It’s a bright, sunny afternoon as the summer starts to take hold in Boston. I’ve just arrived for my college reunion, I’ll leave the year a mystery, and already I’m transported back to dorm life. It’s nothing to do with the accommodations, but rather the location. When I attended Emerson College, best known for its artsy-fartsy-ness where the saying went, “the guys are gay and the girls are desperate,” and Back Bay location, it was a school without a proper campus. Instead, the city was our campus. So we relied on a few key areas and avenues as hang-outs, central spots close to the brownstones and townhouses which housed our lectures.
One of those was Commonwealth Avenue, or, the locals and students say, “Comm Ave.” As a student, I only knew it as the pretty boulevard where many of my friends shared apartments, particularly a few members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the coolest fraternity on our non-campus campus. Years later, with the benefit of having visited umpteen cities in France, I spot the parallels. It’s so unusual for an American city; a main artery with a center lane just for pedestrians, lush with rows of trees either side. It begs a jog, or at least a stroll.
And this is where the Hotel Eliot resides. It’s been around since my Boston days. It benefitted from many a Parents Weekend before, during and after my time, but I’d never stayed there. Why bother when the dorms offer every luxury one can imagine?
The Eliot (as it’s known), is also right around the corner from the only other two street names you need to know: Newbury and Boylston. The parallel roads run from where you turn the corner, all the way up to the Boston Commons, the city’s biggest and most beautiful patch of green, and the theatre district (where Emerson has since relocated). It’s about a 30 minute walk from one end to the other, or just a few stops on the T, Boston’s user-friendly subway system.
I’m greeted warmly at check-in and within a few minutes various requests are met. I’m shown to a lovely suite with views of the Charles River. The decor is traditional French (they saw the parallels, too) and the canopied beds are a rare, and enchanting treat. And not too girly, either.
Everything works, and seems intuitive. A night light activated by a light switch is ingenious.
After a quick breather, I’m off to meet old friends at the Island Creek Oyster Bar. Twenty minutes walk down Comm Ave in the other direction takes us to Kenmore Square, home of the Red Sox, Boston’s hometown baseball team. You can always tell when it’s game night. All the bars are packed, including the very subtle one at ICOB. The atmosphere is sophisticated beachcomber. If you’ve ever visited the New England coastline, or Cape Cod, you’ll recognise the pale grey washboard panels. The TV is discreetly centered among them above the bar and the place quiets as the game starts.
The menu has what you’d expect from a seafood restaurant: oysters from Virginia to Nova Scotia, raw bar, lobster roll, and plenty for the landlubbers. But somehow more than a few dishes disappoint. We so want to love this place, but the crab cake is bland, overly reliant on the accompanying relish, of which there isn’t enough. A mussel dish requested sans chorizo seems naked, despite the promise of fennel and saffron broth. Thankfully, the salmon tartare starter is enough for a meal, and the sesame and chive work well to create a creamy bite. The seafood casserole is also a winner, negating the need for dessert. “There’s none of the usual filler,” I’m told.
It’s all lobster, scallops, shrimp, Pollack and carrots. “Something about those carrots is delicious,” is the next comment.
We can’t find room for dessert, but their descriptions alone are worth writing about: chocolate hazelnut puff with roasted banana ice cream, or how about doughnuts with lavender cream? It’s enough to dream about as I head back to the Eliot where a featherbed awaits, and a wonderful night’s slumber.
370 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA (617) 267-1607
Island Creek Oyster Bar
500 Commonwealth Avenue Boston, MA (617) 532-5300