Boston and Cambridge
The highway construction that dominated downtown Boston for nearly 2 decades officially ended in late 2007. In its place are the mile-long ribbon of parks known as the Rose Kennedy Greenway, newly configured surface roads -- and more construction. Walk around or through it to reach the increasingly accessible, enjoyable waterfront.
The transit authority, or MBTA (tel. 800/392-6100 or 617/222-3200; www.mbta.com), introduced automated fare collection on subways and buses in 2007. Ferries and the commuter rail should be part of the system by 2009.
By the time you read this, the haute boutique Regent Boston, Battery Wharf, off Commercial Street on the edge of the North End (tel. 800/545-4000; www.regenthotels.com), and the over-the-top Mandarin Oriental, Boston, on Boylston Street next to the Prudential Center (tel. 866/526-6567; www.mandarinoriental.com), should be entertaining guests in ultraluxurious style.
Boston Restaurant Week is now 4 weeks, but it's not Restaurant Month: It's 2 weeks in August and 2 in March. I prefer the seasonal raw materials available to chefs in the summer, but the offer ($20.08 or $20.09 for lunch, $10 or so more for dinner) is a great deal at any time. The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau lists participating establishments on its website (www.bostonusa.com).
La Voile, 261 Newbury St. (tel. 617/587-4200; www.lavoileboston.net), may look familiar to travelers who have spent a lot of time in Cannes. The owners of the French/Mediterranean brasserie created it by shipping an existing restaurant across the Atlantic.
The Boston Tea Party Ship & Museum (tel. 617/269-7150; www.bostonteapartyship.com), which closed after a fire in 2001, plans to expand and reopen in 2009. I've written some version of that sentence at least six times, so call ahead before visiting.
The original Filene's Basement, at Downtown Crossing, closed for construction in 2007 with plans to reopen sometime in 2009. Bargain shoppers can hit the Back Bay location, at 497 Boylston St. (tel. 800/843-8474; www.filenesbasement.com), but it doesn't offer the automatic-markdown policy that makes the century-old original catnip for thrifty fashionistas.
Boston Ballet (tel. 617/695-6955; www.bostonballet.org) will spend the 2008-09 season on its longtime home stage, the Citi Wang Theatre, before moving all of its productions (not just The Nutcracker, which is already there) to the Opera House.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 280 The Fenway (tel. 617/566-1401; www.gardnermuseum.org), has followed the lead of the Museum of Fine Arts and started scheduling one evening a month of after-work drinking and music in the galleries.
Boston's nightlife backbone, Lansdowne Street, was in transition at press time. Avalon and Axis, stalwarts of the lively strip across from Fenway Park, closed in late 2007, roiling the straight and gay club scenes. In an everything-old-is-new-again twist (the original link in the chain was in Cambridge), the House of Blues is expected to replace the popular nightclubs in early 2009. Visit www.hob.com or ask at your hotel before heading out for live music, Southern food, or the famed Sunday gospel brunch.
Side Trips from Boston
The Hancock-Clarke House, 36 Hancock St. (tel. 978/862-1703; www.lexingtonhistory.org), one of Lexington's best-known historic attractions, closed for restoration in 2008 and is expected to reopen in 2009.
The Cape Ann Historical Museum, not so long ago the Cape Ann Historical Association, is now the Cape Ann Museum, 27 Pleasant St., Gloucester (tel. 978/283-0455; www.capeannmuseum.org).
One of the most delightful new additions to the Cape Cod dining scene in years is Osteria La Civetta, at 133 Main St. in Falmouth (tel. 508/540-1616), run by a family from Bologna, Italy. This is European-style dining and service. The food here is exquisite, especially specialties like the lasagna alla bolognese, with homemade pasta.
Restaurant Heather, 20 Joy St. in South Cape Plaza, Mashpee (tel. 508/539-0025), is another wonderful new restaurant in the Upper Cape. Chef/owner Heather Allen specializes in wowing diners with creative preparations made with local ingredients. A favorite is the spinach ravioli with lobster, scallops, and boursin cheese.
The newest hot spot in Hyannis is Embargo, 453 Main St. (tel. 508/771-9700), which specializes in martinis and tapas. This is a popular spot for happy hour from 4:30 to 6pm nightly.
Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket
The big news in Edgartown is the $77-million renovation that will take place over the next several years at the historic Harbor View Hotel, 131 N. Water St. (tel. 800/225-6002). One of the projects is to convert 21 smaller hotel rooms into 13 luxury suites, some with private gardens and outdoor showers. Parts of the hotel will remain open in season during the renovation.
One of the Vineyard's top fine-dining establishments, L'étoile (tel. 508/627-5187), has moved out of its longtime home at the Charlotte Inn and down the street to 22 North Water St. (just off Main St.). Chef Michael Brisson is still in charge and earning rave reviews. The restaurant at Charlotte Inn is now Catch at the Terrace (tel. 608/627-7200), which is also receiving high marks from reviewers.
Designer Vanessa Noel has expanded her Nantucket empire once again. Having started with a shoe store, she now has two hotels and a restaurant. Vanessa Noel Hotel, 5 Chestnut St. (tel. 508/228-5300), seeks to be a boutique hotel by offering amenities like Bulgari toiletries and flatscreen TVs. The new hotel next door, Hotel Green (same number), has an ecological theme, with organic cottons and such. Her new restaurant is called Café V (tel. 508/228-8133), a champagne and caviar bar, in the Vanessa Noel Hotel, that serves breakfast and a light dinner nightly.
Central and Western Massachussetts
In Worcester, the Higgins Armory Museum, 100 Barber Ave. (tel. 508/853-6015), has added an outpost of the London Brass Rubbings Centre next to the gift shop, where visitors can make rubbings from plates featuring knights, dragons, and crests.
Old Sturbridge Village, 1 Old Sturbridge Village Rd. (tel. 800/733-1830), opened a hands-on craft center for visitors in 2007 and plans to begin offering rides on a newly commissioned horse-drawn stagecoach in 2008. The Oliver Wright Tavern, closed for a few years, reopened in 2007. An aggressive 2006-07 fundraising campaign raised $1.83 million and has brought new financial stability to the popular village, which re-creates a rural settlement of the 1830s.
Also in Sturbridge, the newish Cedar Street Restaurant, 12 Cedar St. (tel. 508/347-5800), has become the brightest dining spot in the area. Entrees such as duck with juniper-honey drizzle and toasted pistachio dust, and buttermilk fried chicken with red-eye gravy and braised Swiss chard are as good as you'll find anywhere.
The Springfield Marriott, 2 Boland Way (tel. 800/228-9290), got a snazzy renovation to its lobby and guest rooms, giving the hotel a markedly sparkling and modern overhaul.
The education center of Historic Northampton, 46 Bridge St. (tel. 413/584-6011), no longer has its three 18th- and early-19th-century homes open to the public. It does, however, maintain a small museum, and its website (www.historic-northampton.org) has been beefed up to include detailed virtual exhibits and tours.
Also in Northampton, the popular Green Street Café, 64 Green St. (tel. 413/586-5650), was closed for much of 2007 over a rental dispute but has reopened with a new lease and a small attached wine bar.
The Hampshire Hospitality chain, which runs a number of the hotels in the Pioneer Valley, opened its newest, the Courtyard By Marriott, 423 Russell St. (Rte. 9; tel. 800/321-2211 or 413/256-5454), on the Hadley/Amherst border in May 2007. Rooms have a sleek decor more common to pricier properties, and the property is convenient to the UMass campus.
The village of Turners Falls, in the upper Pioneer Valley near the Vermont and New Hampshire border, has seen its profile rise in recent years, with an influx of artists and an active partnership among cultural and commercial groups. Worth a visit is the Hallmark Museum of Contemporary Photography, 85 Ave. A (also at 52 and 56 Ave. A; tel. 413/863-0009), which opened one gallery in January 2006 and then another across the street in January 2008. Bicyclists will enjoy the Franklin County Bikeway's Canalside Trail, a 4-mile path that opened in early 2008.
New dining highlights in the Berkshires include Great Barrington's Allium, 42 Railroad St. (tel. 413/528-2118), an offshoot of a growing northern Berkshire chainlet that aims to focus on local and seasonal ingredients, and, across the street, Pearl's, 47 Railroad St. (tel. 413/528-7767), a follow-up to the owners' stylish Zinc in Lenox (which leapt to the upper echelon of Berkshires dining nearly as soon as it opened). In Williamstown, a new Jae's Inn, 777 Cold Spring Rd. (tel. 413/458-8032), opened on Route 7. It's a sister operation to its accomplished sibling, Jae's, in North Adams.
In Williamstown, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 225 South St. (tel. 413/458-2303), is getting an additional wing. The first phase of the wing is scheduled to open in summer 2008.
Up in Washington, in the Litchfield Hills, the Mayflower Inn & Spa, 118 Woodbury Rd. (tel. 860/868-9466), has given its well-heeled pilgrims another reason to make its 58 acres of woods and extravagant bedrooms of tapestry rugs and mahogany wainscoting a destination -- an on-site spa. Open since 2006, the spa features scrubs, wraps, and "rituals" in a facility decorated in white marble, bleached wood, and Arts and Crafts-style windows overlooking tranquil lawns.
The biggest buzz in southern Connecticut's dining scene is New Haven's Bespoke, 266 College St. (tel. 203/562-4644), open since fall 2006. It's on par with the best of Manhattan dining, but without the comparable cost. The chef/owner was previously behind the late-lamented Roomba, and he brings to his new menu a wider-ranging variety, with memorable entrees such as roasted sea bass in a carrot-curry broth and the "Two-Way" duck.
Old Lyme's Florence Griswold Museum, 96 Lyme St. (tel. 860/434-5542), reopened in 2006 after 14 months of extensive restoration and refurnishing. Its first floor is now accurately furnished as it was in 1910, when artists who came to be known as the "American Impressionists" boarded here. They expressed their gratitude by leaving samples of their work -- sometimes directly on the walls. Renovations also brought in green geothermal cooling and heating systems.
The tribal nations of southeastern Connecticut can't build fast enough on their Foxwoods Resort (tel. 800/369-9003) and Mohegan Sun tel. 888/226-7711) casinos. A new hotel, the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, was set to open May 2008 as part of $700-million development project. One wrinkle on the horizon: There are rumblings in Massachusetts for not one, not two, but three similar ventures on that side of the border. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is so determined to get gaming up and running in 2008 that he included $124 million in projected casino licensing fees in his budget -- well before plans had even passed muster in the legislature. What effect more gaming options in the region might have on the Connecticut operations is, of course, a billion-dollar question.
The state's "Renaissance City" continues to reinvent itself. The latest sign is a snazzy new luxury hotel, the Renaissance Providence, 5 Ave. of the Arts (labeled on most maps as Brownell St.; tel. 800/468-3571). It's the result of an over-$100-million renovation of a dilapidated neoclassical temple partially built by the Masons in the late 1920s, which stood empty for 78 years after that project ran out of cash. The end result is spectacular. Its restaurant-bar, Temple, 120 Francis St. (Ave. of the Arts; tel. 401/919/5050), was an instant hit with young professionals and older sophisticates, as well as with hotel guests.
Also in Providence, a 3-month renovation at the Courtyard by Marriott, 32 Exchange Terrace (tel. 800/321-2211), was completed in early 2008.
In Newport, the newest high-end lodging is the Hilltop Inn, 2 Kay St. (tel. 800/846-0393), a property which was recently purchased and renovated by the owners of well-appointed Francis Malbone House. Turn-of-the-last-century ceramic tiles and elaborate woodwork abound.
Newport's must-dine list has one new addition: Fluke Wine Bar, 41 Bowen's Wharf (tel. 401/849-7778). Open since summer 2007, its third level offers a bar, views of the harbor, and a convivial crowd to enjoy them. The chef has a New Orleans background, resulting in spicy versions of quahog chowder, potato croquettes, and the like.
In Manchester, the Equinox Resort, Route 7A (tel. 800/362-4747), has been sold to a hotel consortium in Connecticut; updates are reportedly on the way. Check the resort website and my online updates on Frommers.com for any news.
Among the Equinox's early new moves was the acquisition of the 1811 House, formerly one of Vermont's best B&B's. It remains mostly what it was, so far; how it will finally be integrated into the resort concept remains to be seen.
Just a stone's throw away from the growing Equinox empire, the Reluctant Panther, 17-39 West Rd. (tel. 800/822-2331), has reopened after a devastating fire and is better and more convivial than ever. The reconstruction of the main inn house excellently replaces the 1850s-era original (though it's no longer purple, as was its predecessor); rooms have become bigger and better, and the inn restaurant -- always a plus -- has stepped forward into the top ranks of southern Vermont dining.
In northern Vermont, Burlington's overwhelmingly popular Five Spice Café was forced to close after a fire. It's a shame, because this was Vermont's best place for an Asian-fusion meal and one of the only places in northern New England where you could eat dim sum meals. It's rumored around town that the Five Spice will reopen in a new location, but nothing has happened yet. Stay tuned.
Also in Burlington, the popular Frog Hollow Gallery has relocated to a more central location; in fact, it's as central as can be -- right on the Church Street Marketplace.
Here's a switch: Granite Staters approving government and regulation and control of something. As of September 2007, there's a statewide smoking ban
not only in restaurants and bars, but at any public event.
On Mount Washington, the Mount Washington Cog Railway (tel. 800/922-8825 or 603/278-5404) has added a winter excursion through the lovely snow-covered vistas. Shorter than the normal excursion, it takes an hour and costs about $31 per adult, less for kids and seniors.
A new fancy restaurant, Victory 96 State Street, 96 State St. (tel. 603/766-0960), has opened in downtown Portsmouth just a stone's throw from the historic Stawbery Banke district. Its bar area is especially appealing.
The Portland Public Market has moved. Portland's once-proud public market closed its doors in early 2007 and the property was sold. But a new market has sprung up right in the center of the city: the Public Market House, at 28 Monument Square.
No more $1 popcorn. Sadly, the plucky little Bayview Street Cinema, in downtown Camden, has been shuttered, depriving the state of one of its finest independent movie houses.