Countless musicians, actors, and comedians went to college or got their start in the Boston area, and it's a great place to check out rising stars and promising unknowns. You might get an early look at the next Branford Marsalis, Matt Damon, Bonnie Raitt, John Mayer, or Yo-Yo Ma. And you can certainly enjoy the work of many established artists who perform at world-renowned Symphony Hall and countless lower-profile venues. Nearly every day of the year, no matter your budget, you'll find someone expressing him- or herself in public, and eager for an audience.
Getting Ticket Deals
ArtsBoston (tel. 617/262-8632 ext. 229) is an excellent resource for cultural listings and ticket deals. It runs the BosTix discount-ticket service that includes programming from over 100 area performing-arts organizations. Tickets are available online, by phone, or at BosTix booths at Faneuil Hall Marketplace (T: Government Center) and in Copley Square, at the corner of Boylston Street and Dartmouth Street (T: Copley). Tickets are 20% to 80% off the original ticket price: most are 50% off. There is a service fee of up to $8.50 per ticket, even for in-person purchases. The Faneuil Hall booth is open Thursday to Sunday 10am to 4pm; the Copley Square booth is open Tuesday to Friday 11am to 5pm, Saturday to Sunday 10am to 4pm.
No Smoking; No, Really -- Massachusetts state law forbids smoking in all workplaces, including bars, nightclubs, and restaurants.
As in most other American cities, you won't get far without seeing a Starbucks. I'll seldom say no to a frozen drink, but for coffee and hanging out, there are plenty of less generic options. Many I've listed are in the North End. At all of them, hours are long and loitering is encouraged -- these are good places to bring your laptop or journal.
Boston’s Summertime Beer Gardens
Boston’s cold weather keeps people indoors for half the year, so when it warms up, folks pour outside. Recent additions to the outdoor drinking scene are two beer gardens on the Rose Kennedy Greenway: Trillium Garden on the Greenway, at High Street, across from Rowes Wharf (Wed–Fri 2–10pm; Sat 11am–10pm; Sun 11am–6pm; check Twitter @trilliumgarden for weather closures and on-tap updates) and Downeast Back Porch (in Dewey Square by South Station; Mon, Wed, Fri 4–9pm; Sat noon–9pm; Sun noon–7pm). Neither serve food, but both are near food trucks and both venues invite guests pick up food and bring it in.
Pool & Bowling
These establishments aren't the divey hangouts you remember from your misspent youth; they're upscale destinations with prices to match. For pool, expect to pay at least $12 an hour on weekend evenings, with weekday and daytime discounts. Bowlers can count on parting with at least $6 per person per game.
A Casino Comes to Boston
After years of contentious debate, Massachusetts now allows casino gambling. Encore Boston Harbor, a major casino development by Wynn Resorts, is scheduled to open summer of 2019 in Everett, a city just north of Boston across the Mystic River from Charlestown. The plan includes over 600 hotel rooms, waterfront dining, and new boat connections to downtown Boston. Check the website for up-to-date details.
Free Friday Flicks at the Hatch Shell (tel. 617/787-7200) are family-friendly movies that play on a large screen in the amphitheater on the Esplanade. On the lawn in front of the Hatch Shell, hundreds of people picnic until the sky grows dark and the credits roll. The films tend toward recent releases (no big thrill for anyone with a Netflix subscription), but the movie is only part of the experience. Tip: Bring sweaters in case the breeze off the river grows chilly.
Two superb local revival houses feature lectures and live performances in addition to foreign and classic films: the Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St., Cambridge (tel. 617/876-6837; T: Red Line to Harvard), and the Coolidge Corner Movie Theater, 290 Harvard St., Brookline (tel. 617/734-2500; T: Green Line C to Coolidge Corner). The Coolidge also schedules midnight shows. Classic and foreign films are the tip of the iceberg at the quirky Harvard Film Archive, 24 Quincy St., Cambridge (tel. 617/495-4700; T: Red Line to Harvard), which also shows student films.
For first-run independent and foreign films, head to the Kendall Square Cinema, 1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge (tel. 617/499-1996; T: Red Line to Kendall/MIT). The best movie theater in the immediate Boston area, it offers discounted parking in the adjoining garage. First- and second-run current releases at discount prices are the usual fare at the Somerville Theater, 55 Davis Sq. (tel. 617/625-5700; T: Red Line to Davis), which schedules occasional concerts, too. For mainstream releases, head to the 19-screen AMC Loews Boston Common, 175 Tremont St. (at Avery St.; tel. 888/262-4386 [show times] or 617/423-5801; T: Green Line to Boylston), which has stadium seating, digital sound, and 3D capability. As of this writing, the Stuart Street Playhouse, 200 Stuart St. (at Charles St. S.), in the Radisson Hotel Boston (tel. 617/426-4499), is showing recent art-house releases.
Museums, Reimagined at Night
Once a month the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum hosts its Third Thursdays evening event. You can stroll the galleries and perch next to the lavish courtyard garden with wine and music—for a few hours, this Venetian-style palazzo is your own play area. The Gardner’s programming also includes jazz concerts and special events such as The Red Party, which “brings together fashion, music, and technology.” The Museum of Fine Arts has a similar program called First Fridays, when it stays open until 9:30pm with music, cocktails, and tapas. And check the calendar of the Institute of Contemporary Art—it hosts dance parties on Friday nights in summer on its large harborside patio, and has an annual “White Hot” event in August where most guests dress top to bottom in white.
Lectures & Readings
The Thursday Globe is the best printed sources for listings of lectures, readings, and talks on a wide variety of subjects, often at colleges, libraries, and museums. Many are free or charge a small fee.
To be frank, Boston's late-night scene needs to climb a couple of notches to reach pathetic, and Cambridge's wee-hour diversions are even skimpier. The only plus is that just about every working cabdriver knows how to reach the places that are still open. In the late evening, especially on weekends, you have it a bit easier: Hit a restaurant that keeps long hours. They include Brasserie Jo, Davio's, Jacob Wirth, Jasper White's Summer Shack, Pizzeria Regina, and the bar at Sel de la Terre. In the North End, Bricco, 241 Hanover St. (btw. Cross and Richmond sts.; tel. 617/248-6800), serves pizza at the bar until 2am Tuesday through Saturday.
A number of Chinatown restaurants don't close until 3 or 4am. Asking for "cold tea" might -- might -- get you a teapot full of beer. In the North End, Caffé Pompei, 280 Hanover St. (tel. 617/523-9438), draws club-hoppers and neighborhood shift workers until 3:30am. Or make like a college student and road-trip to the International House of Pancakes at 1850 Soldiers Field Rd. in Brighton (tel. 617/787-0533). It's open 24 hours daily.
Another classic late-night destination is on the edge of Chinatown, not far from South Station. The South Street Diner, 178 Kneeland St. (tel. 617/350-0028), is a '50s-style joint with a wine and beer license and a jukebox; it's open 24 hours and is a popular morning-after destination.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.