1 or 2 nights in Boston -- historic ambiance w/ quality food?

I’m originally from Montreal and I moved to the West Coast about 5 years ago. I used to spend summers up and down coastal Maine and I would often drive down to Boston for long weekends. It’s been approx. a full decade since I’ve last visited.

I’m taking my wife upstate to Saranac Lake for her birthday this fall, and in trying to plan the logistics of our trip, I decided that a direct flight from SFO-BOS would be the easiest route, with a short haul on Cape Air into the Adirondacks. Because most carriers (VX/UA) who operate non-stop SFO-BOS are flying red eyes, with the transcontinental jump and the 3 hour time difference, it would be exhausting to do it all in a single day. I figured we might as well spend one or two nights in Boston. It may sound kind of silly but that decision is dependent on what I can dig up in the way of food…

I’m having some difficulty finding restaurants well-suited to what I’m looking for - old red brick, dark wood, Colonial feel with dim lighting and a menu/kitchen that’s not geared to the tourist market. Transport Fraunces Tavern to Beacon Hill but with Minetta’s kitchen, I guess? Better yet, bring back Locke-Ober! I don’t know… something distinctly “Old” Boston. Preferably seafood, for obvious reasons, though I suppose beggar’s can’t be choosers. Something that leans towards the upscale, though I’m fine with a good chophouse or meat and martini type of place. As long as the food is good and with plenty of atmosphere to spare – Does this exist any more?? I’ve got Neptune Oyster down as a strong maybe for lunch, but I really want to lock in at least one dinner that ticks off the right boxes. I’d even be cool with Durgin-Park if I was confident we could enjoy a good meal, but most reviews aren’t optimistic.

I’m going to post my “list” below of (mostly) old restaurants in the greater Boston-Cambridge area; bear in mind that this is years old and covers everything from old out-of-the-way neighborhood red sauce joints to sandwich shops and sausage carts. I’m not sure if it’s of any help and I’m not limiting our choices to what follows. I’ve kind of browsed through it myself and have been disappointed to find a number of closures and even more old institutions that have just given up altogether and seem to cater to tourists. Here goes:

• The Harvard Faculty Club

• Durgin-Park

• Locke-Ober - (CLOSED)

• The Marliave

• Mamma Maria

• Neptune Oyster

• Union Oyster House, Downstairs Bar

• The Daily Catch

• Cantina Italiana

• Ida’s Italian Cuisine - (CLOSED)

• Jeveli’s Restaurant

• Regina Pizza

• Santarpio’s Pizza

• Pleasant Cafe, Roslindale

• Galleria Umberto

• Parziale’s Bakery

• Jacob Wirth Co.

• F.J. Doyle & Co.

• Green Dragon Tavern

• Warren Tavern

• James Hook + Co.

• Belle Isle Lobster & Seafood

• Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe

• Sausage Stands at Fenway Park

• Courthouse Seafood Market, Cambridge

• Mr. Bartley’s, Cambridge

• Simco’s Old Tyme Franks, Mattapan

• Cheer’s

• The Bell in Hand Tavern

• Oak Bar, The Fairmont Copley Plaza

• Parker’s Bar, Omni Parker House

• Caffé Vittoria

• Bova’s Bakery

• Betty Ann Food Shop

• L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates, Cambridge

I wanted to post some basic criteria on the forum before really immersing myself in research, as I figured it’d be helpful and time saving. Nothing is really jumping out at me from the above places I’ve run through so far.

I welcome your thoughts, suggestions, input, opinions, and feedback!

Thanks very much.

Not very Colonial/red brick (which tend to be tourist places) but a few names that come to mind would be Troquet, L’espalier, scampo, craigie on main, island creek oyster bar. You might also enjoy Davio’s or Prezza. I would also consider Oya which has no counterpart in the Bay area.

Thanks bud. Are you an East Coast transplant as well?

None of those places are really hitting high notes for me, to be honest… we’re driving down to Manhattan after several nights in the Adirondacks, so there’ll be plenty of opportunity for high end and modern dining. I’m really looking for an old Boston timewarp, only not of the blue collar north end red sauce variety, if that makes sense.

I guess what I have in mind (from memories of years past) doesn’t really exist anymore. What about something like Carbone in NYC (manufactured nostalgia) that maybe isn’t 100% authentic but is thoughtfully done and with a great kitchen that’s geared towards fish/seafood? I would like to focus on seafood as we’ve really got nothing that compares in the Bay Area.

Otherwise, is there anything that stands out from the above list, apart from Neptune? Is that really an early bird gets the worm sort of lunch destination or could we enjoy a nice dinner there as well? Anything positive going for Marliave? I suppose I can shift gears and maybe end up at Jacob Wirths, if nothing else…

I definitely want a taste of “Old Boston”, literally and figuratively!

As for hotels, you might want to look into The Liberty Hotel, which used to be the Charles Street Jail. The designers retained much of the iron bars and brick, and the eateries therein have names fitting the theme. One of the bars is called Alibi; one of the restaurants (which are overseen by Lydia Shire, a Boston legend) is called Clink.

(Used to live in boston) You might consider Stoddard’s if you’re looking for ambience (check out their website for details of their authentic interior including lampposts, train rails etc), or Eastern Standard (la Belle Epoque brasserie ). Food is slightly better at Eastern Standard (best known for their cocktail program) but nothing like the places I listed above. Not a Marliave fan although I was a big fan of the chefs original basement restaurant Grotto. On your list I would personally only go to Regina or Mamma maria for dinner, or maybe get some pastrami at the Bleacher bar or sam la grassa’s, or a sub from Lou’s (Daily catch used to do a great monkfish marsala, I don’t know whether they still do). I would also go out of my way to visit Shake Shack, which has no Bay area outpost. Others can provide a more current perspective (I moved away 2.5 years ago.) Ps. L’espalier does a table side duck which I think you would be hard pressed to find in the Bay area.

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One of the best restaurants in Boston, was the beloved Locke-Ober and when I saw it on your list, my heart sank and so wish that icon of icons, would come back!

The Langham is lovely and they have a wonderful brunch.
The bar at the Taj is a classic beauty.
Have a wonderful time!

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I am worked at Harvard for years. I had to quit working when we adopted from foster care, so I haven’t been to the Harvard Faculty Club in a long time. I used to host many events there. It probably has the ambiance you are looking for, but the food back when I knew it, was OK, sometimes good, but not great. I was curious about whether Harvard affiliation is necessary (website is ambiguous) so I just called them. I was told they are reservation only for all meals, but general public is welcome. There is no dedicated parking…just street parking. This is not geared to tourists. And this is the Faculty Club on Quincy St. in Cambridge…not the Harvard Club in Back Bay Boston, which is a private club that I’m happy to say I’ve never experienced.

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You might want to check out the Hungry I on Charles Street.

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Thanks again. Stoddard’s looks like fun, albeit not exactly the scene I was aiming for. I’ll add it to the list nonetheless and continue exploring your other recommendations.

This place looks really nice. How would you describe the food? Is it a compromise or a place you’d be happy to recommend despite the rigid criteria I’ve set forth?

I could be mistaken, but I seem to recall having brunch at the Faculty Club years back. I’ll explore this one further too; thanks!

Warren Tavern in Charlestown is the historic ambiance for sure. The food is not very good at all, however. A drink there might be a good way to experience the place. The street parking there is very difficult and much of it is resident parking only.

I personally love Neptune Oyster but it is not that “old” and does not take reservations. They get mobbed and it is very small. You can get on the list and they will call you when space is available.

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There is nothing like Carbone here unfortunately. I’m not entirely clear on exactly what you are looking for. However from your list above Mamma Maria still does an excellent job and the setting on North Square is rich with history.

I feel Neptune has slipped (https://www.hungryonion.org/t/neptune-oyster-boston-north-end/3911). It has become more of a tourist destination (i.e. will be sitting with lots of people photographing their food). Also my recent experiences are that the price to value has slipped, while the service is still iffy. I’d opt for the newly opened but outstanding Saltie Girl (https://www.hungryonion.org/t/saltie-girl-back-bay-boston-ma/5594) in the Back Bay instead for lunch.

If you’re looking for a chophouse, Grill 23 might check the boxes for you atmosphere wise.

Thanks Uni, particularly for the Saltie Girl rec. It looks terrific!

I’ve noted Grill 23 as well and I’ll sit down with my wife this evening and make some decision.

The chef formerly at Neptune Oyster opened Select Oyster in the Back Bay some time ago. I haven’t had a chance to try it myself, but reviews seem positive.

Over the years when visiting Boston we have enjoyed 75 Chestnut housed on a lovely historic street in Beacon Hill. Sort of an upscale tavern menu and great cocktails, charming too. Same ownership as Cheers but better…

For the chophouse thing, Boston Chops is very good in a beautiful room with 20 foot ceilings. It used to be a bank.

The Oak Long Bar is a nice room, too, but the food and service have been haphazard for me.

Jacob Wirth is horrible. Durgin Park is horrible and entirely touristy. Union Oyster’s food is terrible but a beer and some oysters on the first floor will give you the ambiance you are looking for.

With the caveat that I haven’t been there in years and mostly went for brunch, I do think it meets most of your criteria. The food was good, if not especially outstanding, and service was excellent. The atmosphere is really lovely, with exposed brick and a cozy feel, right in the Beacon Hill area, so plenty of history around there. Others may have more recent experiences to share, but I would recommend it for the criteria you seek.

For historic ambience, you can’t beat Doyle’s in JP.

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I love the ambiance at Doyles, but the food has gotten even worse in recent years. Sit at the historic bar and get a drink. Eat elsewhere.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

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