Ethel Weiss has been ringing up sweets for Brookline children at Irving’s Toy and Card Shop for a very, very long time, but no, she did not wait on young John F. Kennedy, who was born and raised around the corner on Beals Street. “He was gone,” she says, by the time she and her late husband, Irving, opened the store at 371 Harvard St. back in 1939.
But countless other elementary schoolers and sweet-toothies of all ages have passed beneath the red-and-white striped awning—and stepped back in time. The shelves are filled with classic and modern candies to fit almost any allowance, as well as invisible ink books, Mad Libs, hula hoops, lobster claw harmonicas, Lincoln Logs, and board games like Candyland, Uncle Wiggly, and Stratego. “I like simple things,” says Weiss, who recently turned 100. “No video games, no modern internet stuff. I don’t encourage battery things.”
Weiss has been immortalized on public wall murals and in the popular Beacon Street Girls book series, in which she appears as herself, the kids’ wise counselor. Coolidge Corner has “always been the best place in the world,” she says. “People are lovely. The kids respond. The area is beautiful. It’s level, not hilly. There are nice stores; you can get most everything here. It’s old-fashioned and easy to walk around.”
And no, the corner was not named after President Calvin Coolidge, but rather after 19th-century local businessman David S. Coolidge.
The bakeries, Jewish delis, sushi joints, synagogues, and cultural touchstones of the bustling Brookline crossroads are an easy walk from campus and a quick trolley ride up Beacon Street. Just hop off when you spot the distinctive clock tower on the S. S. Pierce Building, where Beacon meets Harvard Street. Spend a few hours in this Jewish émigré community and you’ll be spouting Yiddish proverbs and kibitzing. While the cultural mix has grown more diverse in recent years, Weiss says they all have one thing in common: “Everyone who comes to Brookline wants to better themselves.”
JFK National Historic Site
83 Beals St.
John F. Kennedy was born at 83 Beals Street, a tree-lined thoroughfare, and lived in the teal three-story home for six years. His mother, Rose Kennedy, later restored the interior to the best of her recollection, donating almost 200 family objects, including the future US president’s bassinet and porringer. The site is operated by the National Park Service, which leads free tours from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays from mid-May to the end of October, and by appointment during the winter. A detailed tour schedule is available here.
Culture and entertainment
The Coolidge Corner Theatre
290 Harvard St.
Brookline’s popular art deco movie house has been entertaining film lovers since 1933 with a mix of first-run and independent productions. Big shots like Meryl Streep, Martin Scorsese, and the late Robert Altman have made panel appearances in recent years. You, too, can feel like a filmmaker when you sink into one of the plush gold chairs in the cozy 14-seat screening room. The main hall accommodates 440 and a smaller auditorium seats 217. Readings and special screenings are held regularly, and there’s even a club for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, complete with the latest audio technology. Plus, that’s real butter glistening on the popcorn.
Coolidge Corner Clubhouse
307A-309 Harvard St.
One of the few bars in the neighborhood, this one can get crowded, especially when a game’s on. The CCC, as regulars refer to it, is known for its heaping plates of nachos, dozens of beers on tap, and a whopping 20 LCD hi-def TVs. Test your sports knowledge every Monday at Trivia Night. The Clubhouse is open Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 a.m., weekends from 9 a.m. to 1:15 a.m.
Knight Moves: Board Game Café
1402 Beacon St.
This café offers fair trade coffee and snacks, but the real appeal is its massive board game library. The first board game café to hit Boston, Knight Moves offers more than 300 games to choose from. Its knowledgeable staff (they’ll even teach you how to play a new game) and casual, comfortable setting make it a comfortable gathering place for groups of friends and families. You’ll find games from classics like Risk, Battleship, and Clue to Tsuro and Chocoly, both tile-based games. Players are given a bell to ring in case they need assistance from the staff. Admission is $10 per person. Knight Moves is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The Pear Tree
1298 Beacon St.
Walking into the Pear Tree is like peering through a kaleidoscope. Beads and jewels from all over the globe adorn this small shop’s walls and tables, creating different patterns as your eyes travel around the room. Whether you’re looking to create your own necklace or bracelet, fix one already in your possession, or find a gift for a friend, the Pear Tree has just about every trinket your heart desires. It also offers classes that provide tips and techniques on how to make professional-quality pieces. The Pear Tree is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
1302 Beacon St.
Started by two Vermont friends, this women’s boutique opened in 2004 and carries a number of American and European clothing and accessories lines covering all price ranges. Whether you’re looking for something to wear to a ball game or a cocktail party, chances are you’ll find it here. Stop by anytime from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, or 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
279 Harvard St.
One of the Boston area’s best independent bookstores, Brookline Booksmith has been a Coolidge Corner institution since it opened in 1961. The well-stocked shelves, featuring both the latest best sellers and the classics, make it a browser’s delight. The staff is incredibly well read and knowledgeable. The lower level offers an ample selection of used books. The store hosts readings and book signings by some of America’s most popular authors: Stewart O’Nan (ENG’83), Julia Glass, and Dennis Lehane, to name a few. Brookline Booksmith is open from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Brookline News and Gift Shop
313 Harvard St.
This shop’s windows are stuffed with sun-bleached board games, smokeless ashtrays, trick golf balls, and card shufflers. The front door is plastered with stickers. Inside, the counters are stacked so high you have to guess where the staff is. And be prepared to shimmy sideways when navigating the narrow aisles. It’s a kaleidoscopic experience trying to take in the eclectic wares, from googly eyeglasses and vampire teeth to liquor flasks and action figures. Proprietor Vinny Patel even stores items in the ceiling. And if you’re looking for cigars or pipes, assorted smoking accoutrements, and quirky conversation, you’ve come to the right place. Brookline News and Gift Shop is open from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday. It’s closed Sunday.
New England Comics
316 Harvard St.
Hell Boy, Iron Man, and the Dark Knight all began life on the page before they graced film and blockbuster movies. You can find their comic books and much, much more at New England Comics. A chain of eight stores, its Coolidge Corner location boasts the largest inventory of comics and toys, from Archie to Spider-Man. It also offers a wall of graphic novels and trade paperbacks, as well as a large array of independent and small press books to complement its stock of superhero trades from Marvel, DC, Image, and Vertigo. You’ll find sports cards and collectible card games and trading card games like Pokémon, Magic: The Gathering, and Yu-Gi-Oh! The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. New England Comics is open from noon to 7 p.m. Monday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday; 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
428 Harvard St.
The Butcherie is famous for having the largest selection of kosher groceries in New England. With a wide variety of deli meats, wines, snack foods imported from Israel, traditional Jewish delicacies (like noodle kugel, beef brisket, and knishes), prepared food (like American chop suey, beef pot pie, and Chinese-style egg rolls), and desserts (cappuccino tortes, éclairs, and chocolate babka, to name just a few), the Butcherie is the place to shop for specialty items that aren’t available at other stores in Boston. It’s open Sunday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Monday and Tuesday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Brookline Farmers Market
Centre Street West parking lot, off Beacon Street
From mid-June through the end of October, this nonprofit farmers market is a fan favorite, featuring a huge selection of local produce (much of it organic), eggs, ice cream, baked goods—even fresh seafood. The market also sells flowers, preserves, honey, turkey, grass-fed beef and lamb, and handicrafts. Stop by every Thursday between 1:30 and dusk, rain or shine.
Hops N Scotch
1306 Beacon St.
Despite this gastrolounge’s name, owners Darren Tow and David Ng have graduated from playground games to adult beverages—and plenty of them. Hops N Scotch offers a wide variety of craft beers and more than 120 different types of Scotch and bourbon. Couple your cocktail with one of the eatery’s comforting, Southern-style dishes, such as the always-classic fried chicken or the Scotch egg, a house favorite containing house-made chorizo sausage wrapped around a soft-boiled egg, served with a bourbon-mustard dipping sauce. Even the walls and décor, all shades of brown and caramel, pick up on the restaurant’s warm, whiskey-focused feel. Hours: Monday and Tuesday from 5 p.m. to midnight, Wednesday and Thursday from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., Friday from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sunday from 11 a.m. to midnight.
242 Harvard St.
The name of this intimate seafood restaurant is homage to chef and co-owner Jeremy Sewall’s New England ancestry. Back in 1705, when the town of Brookline was independently incorporated, Samuel Sewall was the community’s first town clerk, even providing use of his family’s “Brooklin” (the original spelling) lands. Twenty-first-century Sewall and his wife, Lisa (co-chef and co-owner), are committed to creating a menu focused on seasonality, using products from local artisans and growers, all served in a setting that features white tablecloths, hanging lanterns, and soothing art. Sewall’s cousin Mark continues the family tradition of fishing; he sails out of York Harbor, Maine, every day and supplies the restaurant with some of the freshest, most scrumptious lobster in New England. The menu changes daily, depending on the ingredients available. Hours: Monday 5 to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 10:30 p.m., Sunday 4 to 9 p.m.
256 Harvard St.
Look out for Michael’s small storefront, otherwise you’ll miss the delicious food at this New York–style deli. A hot spot for sandwiches in Coolidge Corner, Michael’s has top ratings from the Phantom Gourmet and “Best of Boston.” The corned beef Rachel, with Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and coleslaw on toasted pumpernickel, is a favorite. With a menu full of pastrami, roast beef, and salami sandwiches, Michael’s is a prime lunch spot for deli lovers. But, don’t forget about the most important meal of the day—Michael’s also serves breakfast sandwiches and bagels with lox. The deli is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
278 Harvard St.
An escape to Paris is right around the corner—Coolidge Corner, that is. This no-frills café serves up crepes that will immediately transport you to a bench along the Seine. A delicious take on the ultra-famous street food, Paris Creperie has a mouthwatering selection of savory and sweet crepes, as well as coffee, tea, soups, and salads. The café is also known to whip up a spectacular smoothie and is most noted for its irresistible Nutella frozen hot chocolate, the true star of the menu. Containing only Nutella, skim milk, and frozen yogurt, this heavenly treat warrants a warning on the menu: “Paris Creperie is not liable for any addictions created by this smoothie.” Indulge your sweet tooth anytime Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., or Sunday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
308 Harvard St.
Winner of “Best Brookline Restaurant” from Boston magazine (2010) and the Improper Bostonian (2013), this pub and bistro somehow remains a hidden gem in Coolidge Corner. The wallpaper and the restaurant’s name—from the pub in the old TV sitcom Three’s Company—are the only retro characteristics of this chic restaurant. Regal Beagle offers an affordable, modern selection of food, including tantalizing options such as dates stuffed with blue cheese wrapped in bacon, and haddock roulade with creamy leeks, fingerling chips, and Meyer lemon gremolata. Executive chef Stacy Cogswell was recently named a contestant on the hit Bravo foodie show Top Chef. The restaurant has a modest wine and beer list and plenty of cocktails—even for brunch. It’s open from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday to Friday, and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
313B Harvard St.
This is where students arriving from Italy gravitate, instead of Warren Towers. “They can’t eat American food,” says owner Andrea Ferrini, a Florentine jeweler-turned-restaurateur. “They have to adjust slowly.” Antipasto, paninis, spinach gnocchi—it’s all here, and reasonably priced. A long picnic table with an umbrella and red placemats suggests an Italian grotto and fosters communal eating. Hams and spicy salamis fill the deli case, and Italian pastas and sauces, olive oil, biscuits, and bottles of San Pellegrino line the shelves. Try the arugula and pear salad (with walnuts, Parmigianino cheese and lemon olive oil) or the bresaola panini (lean dry-cured beef with roasted peppers, capers, lemon juice, and olive oil). “Ciao” down anytime from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., seven days a week.
324 Harvard St.
With house-made hummus, tangy baba ganoush, and crispy falafel, a trip to Rami’s will make you feel as though you were transported to Jerusalem. Authentic Israeli and Middle Eastern food at reasonable prices make this restaurant a Coolidge Corner gem. The restaurant is kosher, and in observance of the Jewish Sabbath, Rami’s closes on Friday at 3 p.m. and doesn’t reopen until Sunday at 10 a.m. Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday.
335 Harvard St.
Your search for the perfect Reuben may well end here. Lines out the door of this Brookline institution are common, but it’s worth the wait. The friendly staff keeps things moving and the water glasses filled. Try the lupo—brisket layered between potato pancakes with vegetable gravy and horseradish—or the grilled cheese made with thick slices of challah. If you’re in the mood for breakfast, the banana stuffed waffles with date butter have been known to rock worlds. Brunch is served all day at Zaftigs (which means “pleasingly plump” in Yiddish). Suggestion: in warm weather (or when facing a long line), order your meal to go and plop down with the other Zaftigs exiles in neighboring Devotion Park. The deli is open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday, and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
421 Harvard St.
Sandwiched in among the quaint shops of Coolidge Corner is Dorado, a tiny slice of Mexican heaven that specializes in sandwiches—notably, street-style sandwiches called cemitas—that originated in the south-central Mexican state of Puebla. Served on a toasted sesame seed egg roll with black beans, chipotles en adobo, avocado, Oaxaca cheese, and cilantro, the cemitas are stuffed with a choice of pork loin Milanesa, grilled marinated sirloin steak, grilled marinated chicken, house-made chorizo, or for vegetarians, spicy portabella mushroom or grilled zucchini and red peppers. Drooling yet? Dorado also specializes in Baja California–style fish tacos, which literally melt in your mouth. The authenticity of the food says otherwise, but the two clocks on the wall, one marked “Brookline” and the other “Ensenada,” remind diners that they are still north of the border. Dorado is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Kupel’s Bake & Bagel
421 Harvard St.
While an intense debate has swirled for years over the pronunciation of the bakery’s name (long or short “u” in Kupel’s?), many swear the kosher shop offers the most flavorful bagels in Boston. Others rave about the egg salad, the pastries, and the homemade cream cheese. Expect lines during prime chow times. In observance of the Jewish Sabbath, Kupel’s closes at sundown Friday and doesn’t reopen until Sunday morning, so stocking up for the weekend is advised. Hours: Sunday to Thursday 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday 6 a.m. to sundown. P.S. It’s pronounced “couples.”
Getting there: By foot, head down St. Mary’s Street or St. Paul’s Street from Commonwealth Avenue to Beacon Street, and turn right. The walk takes 15 to 25 minutes. By MBTA, walk to the St. Mary’s trolley stop on Beacon Street and take the outbound Green Line C trolley four stops to Coolidge Corner.
Click on the points in the map above for more information on the places listed in our guide to the Coolidge Corner area.