs in town strolling the halls. With the cool, rum-themed bar called Rumba, and Miel, a 24-hour French brasserie, this downtown location has everything guests need to satisfy their hunger. Rumba is a great after work spot with tasty bar snacks and rum-based cocktails. There is also a tiny sushi bar called SushiTeq overlooking the Boston Harbor. http://www.intercontinentalboston.com/

HOTELS – A LITTLE GLAM, AT A GOOD PRICE ($$-$$$)

THE COLLONADE HOTEL

Copley Square/Back Bay. Rates about $185-235. My friend from London, Liz, and about thirty of her colleagues, recently stayed at this hotel for a work conference. They all loved the hotel’s perfectly convenience location, close to all the bars and shops on Newbury Street. She said the rooms had recently been revamped and were very comfortable. If you go in the summer, there is an exclusive rooftop pool which hosts parties in the summer! http://www.colonnadehotel.com/

I have always loved the Kimpton Hotel chain ever since staying in the Serrano Hotel in San Francisco. Luckily, we now have three Kimpton Hotels in Boston which are always solid. Check the website for accurate room rates. http://www.kimptonhotels.com/

The Nine Zero Hotel, located downtown, starts at $169 night. It has a perfect location in the heart of Boston’s Beacon Hill right by Park Street Station and Downtown Crossing. From this hotel, most Boston hot spots and sights are only a fifteen minute walk away. The hotel has a luxuriously groovy vibe suitable for any girly girl. They have a posh, new restaurant called KO Prime that features a great after work bar and is a modern version of a traditional steakhouse run by Boston’s own celebrity chef Ken Oringer. http://www.ninezero.com/index.html

Onyx Hotel in Boston, Downtown is $169 night. This hotel has a convenient location but sits across from the old Boston Garden (like New York’s Madison Square Garden) with lots of Irish pubs filled with burly men in Bruins and Celtics jackets. But don’t despair, the hotel is cozy and the staff is nice. It is a great home-base when jetting around the city.

Hotel Marlow in Cambridge is $159/night. This is a great choice if you have been to Boston many times before but neglected the world famous Harvard Square, which is a must-see for those scholarly-minded folks. Harvard Square It has an old collegiate vibe, some cool new restaurants, and friendly bars. You even begin to feel smarter just walking into the Harvard Coop to buy a book or a Harvard keychain.

B&Bs/GUEST HOUSES – BARGAINS for NON-BRAHMINS ($-$$)

There are many reasonably priced guest houses/B&Bs in Brookline, the lovely “city-suburb” neighborhood where I live. It is only 10 minutes by streetcar or cab to Kenmore Square, home of the Red Sox stadium, and about twenty minutes to downtown. It’s a wonderful place to stay with lots of cafes, trees, parks, dogs and baby carriages… and none of the hustle-n-bustle of the city. Give these a try:

Coolidge Corner Guest House

http://www.coolidgecornerguesthouse.com/Rooms/RoomsRates.htm

rates $79-169

http://www.463beacon.com/

Brookline Manor Guest House

www.brooklinemanorinn.com

32 Centre St

Brookline, MA 02146

Phone: 617-232-0003

Commonwealth Court

Rates only $79 and up. very English :)

http://www.commonwealthcourt.com/

BOSTON ROCKS – LIVE MUSIC FOR THE ROCKER GIRL:

Great Scott – Allston

If alternative music is your scene, Great Scott has it going on. Friday night’s infamous party called “the pill” has been running for over 10 years. Located right off the “T”, at the corner of Harvard Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue, you’ll find a mixture of students and 30-somethings joining together in Brit-rock harmony. The bathrooms are pretty scary, but the graffiti is top notch. Most importantly, the booze is cheap and the bartenders attentive. Go check out some up-and-coming indie bands on tour, or their new wave dance parties spinning to a fashionable glam rock crowd. http://www.thepillboston.com/

The Paradise Lounge – Boston

This is live music mecca for Boston’s die-hard rock fans. The Paradise has been an institution in this city for 25 years and running. You can find big name touring acts, folk singers, and the occasional burlesque troupe. Enjoy some surprisingly tasty bar food, great music and tattooed staff and patrons in the Lounge. It’s a club reminiscent of the 70s and 80s, complete with overflowing toilets without paper and sinks that don’t work- but you’re here to rock, right? Many famous bands are said to have gotten their big break here, including The Police, AC/DC, Blondie, REM, Cheap Trick, Joe Jackson, Billy Joel, Coldplay and many more. Other artists who have performed at the Paradise include Kings of Leon, Bloc Party, The Futureheads, Ray Lamontagne, Liz Phair, Louis XIV, Citizen Cope, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and many more.” It’s a great spot to see your favorite bands up close without the big lines, overpriced tickets and stadium seating. http://www.thedise.com/

The MIDDLE EAST – Central Square, Cambridge

A legend in the rock scene, the Middle East is the coolest, if not the oddest, combination of middle eastern eatery and “balls to the walls” rock club. I spent many a college day at this hipster joint. In fact, my best friend met her husband here! Boston’s best local acts have played here, including The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and The Dropkick Murphys. You haven’t really “made it” until you’ve played the Middle East downstairs. My fondest memory of this spot is catching the heralded “low rock” band, Morphine, play here in the early 90s, and spying the dearly departed lead singer and indie rock guru Mark Sandman occasionally sitting at the bar. Go early to dine on the cheap but delicious food. Start with the simple hummus and tabouli platter with fresh pita bread, and go for the classic falafel or gyro sandwich. A couple of beers later and you are ready to rock in either the main downstairs club or the small upstairs space.
http://www.mideastclub.com/

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