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Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Brookline Village

Meandering around a historic Brookline hub

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If you build it, they will come. And so they did. Brookline, which was part of the city of Boston until it was independently incorporated in 1705, was first created around the old Town Green. But with the arrival of the Boston & Albany Railroad in 1847, the community’s hub moved to Brookline Village, which has been the town’s civic and commercial center ever since, home to the police and fire stations, public library, and courthouse.

After the Civil War, the commercial area expanded up Washington and Harvard Streets—now considered the heart of the village—where today, shops abut homes, recycling is the norm, higher-than-average property taxes produce excellent schools, overnight street parking is illegal, and family-owned businesses far outnumber chains.

There are exceptions. Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts have made their way into the neighborhood, but those in the know walk a few blocks to KooKoo Café, which serves vegan munchies and George Howell coffee. And that’s only one of the local independent stores worth exploring.

Nearby Parks

Daniel F. Ford Park and Playground at Emerson Garden
Fronted by Davis Avenue and Emerson Street

This two-acre playground is nestled in a residential area of Brookline Village. Trees shade the perimeter of a large grassy field lined with benches, providing a spot for reading, relaxing, and people-watching. Along with slides, a climbing structure, and a colorful toy ship, the playground has Brookline’s first spray pool, where children can cool down on a hot summer’s day. The nearby park, with walking paths, is dog-friendly, and offers off-leash hours, for a fee, for your canine companions between dawn and 9 a.m. as part of the town’s Green Dog Program.

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Daniel F. Ford Playground at Emerson Gardens

Linden Park
Between Linden Place and Linden Street

Established in 1843, this quiet park sports just a single play feature: a circular sandbox, about 20 feet in diameter. The park offers passersby a reprieve from Harvard Street’s traffic and a peaceful place to eat take-out from numerous neighboring cafés. A single table sits at the front entrance, and benches are scattered throughout. Near the back entrance is one dedicated to “Alan J. Gagne (1952–2006), Linden Street’s beloved mailman.” Linden Park dates back to 1844 and is listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

Village Highlights

KooKoo Café
7 Station St.

Catering to the health-conscious crowd, KooKoo Café offers mainly Middle Eastern–inspired vegetarian and vegan fare. And aptly, owners Ali Mohajerani and Elie Dunford also run Inner Space, a yoga studio just a few doors down. The café, which serves breakfast and lunch, is named after one of its signature dishes, kookoo, a light, fluffy Persian frittata made of eggs, spinach, parsley, and scallions. But according to staff, the most popular menu item is the tuna and Brie sandwich, with honey mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and avocado (upon request), served on a choice of bread. The café prides itself on serving quality single-origin terroir coffee roasted by the George Howell Coffee Company. KooKoo showcases local pottery and artwork. The café has warm lighting and is decorated in rich earth tones, and families are encouraged to bring their children—a nook with a kid-sized table and chairs, books, and games is nestled in back.

Inner Space
17 Station St.

Skylights allow natural light to pour into the space at this yoga studio, which offers yoga classes for adults (Hatha, Iyengar, Kripalu, and Vinyasa) as well as for kids and teens. The studio also has Capoeira and karate for children and adults. “We have a strong grassroots community here,” says owner Ali Mohajerani. “People don’t show up here to be seen—it’s a no-hype place to practice.” Learn more about classes here.

Puppet Showplace Theatre
32 Station St.

Since 1974, this 95-seat theater has attracted artists from around the world performing marionette, hand, rod, and shadow puppetry. The audience is mainly children (some 20,000 every year), and for many, it’s the first time they’ve seen live theater. Many performances are familiar, such as adaptations of Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk. Although mainly for families, school groups, and campers, the theater also hosts programming for adults, like the Puppet Showplace Slam, Boston’s only cabaret of short puppetry performances for adult audiences. The theater offers a variety of workshops for adults, children and school groups.

Baja Betty’s Burritos
3 Harvard Square

This casual, cash-only burrito joint specializes in California-style Mexican food. The cozy restaurant, open for lunch and dinner, is kid-friendly and noted for its tasty, inexpensive food and great service. You’ll find a variety of antojitos (snacks), including nachos, tostadas, and chalupas. Burritos, served in either a tortilla or bowl, are the main attraction, but the restaurant also serves tacos, enchiladas, and chile rellenos. At just $6, the Starvin’ Student Specials are an especially good value. There is ample seating inside, and takeout and catering are also available.

Magnolia Smokehouse
6 Harvard Square

The Village Smokehouse, a Brookline staple for nearly 50 years, recently underwent a change in ownership, design, and name. Now called Magnolia Smokehouse, the revamped eatery still serves up delectable barbecue made in the smoke pit on the restaurant’s floor, but the cuisine now has a decidedly more Southern twist. The restaurant serves up classic staples from the South like fried pickles, served with creole remoulade; shrimp and grits; St. Louis style ribs, dry rubbed and smoked, served with cornbread, pit beans, coleslaw, and your choice of BBQ sauce; and fried chicken with baked macaroni and cheese, collard greens, cornbread, and Tabasco honey. If you visit, be sure to check out the renovated basement, which has been converted into a speakeasy-style lounge.

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Magnolia Smokehouse, 6 Harvard Square

Serenade Chocolatier
5 Harvard Square

The chocolatiers here create handmade artisan chocolates, filling molds and operating a tempering machine in an open kitchen behind the counter. Only natural ingredients—including pure butter, cream, fresh-roasted nuts, fruits, and premium European chocolate—are used. A specialty is the hazelnut Viennese, a chocolate cube comprising a single layer of milk and white chocolates wedged between two layers of dark chocolate and infused with hazelnut butter. Novelty items include the chocolate piñata cake, a hollow shell of dark or milk chocolate filled with a variety of artisan chocolates. Each cake comes with a wooden mallet, so it can be smashed and the chocolate treasures released. The store also blends several dark chocolates to make a 72 percent cocoa-rich, dairy-free, vegan chocolate.  Follow Serenade Chocolatier on Facebook or Twitter for news of special events and free samples.

Clover Food Lab
6 Harvard St.

Clover Food Lab’s food trucks and restaurants are ubiquitous in Boston, and for good reason. The company prides itself on ingredients that are locally sourced (40–85 percent comes from the Northeast, depending on the day); organic (30–60 percent depending on the time of year); and fast (the average serve time is three and a half minutes). The same is true for this brick-and-mortar version, Clover’s tiniest. Everything, except for a few condiments, is made in the store on the day of sale; nothing is frozen or reheated. Clover’s menu is small and changes daily. You’ll find innovative seasonal dishes like a Brussels sprout sandwich made with a sour cream Dijon spread, smoked Grafton cheddar, fried brussels tossed with zaatar, pickled red cabbage, and toasted hazelnuts. The beverages are equally inventive. Try the maple soda or the cinnamon lemonade. The unfussy interior matches the simplicity of the food and, while there’s no seating, patrons can enjoy their order at one of two counters by the window.

Matt Murphy’s
14 Harvard St.

An Irish pub without a television seems rare. But at Matt Murphy’s, where the focus is on community rather than cable, soft music is the ambient sound of choice. Esquire magazine chose the establishment’s top round lamb sirloin burger for its 2008 Best Sandwiches in America rankings, noting: “It hits you like a Joycean epiphany: sirloin, cooked until it dissolves on the crusty potato bread, and pickles, daubed with sweet relish and a sauce bearing the faintest rumor of mint.” Try the poutine (house fries and Irish cheese curds in a rich brown gravy) or the Shepherd’s Pie. Commercial sodas are banned, and Murphy’s, which accepts cash only, prides itself on offering local liquor, such as vodka from Nantucket’s Cisco Brewers. .

Henry Bear’s Park
19 Harvard St.

Henry Bear’s Park offers toys and games arranged by age and theme. But the store is not just for kids. Adults will find gems in the age 8 to 12 section, with classic board games such as Scrabble, Apples to Apples, Cranium, and Phase 10. The store hosts free activities that include educational games and various craft projects, popular with local families. The store, which now has five locations, takes its name from a children’s book by David McPhail, published in 1976—the same year the first store opened in Huron Village, in Cambridge.

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Henry Bear’s Park, 19 Harvard St.

Orinoco
22 Harvard St.

Orinoco’s fare is rooted in traditional Venezuelan cuisine. Chef Carlos Rodríguez, who has taught classes in Boston University’s Culinary Arts Program, applies nuevo Latino techniques to bring out exotic flavors, an approach best exemplified by the restaurant’s plantain-encrusted mahi-mahi with rabo encendido (oxtail spiced in port reduction) and tomato escabeche. Owner Andres Brangér (CAS’84) carefully chose décor and placement to ensure that customers feel at home. One wall is festooned with a pyramid he constructed of pre-1950 black-and-white family photos, topped with a portrait of his mother. (The eatery has locations in the South End and Harvard Square in Cambridge as well.)

Pomodoro
24 Harvard St.

Pomodoro is a cozy, intimate restaurant serving up classic Italian fare with an inventive twist in a hospitable, candle-lit setting. It’s the perfect spot for date nights and special occasions. The menu is small but offers a range of dishes that will delight carnivores and vegetarians alike. Try the arancini (crispy risotto balls stuffed with fontina cheese, wild mushrooms, and truffle oil) or the braised meatballs, made from veal and pork, to start. Then enjoy a flavorful pasta dish, like bucatini and wild mushrooms with fontina cheese, roasted shallots, and thyme; an entrée like seared scallops served with butternut squash risotto and fried sage; or a simple salad made from baby arugula, prosciutto, shaved pecorino, olive oil, and lemon. On Sundays, Pomodoro serves brunch, which has become especially popular with local residents.. Leave your credit cards home: Pomodoro is cash only.

Martin’s Coffee Shop
35 Harvard St.

This Brookline Village mainstay is a favorite with local residents for breakfast and lunch. Grab a seat at the counter and enjoy a hearty meal of pancakes, French toast, or create-your-own eggs Benedict. Martin’s opens at 7 a.m. (8 a.m. on Sundays) and closes at 3 p.m. The lunch menu offers an extensive list of subs, burgers, and classic home-style favorites. The coffee shop is cash only; delivery and online ordering are available.

Bottega di Capri Italian Deli
41 Harvard St.

Bottega di Capri gives Italian eateries in the North End a run for their money. Featuring fresh, affordable homemade pastas and more than a dozen sauces, this eat-in and take-out deli is the place to grab a sandwich at lunch or a prepared meal when you don’t feel like making dinner. The pumpkin tortellini and lobster ravioli are a must, as are the numerous panini and sandwich selections.

Bonnie’s Boutique
43 Harvard St.

Often described as a “miracle worker,” Boonsom “Bonnie” Pasooktham of Bonnie’s Boutique is a trusted and talented seamstress, known for her pleasant demeanor and exceptional customer service. Bring in a dress or suit jacket needing alterations and you’ll get it back on time and on point. No wonder Boston magazine named Bonnie’s Boutique Boston’s Best Tailor in 2014 and 2015. Bonnie is also known for designing beautiful custom-made gowns and other articles of clothing.

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Orinoco, 22 Harvard St.

Gateway Arts
60-62 Harvard St.

Gateway Arts, a service of the nonprofit Vinfen, is a studio art center dedicated to creating careers in art for people with disabilities. For more than 40 years, the studio spaces, gallery, and storefront have supported artists with developmental and psychiatric disabilities, providing them studio mentorship to help them grow professionally and a neighboring store where they can sell their artwork, which includes paintings, silk scarves, fine jewelry, wooden furniture, cards, hand-woven textiles, and pottery. Gateway also hosts exhibitions throughout the year in its gallery space on the second floor. Half of all profits go directly to the artists. The store is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays, but you can also shop the online store.

Pon Thai Bistro
213 Washington St.

Combining her classical training in French cuisine with her Thai roots, chef and owner Sivika “Pon” Hunter creates elegant but affordable dishes such as smoky Chinese eggplant and a variety of traditional Thai curries. Pon Thai has a large wine selection [http://www.ponthaibistro.com/drink-menu] to match its diverse menu; the white wines are designed to play off dishes that are heavy on spices and chilies. Hunter’s menu features what she calls the “trinity of sauces”—fish sauce, oyster sauce, and soy sauce. Among the standout dishes is the laab duck, an entrée of minced duck, mint, cilantro, fried shallots, lemongrass, roasted rice powder, crushed pepper, and tamarind dressing. One visit and you’ll discover why the Boston Globe declared the bistro an “emerging gem” in 2015.

Finesse Florist
221 Washington St.

Leslie Epps, the florist behind Finesse, believes that the most beautiful bouquets must be designed with love. Using the freshest flowers possible, she assembles intricate arrangements for birthdays, weddings, funerals, and any occasion in between. You’ll also find easy-to-care-for houseplants like bromeliads, cacti, and pothos, an ideal way to bring nature into your apartment or dormitory.

El Centro Dos
236 Washington St.

El Centro Dos, an appropriately named outpost of El Centro, a popular South End Mexican eatery, serves authentic regional Mexican cuisine. Chef and owner Allan Rodriguez has handpicked art—including a beautiful portrait of Frieda Kahlo—and furniture from his native Mexico to give the Brookline restaurant a homey and authentic atmosphere. El Centro Dos serves chicken in mole sauce, enchiladas, and a variety of tacos and salads. It also has concocted a host of refreshing drinks like watermelon sangria and spicy mango mojitos. The restaurant is open for dinner every day, lunch on weekdays, and brunch on the weekend.

The Children’s Book Shop
237 Washington St.

Billing itself as Greater Boston’s oldest independent bookstore, this shop has been delighting young minds since 1977. With more than 28,000 titles available, the store offers children’s classics (e.g., Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings), the latest in picture and chapter books, and young adult fare. Rows of books, from pop-ups to contemporary novels, classics, and nonfiction, are sorted by age and genre. A section at the front of the store features books autographed by authors who have done readings sponsored by the Children’s Book Shop at the nearby Public Library of Brookline. The knowledgeable staff will help you find just the right gift for any young reader. The shop was named best children’s bookshop by Boston magazine in 2007, and again from 2011 to 2014. .

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The Children’s Book Shop, 237 Washington St.

Horai-San Book and Crystal Shop
242 Washington St.

The smell of incense and the sound of gurgling water emanating from a metallic Buddha fountain set the mood in this shop, a fixture in Brookline Village since 1985. Named for a mythical Chinese mountain, Horai-San represents the world religions—Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism—and stocks a range of books, such as The New Age Herbalist and What the Buddha Taught. It also sells artwork, CDs, jewelry, Buddha statues, and signature items like Brazilian amethyst crystals and a rainbow assortment of incense. The shop also offers astrological readings and four kinds of healing massages.

Framers’ Workshop
278 Washington St.

Since 1976, Framers’ Workshop, Boston’s only do-it-yourself frame shop, has provided space and tools for customers to frame their own art. The fee to use one of the six workstations is $3; doing it yourself takes about an hour and can significantly lower the cost of framing a beloved piece of art. The staff is down-to-earth and helpful, offering tips such as: “Metal frames are quicker to assemble than wooden ones,” and “Black aluminum frames are like the milk of grocery stores.” Translation: they’re the cheapest. Be sure to check out the store’s website for special offers. Framers’ Workshop will also do custom orders for you.

Cutty’s
284 Washington St.

“Nobody knows how great our ingredients are,” says owner Charles Kelsey, who invests in food rather than advertising for his gourmet breakfast and lunch sandwich shop. Kelsey and his wife Rachel seek out local, organic ingredients like all-natural, antibiotic-free meats, fresh bread from Iggy’s in Cambridge, and fresh produce from Brookline’s Allandale Farm. Former America’s Test Kitchen editors with degrees from the Culinary Institute of America, the two prepare food on site. Their slow-roasted pork, which takes three days to prepare, is one of the shop’s most popular items. It is used in two sandwiches, pork fennel and pork rabe, sold only on Saturdays. Cutty’s menu caters to carnivores—its best seller is the roast beef 1000 (see it on the cover of Boston magazine’s February 2015 issue) and vegetarians will enjoy the shop’s soups, salads, and eggplant spuckie (an old Boston term meaning sub), with eggplant, hand-pulled mozzarella, and olive-carrot salad on a ciabatta roll. Once a month, on Super Cluckin’ Sunday, the line is out the door with customers yearning for the sole sandwich Cutty’s offers that day: buttermilk fried chicken with sauces, lettuce, and shaved sweet onion on a sesame brioche bun.

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Cutty’s, 284 Washington St

Brookline Family Restaurant
305 Washington St.

Cooking up traditional Turkish cuisine, cousins Ziya Canca and Ahmet Ozseferoglu offer specialties from their homeland. One popular choice is the Adana kebab (named after the fourth-largest city in Turkey, where it originated), consisting of spicy ground lamb on skewers. Although the Halal-certified menu is heavy on meat, vegetarians will enjoy spinach pies with feta cheese wrapped in phyllo dough, and a variety of cold appetizers and salads. Many dishes are served with pide, a delicious homemade sesame-seeded bread that’s soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside—only a fool would pass it up. With many items premade and showcased at the counter, service is quick.

Village Pizza House
312 Washington St.

Since 1970, the Mallios family has been serving up Greek-style pizza in the heart of Brookline Village. “Ninety-nine point nine percent of my customers are repeats: local residents and Brookline High School teachers and students, including the ones who cut class for a slice,” says owner Ernie Mallios. The restaurant’s artwork is minimal, but what is there is represents the Mallios family’s heritage and hobbies. Paintings of Greek buildings hang alongside Ernie’s sons’ fishing trophies, and a 150-gallon fish tank anchors the front counter. Many customers choose to carry out or order online but there is ample seating inside. Be sure to try one of the specialty pizzas, like the Pizza Aleco with shaved steak, sautéed onions and peppers, and chopped garlic. You’ll be glad you did.

Wu-Er
320 Washington St.

Wow Barbecue, a food truck serving authentic Chinese barbecue (food on a stick) has now expanded to include two brick-and-mortar restaurants, one in Malden and one in Brookline Village. The restaurants, named Wu-Er by Wow Barbecue, seek to bring Chinese culture and cuisine to the Boston area by offering a comprehensive menu of traditional Chinese street cuisine. Wu-Er specializes in skewers—meat or vegetables doused in cumin and cooked over a gas grill with volcano rocks to preserve the signature smoky flavor of the cuisine, which traditionally is cooked over a charcoal grill. The restaurant offers two dozen specialty skewers, ranging from basics like chicken or beef served with Thai chili, dill yogurt, and carrot hummus to more unique offerings like lamb kidney, squid, quail egg, and chicken gizzards. We-Er’s menu also includes soups, Asian fusion tapas-style small plates, and entrees, including behemoth “plates for two.”

Public Library of Brookline
361 Washington St.

For more than 150 years, the Public Library of Brookline has served a variety of local residents, including the Kennedy clan, Emmy- and Tony-winning actress Jane Alexander, TV personalities like Conan O’Brien, and sports luminaries like Theo Epstein and Bob Kraft. Besides books, the library offers all of its card-carrying members access to ESL conversation groups; foreign language books, including large collections of Chinese, Russian, and Hebrew texts; and museum passes for reduced admission to cultural institutions like the New England Aquarium, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and Museum of Science. The library hosts story times, puppet shows, and a teen book club, and also provides resources for people with disabilities, seniors, and students. Keeping up with technology, the library loans digital books and audiobooks powered by OverDrive software, so patrons can read or listen on their e-readers and iPads. Titles are available electronically for two weeks, then they vanish.

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Brookline Family Restaurant, 305 Washington St.

Off the Beaten Path

Stops along the Underground Railroad
9 Toxteth St. and 182 Walnut St.

Brookline Village is home to two houses that were stops on the Underground Railroad during the 19th century. A wooden cottage at 9 Toxteth St. was owned from 1845 to 1867 by abolitionist William Ingersoll Bowditch, a Brookline selectman and town moderator. He used his house to shelter fugitive slaves, including Henry “Box” Brown, who shipped himself in a box to gain freedom. In another part of Brookline Village, the Samuel Philbrick House, at 182 Walnut St., concealed escaped slaves William and Ellen Craft, who stayed in a back room for days while a US marshal searched for them. Today, the two homes are privately owned and can be viewed only from the street. Discreet plaques identify the Brookline residences as part of the Underground Railroad.

Rifrullo Café
147 Cypress St.

Owner and chef Colleen Marnell-Suhanosky wants customers to feel at home in her restaurant, and the menu does just that. Breakfast items include a variety of egg dishes, avocado toast, and other innovative dishes geared to health-conscious diners. Lunch items include fresh salads and home-style favorites like grilled cheese. Try the daily soup with an Italian tuna or pulled pork sandwich made with bread baked on site. For dinner, you can’t go wrong with such crowd pleasers as olive oil poached trout, fish tacos, and eggplant tagine. You can grab a seat at the counter or on the hot pink leatherette couch, an heirloom from the owner’s grandparents’ Italian restaurant in Minneapolis.

Shambhala Meditation Center
646 Brookline Ave.

Awakening kindness, goodness, and wisdom within society is the goal of the Shambhala community, and to that end it offers weekend workshops, dharma talks, and meditation in two shrine rooms appointed with comfortable mats and scented with incense. The center welcomes people of all faiths and traditions, with weekly theme nights such as a 30s and Under gathering; the Heart of Recovery, which brings together Buddhist meditation practice and the 12-step model of recovery for people on the path to sobriety; and a monthly LGBT meditation group. Those who choose to become members of the community pay dues based on what they can afford, with a suggested monthly donation of $5 to $10. Members are also encouraged to take on volunteer roles at the center.

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Evelyn Kirrane Aquatic Center, 60 Tappan St.

Brookline Reservoir Park
Route 9 between Lee and Warren Streets

Both runners and walkers make use of the one-mile circumference of the Brookline Reservoir Park. The reservoir is also a popular destination for anglers: the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife stocks the man-made body of water annually. Those heading out for a catch need only bring a permit from the Office of the Town Clerk, along with their fishing gear. Patches of grass and benches provide resting spots. At the Warren Street entrance sits a controversial landmark, the Brookline Reservoir Gatehouse. Built during World War II, it was designed to keep Boston’s water supply flowing if the main supply was disrupted. Residents and city officials have bickered since the 1980s over whether the expensive relic should be preserved. In 2015, the National Park Service declared the Brookline Reservoir and Gatehouse a National Historic Landmark.

Evelyn Kirrane Aquatic Center
60 Tappan St.

Named for the town’s Recreation Department superintendent from 1972 to 1989, the aquatic center on the Brookline High School campus was the nation’s first indoor public swimming facility. The center has three pools: a shallow one for children and beginners, a lap pool, and a diving area. The last two connect through a sealed tunnel, and swimmers wearing goggles can peer through the lap pool’s underwater window to watch divers on the other side. A major attraction for swimmers with sensitive skin is the pools’ copper ionization filtration system, which lowers the levels of chlorine required. The pools cost $5 a visit for Brookline residents, $7 for nonresidents.

Getting there: By foot, head down Harvard Street from Comm Ave until you cross Washington Street. The 1.5-mile walk takes about 30 minutes. By T, walk to the Fenway stop on Park Drive and take the outbound D trolley two stops to Brookline Village. By bus, hop on the #66 headed down Harvard Street.

This story originally ran July 28, 2009; it has been updated to include new locations and current information.

2 Comments

2 Comments on Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Brookline Village

  • Yohan on 09.15.2015 at 10:30 am

    Useful guide! Another ‘off the beaten track’ location in Brookline Village is the Boston School of Boabom. They teach a form of active meditation, relaxation and self-defense with roots in ancient Tibet. You can check out more about it here: bostonboabom.com. (It’s right next to Martin’s Coffee Shop.)

  • Student on 12.03.2016 at 12:16 pm

    Thank you for this great guide! I have been through Brookline only a few times, and this guide has given me some ideas for new places to explore.

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