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Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Brookline Village

Meandering around a historic Brookline hub


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 built 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.

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 parking on the street is illegal, and family-owned businesses far outnumber chains.

There are exceptions. Dunkin’ Donuts has made its 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.

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Daniel F. Ford Playground at Emerson Gardens

Nearby Parks

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

Nestled in a residential area of Brookline Village lies this two-acre playground. Trees shade the perimeter of a large grassy field lined with benches, providing a perfect spot for reading. Along with slides, a climbing structure, and a colorful toy ship, it has Brookline’s first spray pool, where children can cool down on a hot summer’s day.

Linden Park
Between Linden Place and Linden Street

Established in 1843, this quiet park sports just a single play feature: a circular sandbox, approximately 20 feet in diameter. The park offers passersby a reprieve from Harvard Street’s traffic, a peaceful place to eat take-out from numerous neighboring cafés. A single table sits at the front entrance, benches are scattered throughout. Near the back entrance is a bench dedicated to “Alan J. Gagne (1952-2006), Linden Street’s beloved mailman.”

Village Highlights

KooKoo Café
7 Station St.

Catering to the health-conscious crowd, KooKoo Café offers mainly vegetarian and vegan fare. And aptly, owners Ali and Elie Mohajerani also run Yoga in the Village, just a few doors down. The café is named after one of its signature dishes, Kookoo, a light and 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, brie, 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 an offshoot of Boston’s Coffee Connection, the George Howell Coffee Company. KooKoo showcases local pottery and artwork, including pieces made at neighboring Feet of Clay Pottery. 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 lighting to pour into the space at this yoga studio, which offers classes in Hatha, Iyengar, Kripalu, and Vinyasa for adults, as well as yoga for teens. The studio also offers Capoeira and karate. “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.”

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Feet of Clay Pottery, 21 Station St.

Feet of Clay Pottery
21 Station St.

The front door is locked, so ring the buzzer. Once inside, you’ll discover a cooperative of ceramic potters shaping clay and testing glaze techniques. For a monthly fee, members have 24-7 access. Projects line shelves from floor to ceiling, including teapots that look like rooms, designed by owner Holly Sears: a fully prepared dinner table sits atop the spout of one teapot. Beginners are welcome too, with classes on the fundamentals of wheel throwing and hand building. Twice a year, the cooperative hosts shows, where visitors can view and purchase members’ work.

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, 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. Some are interactive, like gentle versions of Punch and Judy, where children call out directions to affect the show’s outcomes. Although mainly for families, school groups, and campers, the theater hosts PuppetSLAM four nights a year, evenings of mini-plays for adult crowds. The theater also offers family workshops, such as Junk Puppets, where patrons use recycled materials, like water bottles and toilet paper tubes, to create their own puppets.

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The Village Smokehouse, One Harvard St.

The Village Smokehouse
One Harvard St.

Serving up Jesse James margaritas, country music, and the tagline “I wish Coke was still cola, and a joint was a bad place to be,” the Village Smokehouse takes customers on a ride to the Wild West. An open barbecue pit in the center is a crowd-pleaser for kids entranced by flames (or at least smoke). Those with a hankering for meat will enjoy the restaurant’s hickory-smoked chicken and pork ribs smoked for hours before making the trek to the table.

Serenade Chocolatier
5 Harvard Square

The chocolatiers here craft artisan chocolate, filling molds and operating a tempering machine in an open kitchen behind the counter. Only natural ingredients—including pure butter, sweet cream, fresh roasted nuts and fruits, and premium European chocolate—are used. A specialty is the Viennese, a chocolate cube comprised of 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 hollowed shell of dark or milk chocolate filled with a variety of artisan chocolates. A wooden mallet accompanies the cake, so it can be smashed and the chocolate treasures discovered.

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Serenade Chocolatier, 5 Harvard Square

Matt Murphy’s
14 Harvard St.

A 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. Home cooking includes original takes on staples and condiments, such as ketchup, tartar sauce, mayonnaise, and stocks. Esquire magazine included the lamb sirloin in its 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.” Commercial sodas are banned, and Murphy’s prides itself on stocking local liquor, such as vodka from Nantucket’s Cisco Brewers.

Henry Bear’s Park
19 Harvard St.

“Hands-on play allows children to grow, discover, and create a world they are confident in,” says store owner Sally Lesser. 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 8-12 section, with classic board games such as Scrabble, Apples to Apples, Cranium, and Phase 10. The store hosts a weekly Story Time every Monday at 11 a.m. (popular with local families), and a monthly Game Night, which is held the last Friday of every month and allows customers a chance to sample a variety of games.

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Henry Bear’s Park, 19 Harvard St.

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 restaurant’s communal table brings strangers together, encouraging conversations that otherwise might never occur.

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 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.

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Orinoco, 22 Harvard St.

Bonnie’s Boutique
43 Harvard St.

Often described as a “miracle worker,” Bonnie of Bonnie’s Boutique is a trusted and talented seamstress, known for her pleasant demeanor and superb customer service. Bring in a dress or suit jacket needing alterations and you’ll get it back on time and on point. Bonnie is also known for designing beautiful custom-made gowns and other articles of clothing.

45 Harvard St.

“It’s not just a bead shop,” says owner Lisa Trachtman, who describes her shop as “one part craft and jewelry studio, one part supply shop, and one part boutique.” Situated at the corner of Harvard and Linden Streets, the store is illuminated by natural light pouring in from its large windows. Abeille offers demonstrations and classes, such as Decoupage Cuff, Sewing Summer Dresses, and Leather Weaved Bracelets. Displays showcase handmade local jewelry, blown-glass pendants, semiprecious stones and pearls, rubber stamps, A Muse papers, and Copic markers. During the day, the family-friendly shop attracts adults and children, but the store hosts the occasional Girls’ Night Out bachelorette parties at night, where participants can create items from flowered pendants to pasties.

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Abeille, 45 Harvard St.

Gateway Arts
60-62 Harvard St.

“Making art professionally can create a life that is of value and one that gives value back to society,” says director Rae Edelson of Gateway Arts, a nonprofit that has supported artists with disabilities for more than 30 years. Gateway Arts provides studio mentorship for disabled artists to help them grow professionally and a store where they can sell their artwork, which includes paintings, silk scarves, fine jewelry, wooden furniture, cards, rugs, and hand-painted birdhouses. All profits go to the artists.

Framers’ Workshop
64 Harvard 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. Doing it yourself takes an average of an hour or two and can lower the cost of framing significantly. 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.

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Framers’ Workshop, 64 Harvard St.

Olea Café
195 Washington St.

For a small corner café, Olea offers a sizable selection of food and drink. Falafel, paninis, pizza, salads, soups, and even beer on tap all appear on the chalkboards above the counter. What’s more, Olea is committed to sourcing only the freshest local ingredients, including George Howell coffee beans, High Lawn Farms milk, Irie tea, and Old Neighborhood roast beef. Perhaps the most tempting items on the menu are the many flavors of gelato and sorbet. You can’t go wrong with raspberry lime or salted caramel chip. Order a scoop (or two) and enjoy it on the sunny outdoor patio.

Japan Village Mart
200 Washington St.

The Maneki Neko, a ceramic cat with a single upright paw, sits in the storefront window, beckoning customers to enter. Those who do will find a small shop with a big selection of authentic Japanese products: food, household items, magazines, books, and DVDs. Some 16 refrigerators and freezers line the walls, stocking meats, miso paste, tofu, organic milk, frozen appetizers, and desserts, such as green tea daifu. Rows of shelves display specialty spices, snacks, bags of rice, soba noodles, instant udon soup, nori (roasted seaweed sheets) for rolling sushi, and an assortment of teas with classic flavors, such as oolong and the more eclectic genmai cha (green tea with roasted brown rice). The busy lunch crowd carries out freshly prepared bento boxes or tasty delicacies like maki and onigiri rice balls stuffed with fried chicken, kelp, and grilled salmon.

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The Children’s Book Shop, 237 Washington St.

Stoli Bar & Restaurant
213 Washington St.

Fred Chaihoutdinov brings the flavors of his Russian homeland to Brookline Village. Born in Moscow and trained at the French Culinary Institute, the Stoli chef and co-owner has crafted a menu brimming with delectable dishes like classic beef stroganoff or the more adventurous Karsky, a grilled rack of lamb marinated in herbs and spices and served with mixed vegetables from local Allandale Farm, fried potatoes, and a spicy tomato sauce. There’s plenty of vodka to choose from as well. For dessert? Blintzes with warm chocolate mousse—and a shot of vodka, of course.

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 (Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings) and the latest in picture, chapter, and young-adult fare. Rows of books, from pop-ups to contemporary novels, classics, and nonfiction, are sorted by age and genre. A section up front features books autographed by authors who have done readings at the Public Library of Brookline, sponsored by the Children’s Book Shop. The knowledgeable staff will help you find just the right gift for any young reader.

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 since 1985. Horai-San represents the world’s traditions of 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 stocks artwork, jewelry, Buddha statues, and signature items like Brazilian amethyst crystals and a rainbow assortment of incense.

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Cutty’s, 284 Washington St

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-lunch sandwich shop. Kelsey and his wife, Rachel, seek out local, organic ingredients, like all-natural, antibiotic-free meats, and fresh bread, delivered daily from Iggy’s in Cambridge. Former Cooks Illustrated 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, used in two sandwiches sold only on Saturdays: Pork Fennel (with pickled fennel and roasted garlic) and Pork Rabe (with sautéed broccoli rabe and sharp provolone), both served on sesame seed rolls. Cutty’s menu caters to carnivores—its best-seller is Roast Beef 1000—but vegetarians will enjoy the shop’s soups, salads, and Eggplant Spuckie (an old Boston term meaning sub), eggplant, hand-pulled mozzarella, and olive-carrot salad, on a ciabatta roll.

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 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. “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 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, but four rows of booths provide ample seating.

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Brookline Family Restaurant, 305 Washington St.

313 Washington St.

Nestled in Brookline Village, this quaint shop is filled with a stunning selection of handcrafted ceramics, linens, and pillows, as well as books, kitchen tools, natural beauty supplies, and candles. So if you’re looking to buy a special gift or just trying to brighten you home décor, this is the place. Be sure to say hello to Tulip, the owner’s supersweet dog, who can often be found asleep in the front window.

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 Mike Wallace and Conan O’Brien, and sports executives Theo Epstein and Bob Kraft. Besides books, the library offers to all of its card-carrying members an online language immersion serviceESL conversation groups, job workshops, and museum passes for reduced admission to places such as the New England Aquarium, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Museum of Science. Keeping up with technology, the library loans digital and audio books powered by OverDrive software, so patrons can read or listen on their e-readers, iPads, and iPods. Titles are available electronically for two weeks, then vanish.

New Paris Bakery & Candy Shop
10 Cypress St.

“We have low visibility, and we’re not modern, but we don’t want to change,” says owner Raola Kappas. The shop’s name verges on oxymoron—nothing about this family-owned bakery is new—but that’s part of its charm. Step inside to be transported back to 1919, when the Kappas family began churning out baked goods. Two glass cases display paper-thin chocolate-butter cookies, almond bark, and truffles. But the store’s most popular item, filling half the shelf space, is the éclair, baked by Raola’s husband, James, when he’s not handing out free samples. “The éclairs are made from real ingredients; they’re light and not supersweet,” says one longtime fan. The Kappases are known for treating  customers like family.

Off the Beaten Path

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Brookline Reservoir Park, Route 9 between Lee and Warren Streets

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.

Shambhala Meditation Center
646 Brookline Ave.

Serenity is the goal here; members learn Shambhala Buddhism by participating in weekend workshops, dharma talks, and meditation in two shrine rooms appointed with comfortable mats and incense. “Our center offers people a way to calm their minds,” says executive director Jill Blagsvedt, “and we welcome all faiths and traditions.” The center offers weekly theme nights such as an Under Thirty Meditation Night and The Heart of Recovery, which incorporates Twelve Step traditions for members on the path to sobriety, as well as Queer Buddhist Fellowship. Members pay dues based on what they can afford and are encouraged to take on volunteer roles within the center.

Brookline Reservoir Park
Along Route 9 between Lee and Warren Streets

Both runners and walkers make use of the one-mile circumference around 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 rod and bait. Patches of grass and benches provide resting spots. At the Warren Street entrance sits a controversial landmark, the Brookline Reservoir Pump House. 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. Check it out while it’s still there.

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Evelyn Kirrane Aquatic Center, 60 Tappan St.

Evelyn Kirrane Aquatic Center
60 Tappan St.

Named for the woman who was 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 includes three pools: a shallow one for children and beginners, a lap pool, and a diving area. The latter 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 down Harvard Street.

Click on the points in the map above for more information on the places listed in our guide to the Brookline Village area.

Check out our Brookline Village list on Foursquare for more neighborhood tips. Learn about other neighborhoods around Boston here.

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

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