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Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Kenmore Square and Fenway

More than a bookstore and a red, white, and blue sign

Not so much a square as a confusing convergence of Commonwealth Avenue, Brookline Avenue, and Beacon Street, Kenmore Square has several claims to fame—first may be its six-story Barnes & Noble @ BU, the largest bookstore in Boston. Well, perhaps books come second, after the neighborhood’s best-known landmark, the famous Citgo Sign, which hovers near a jewel box of a baseball field called Fenway Park. A beacon to visitors and residents on both sides of the Charles River since 1965, the sign’s original five miles of neon tubing was replaced in 2005 by 240,000 red, white, and blue LED lights. In July 2018, the sign went dark for two months so that the 9,000 feet of lights on the double-sided 60-foot-by-60-foot sign could be replaced with the latest LED lighting and new computers installed to manage the sign’s famous animation.

For years, Kenmore Square was little more than a busy doorstep to Fenway Park, which opened in 1912. Prior to the 1960s, it was part of Boston’s Auto Mile, famous for more than 100 automobile dealerships. The 1970s ushered in a new era, when partiers from all over the region thronged to the infamous Rathskeller, a punk-rock venue that helped launch the careers of the Ramones, R.E.M., and the Police, among others.

It was around this time that the dreadlocked Mr. Butch, possibly the city’s most famous homeless man before his death in 2007, moved to the neighborhood. Mr. Butch, whose real name was Harold Madison, Jr., gained notoriety for his involvement in Kenmore’s underground rock scene. When he died, 1,000 mourners attended his memorial service.

During the 1980s, Kenmore Square fell into disrepair. By the 1990s, even the Red Sox were threatening to leave. But the 2002 opening of the Hotel Commonwealth, backed by the University, sparked a renaissance, helping transform the neighborhood into a dining and nightlife destination. Kenmore has resurrected—today it’s a lively, diverse, and thriving minihub within the Hub.

Comicopia, 464 Commonwealth Ave.

Comicopia, 464 Commonwealth Ave.

464 Commonwealth Ave.

A mainstay of Kenmore Square since 1989, Comicopia stocks several thousand comic book trade paperbacks, from X-Men to Flash Gordon. New comics arrive every Wednesday, but you can check out the incoming stock online beforehand. The store carries a huge selection of indie and self-published titles, as well as extensive manga and graphic novel collections.

Kenmore Collectibles
466 Commonwealth Ave.

A Kenmore Square landmark since 1988, Kenmore Collectibles specializes in Boston sports memorabilia and vintage coins. This tiny shop boasts a selection of Celtics, Bruins, Red Sox, and New England Patriots collectibles and souvenirs—ideal gifts for the folks back home. Shop at the online store here.

Pho Countryside Boston
468 Commonwealth Ave.

This Vietnamese restaurant pairs fresh ingredients from local farmers with traditional herbs and spices to create authentic dishes such as grilled sugarcane wrapped in shrimp paste and several varieties of pho, the popular beef-broth noodle soup. The restaurant also offers an array of chef’s specialties, rice plates, hot pots, and vermicelli dishes. Takeout is available.

Pho Countryside Boston, Kenmore Square

Pho Countryside, 468 Commonwealth Ave.

The Lower Depths Tap Room
476 Commonwealth Ave.

This postage stamp–size beer bar promises everything but Budweiser—and with multiple rotating drafts and bottles of beer to choose from, it makes good on that promise. The bar often serves limited and rare beers as well, and if you want something they don’t have, ask and they might get it for you. While it does offer “wine for the whiners,” it does not serve hard liquor. On its excellent dinner menu are starters and a full taco menu. Don’t miss the famed beef and veggie tacos. Be sure to bring cash, because the place doesn’t take credit cards.

India Quality
484 Commonwealth Ave.

Rated Boston’s top Indian restaurant by Zagat 12 years in a row, India Quality is the place to go if you’re craving a warm, spicy curry. With more than 60 entrées, including beef, chicken, lamb, goat, and vegetarian options, the selection can be overwhelming. If you’re having trouble deciding and are dining with a group, the Dinner for Four option includes a good cross section. India Quality offers a 10 percent discount on dine-in and pickup orders with a valid college ID.

486 Commonwealth Ave

Nuggets has been supplying BU students with music since 1978. With more than 10,000 records, including rare and out-of-print titles, this repository of pop culture sells several decades’ worth of tunes, posters, and old copies of rock magazines, as well as videos and DVDs. Check out the store’s extensive collection of local music, and browse its online collection here. Short on cash? No worries. Customers can buy, sell, and trade.

Island Creek Oyster Bar
500 Commonwealth Ave.

Renowned for its superb cuisine, stylish décor, and a staff that knows the menu and wine list inside out, Island Creek Oyster Bar serves high-quality seafood and oysters. The raw bar, with an array of some of the freshest oysters to be had anywhere in Boston, is the undisputed main attraction. But you’ll also find great appetizers, fried clams, lobster, and a daily selection of fresh fish. There’s also an innovative cocktail list and a popular Sunday brunch. It isn’t cheap, but it’s an excellent place for a celebratory dinner.

In the video above, discover three fascinating things about Boston’s Fenway neighborhood. Video by Aaron Hwang (ENG’21)

The Hawthorne
500A Commonwealth Ave.

Connected to Hotel Commonwealth, this intimate 18-seat bar gives off a homey vibe. Owner Jackson Cannon is one of the city’s finest mixologists, so it’s no surprise that the bar received Tales of the Cocktail’s 2017 Spirited Award for best American hotel bar. Cannon’s drink menu features five-to-seven rotating specialty cocktails (with names like “Left Hand” and “Les Sablons”), along with other cocktails dubbed “favorite sips,” and fine wines, ciders, rums, and an extensive beer list.

Eastern Standard
528 Commonwealth Ave.

Eastern Standard, in the Hotel Commonwealth, is one of the square’s fanciest restaurants. Menu items are pricey, but worth it. Among the items on the innovative dinner menu are seared Maine salmon and smoked pork blade. Try the blue crab salad or the steak tartare appetizer. The kitchen stays open until 1:30 am nightly, and diners can enjoy the patio late into the fall—it’s heated during the first few cold-weather months.

Hotel Buckminster
645 Beacon St.

Designed by Stanford White, one of America’s most famous architects, the Hotel Buckminster was the largest building in Kenmore Square when it was completed in 1897. Over the years, the hotel has played a notable role in the city’s history. Here, the plot to fix the 1919 World Series was hatched, and 10 years later, in 1929, the hotel was the site of the nation’s first network radio broadcast. During World War II, part of the hotel was used to hold Italian prisoners of war. In the 1950s, George Wein (CAS’50, Hon.’15) opened the popular jazz club Storyville in the hotel, where legendary artists like Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, and Louis Armstrong performed.

Cornwalls Tavern Kenmore Square storefront

Cornwall’s, 654 Beacon St.

654 Beacon St.

Boston bleeds green, especially on St. Patrick’s Day, but the city was actually colonized by the English. Even so, British pubs are a rarity around here, which makes Cornwall’s a cherished square fixture. With its steaming plates of bangers and mash and pints of hard-to-find English ales, Cornwall’s would make any Brit feel at home. It’s an excellent place to grab a glass of London Pride, a game of darts, or a round of Scrabble—the bar stocks a shelf of board games.

Boston Beer Works
61 Brookline Ave.

This Beantown landmark, just a curveball away from Fenway Park, specializes in a changing assortment of drafts, including Original Boston Red and Fenway Pale Ale. You can also choose from a list of naturally carbonated cask beers and a list of experimental and limited-release beers, which changes weekly. Traditional bar fare, like wings, burgers, and onion rings, is accompanied by more sophisticated fare like blackened sword tips and pan-roasted salmon.

House of Blues
15 Lansdowne St.

House of Blues officially opened in February 2009, returning to the area after vacating an early incarnation in Cambridge. Formerly home to the dance clubs Axis and Avalon, this 53,000-square-foot concert venue, restaurant, and bar headlines a musical act nearly every night of the week. Founded in 1992 by Hard Rock Café founder Isaac Tigrett and actor Dan Aykroyd, the chain features music by rock, jazz, blues, rap, hip-hop, soul, country, and folk artists and Southern-inspired cuisine. It’s also renowned for its Sunday gospel brunch. Check out its concert calendar here.

House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St.

House of Blues Boston, 15 Lansdowne St.

The Bleacher Bar
82A Lansdowne St.

Opened in 2008, the Bleacher Bar lies under Fenway Park’s center-field bleachers, a few feet from the Ted Williams Red Seat, which commemorates the Splendid Splinter’s 1946 502-foot home run, the longest ever hit into the Fenway bleachers. Offering a wide variety of local brews on tap and deli classics like roast beef, corned beef, and pastrami, you’ll find something to satisfy your hunger and thirst while getting an amazing view of the field—all at a reasonable price. It is open off-season as well as when the boys of summer play.

Jillian’s/Lucky Strike
145 Ipswich St.

Jillian’s/Lucky Strike, a 70,000-square-foot, three-story entertainment complex, offers billiards in a 24-table pool parlor, an upscale bowling alley, plasma TVs, six full bars, and two restaurants. The latest addition, Cheeky Monkey Brewing Company, has craft beers, dart boards, pool tables, shuffleboard games, and an outdoor patio. Most patrons come for the bowling, but take note: despite 16 lanes, weekend waits have been known to last up to two hours.

Fenway Park
4 Yawkey Way

Home of the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park is the oldest, the most famous, and arguably the most interesting baseball stadium in the United States. The park opened on April 20, 1912. With a capacity of just 37,493 spectators, Fenway is one of Major League Baseball’s smallest stadiums. Because of its age and constrained urban location, renovations and additions have resulted in some unique and quirky features, most notably left field’s famous Green Monster—a 37-foot wall that prevents home runs on many line drives that would clear the walls of other ballparks, but turns some pop-ups into game-winners. Fenway Park tours consist of a 60-minute walk around the ballpark, with stops at the Sam Adams right field roof deck, the State Street Pavilion, the Green Monster seats, and the press box. Tour schedules and rates vary. For more information, call 617-226-6666.

Red Sox Team Store
19 Yawkey Way

Red Sox Nation fans will find plenty of must-haves at the Red Sox Official Team Store, right across the street from Fenway Park. What began as a single street cart in 1947, operated by twin brothers Arthur and Henry D’Angelo, today is a sprawling 25,000-square-foot store that’s open year-round. You’ll find all manner of Red Sox apparel, as well as commemorative memorabilia, pennants, keychains, glassware, game-used merchandise, and autographed baseballs. The Fenway Park tours begin and end here, although the store doesn’t run them.

132 Brookline Ave.

Owned by the famous Wahlberg brothers—actors Mark and Donnie and brother Paul, this popular eatery serves up locally sourced, innovative burgers, fresh salads, and crowd-pleasers like Mom’s Sloppy Joe and smoked bacon mac ’n’ cheese. The restaurant features a full-service bar and outdoor seating.

Quinoa Taco Salad and Backyard smoothie from by Chloe.

by CHLOE. 100 Van Ness St.

100 Van Ness St.

This vegan restaurant chain began in New York City and recently expanded to Boston, first in the Seaport district and more recently in the Fenway, offering a much-needed counterpart to the standard bar fare found in and around Fenway Park. The burgers—a combo of tempeh, lentil, chia, and walnut patty—are topped with pickles, onions, special sauce, and house-made beet ketchup. The Fenway nachos feature spicy seitan chorizo, black beans, corn salsa, tomato, guacamole, and tofu cream. And the mac ’n’ cheese, made with shitake bacon and a sweet potato–cashew cheese sauce, is surprisingly good.

Saloniki Greek
4 Kilmarnock St.

This sleek eatery, helmed by famed restaurateur and chef Jody Adams, a two-time James Beard winner, pays tribute to the “humble Greek sandwich shop.” The Fenway location, (there’s another in Cambridge), offers traditional Greek fare, which can be order either as a plate or pita. Try the classic Herc,  braised honey-garlic pork shoulder and whipped spicy feta, or the Mykonos salad, a spicy slaw and zucchini-feta fritters concoction. You can also order a fantastic Greek salad, traditional soups, and yummy Greek desserts. Beer, wine, and Greek cocktails are available as well. Catch a seat inside or on the patio, or take it to go.

Saloniki Greek,  4 Kilarnock St.

Blackbird Donuts
20 Kilmarnock St.

This Fenway outpost of the popular South End artisanal doughnut shop serves up filling doughnuts with an innovative twist. The doughnuts are formed from either brioche dough or cake batter, with house-made glazes, frostings, and toppings. The constantly rotating roster of flavors can include cinnamon sugar, peanut butter chocolate, and chocolate old-fashioned. Patrons can order full-sized doughnuts and mini doughnut stacks (three to an order), as well as decadent doughnut ice cream sandwiches and doughnut cakes (two days notice needed for these). There’s even a vegan version of the signature vanilla cake doughnut topped with vanilla glaze.

1321 Boylston St.

Eventide Fenway brings a counter-service version of the popular Portland, Maine, Eventide Oyster Company to Boston. Noted for its raw oyster bar and succulent lobster rolls, Eventide also serves up crudos, salads, fried seafood, and a delicious New England clam chowder. There’s even smoked tofu or a classic cheeseburger for those who prefer something other than fish. Be sure to save room for dessert: the bourbon caramel soft-serve ice cream is a wonderful post-lunch treat.

1271 Boylston St.

Named one of Boston’s best bars of 2018 by Boston magazine, this Japanese-style tavern inside the hip Verb Hotel features a menu by James Beard Award–winning chef Tim Cushman and Nancy Cushman, owners of the popular Japanese eatery O Ya in the Leather District. Diners can enjoy robata-grilled shrimp, sushi, sandwiches, and a selection of shareable dishes and small plates. The chic 100-seat eatery sports a Japan-inspired craft cocktail list, including the popular Tokyo Tea (tequila, long-leaf green tea, Midori, and lemon).

1282 Boylston St.

One of the newest additions to the Fenway, Honeygrow offers customizable stir-fries and salads designed to appeal to every palate. Diners order on touchscreens, navigating between suggested options and substitutions that you can select to customize your dish. A chicken stir-fry can be changed to beef, pork, or vegan in just a few taps. The salads are particularly noteworthy, drawing on locally grown produce. And try one of Honeygrow’s cold-pressed juices to go with your meal. Combinations like apple, spinach, cucumber, lemon, and basil are delicious.

Tasty Burger, 1301 Boylston St.

Tasty Burger, 1301 Boylston St.

Tasty Burger
1301 Boylston St.

Tasty Burger is not your average burger joint. With a menu that is easy on the wallet and fast food that leaves your mouth watering for more, Tasty Burger lives up to its name. The Big Tasty Burger and the Spicy Jalapeño burger, at just $6.25, are both an excellent value. The hot dogs and chicken sandwiches are pretty tasty as well. And it’s open until 2 am every day, in case you have a midnight burger craving. There’s a $10 Starvin’ Student special: a burger or cheeseburger, A side order of fries, and a can of beer.

Citizen Public House and Oyster Bar
1310 Boylston St.

For a unique dining experience, check out the Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar’s family-style pig roast. Available for groups of 10 or more, the meal begins with assorted shellfish and ends with a slow-roasted (for 14 hours) whole suckling pig. If pork isn’t your favorite, there are plenty of other options, including pan-seared salmon and shrimp gumbo, available every night until 1:30 am. The tavern also carries more than 200 whiskeys, including a small number of hand-selected single barrels.

Basho Japanese Brasserie
1338 Boylston St.

In Japanese, basho means “a place where things happen,” and what’s happening at this eatery is sushi—some of the best to be had in Boston. The are plenty of inventive signature rolls, and fresh ingredients are flown in daily. It has a variety of seating options, from communal tables to private dining areas, making it an excellent gathering spot for groups both small and large.

Tiger Mama
1363 Boylston St.

The second Fenway neighborhood restaurant from Top Chef finalist Tiffani Faison (also chef/owner of Sweet Cheeks), Tiger Mama brings the best of Southeast Asian cuisine to Boston. The 135-seat restaurant opened in 2015 and draws on Thai, Vietnamese, and Malaysian cuisine, with a range of options, from crispy pork ribs with charred ginger chili sauce and cilantro peanut crumble to salt and pepper monkfish tail, with grilled radicchio, chilis, condensed milk and oyster sauce. Many of the inventive cocktails are inspired by Southeast Asia. The tiki drinks are especially popular. Open nightly for dinner, it’s known to get crowded, so reservations are recommended.

Sweet CheeksQ
1381 Boylston St.

For a taste of “the American south, north of the Mason Dixon,” head over to Sweet Cheeks Q for some authentic southern barbecue. There are tray deals and entrées like pork belly, fried chicken, pulled pork, and BBQ chopped brisket, each served with two sides. Most of the pork, beef, and chicken is all-natural, bought from local farms whenever possible, and all meats (except for the fried chicken) are gluten-free. If the hearty entrées aren’t enough to fill you up, check out the More Sweet, Less Cheek options, a small selection of desserts.

Bennett Lobster Roll

Lobster roll at Bennett’s Sandwich Shop, 84 Peterborough St. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi

Bennett’s Sandwich Shop
84 Peterborough St.

Chances are, if you’ve ever been to Kennebunkport, Maine, you’ve stopped by Bennett’s Sandwich Shop, famous for its lobster rolls. Happily, Bennett’s now has an outpost in the Fenway and it’s already attracted a devoted clientele. The lobster roll is still king, but you’ll find plenty of other delicious sandwiches, like the BLT served with cheese or the chicken cheesesteak. The shop also offers a variety of delectable breakfast sandwiches, served until 11 am.

Neighborhoods Coffee and Crepes
96 Peterborough St.

This artisan coffee and crepe shop aims to offer the best and freshest products while connecting communities nearby and abroad. Neighborhoods prides itself on being stewards of the Earth, offering fair-trade coffees roasted by George Howell Coffee, organic fair-trade tea from Numi, and locally sourced ingredients from Thatcher Farm.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
25 Evans Way

The Isabella Gardner Museum is one of Boston’s most beloved cultural institutions. This replica of a 15th-century Venetian palace contains artwork collected by prominent Boston art collector and philanthropist Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840–1924), who helped design the museum, personally overseeing how the collection was hung. At the center of the four-story palace is a mesmerizing courtyard filled with flowers year-round. The museum’s distinguished collection comprises more than 2,500 paintings, sculptures, tapestries, manuscripts, rare books, and decorative arts, all reflecting the taste of Gardner and her husband, Jack. Among them are works by Titian, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Manet, Degas, Whistler, and Sargent. The Gardner also hosts a highly regarded Sunday afternoon concert series, along with evening performances. The museum made international headlines in 1990 when a pair of thieves masquerading as Boston police officers entered the building and stole 13 works of art, among them priceless works by Vermeer and Rembrandt. The thieves have never been caught and no pieces ever recovered, making it one of the world’s most notorious art heists. In 2012, the museum opened a new $114 million, 70,000-square-foot glass-and-copper addition connected to the Venetian palace. It features a gallery for contemporary art, a visitor center, a state-of-the-art performance hall, a café, a gift shop, and a greenhouse. Admission is free for BU students with a valid ID.

69 Kilmarnock St.

This dual-concept restaurant, which replaced the former restaurant and music venue Church in May 2016, offers diners two distinctly different dining options: the expo kitchen, situated in the front, serves up wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas and bar snacks. It also features an oyster bar and cocktail bar. In the back, the Club Room offers a more formal dining experience, with a fireplace and palm trees. Among the entrées: a grilled hanger steak, triangoli pasta with artichokes, tarragon, and pasta, and crispy trout. There’s also a patio, perfect for dining outdoors during warm weather. Tapestry is a popular weekend brunch destination—one taste of the caramelized pineapple and almond pancake and you’ll see why.

Front facade of the Museum of Fine Arts building

Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave.

Museum of Fine Arts
465 Huntington Ave.

With a collection of nearly half a million objects, the Museum of Fine Arts is one of the nation’s largest art institutions. It is also one of the most popular, with more than a million visitors a year. Famed for its French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection, with works by Manet, Degas, Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet, and Gauguin, among others, the MFA holds as well an extraordinary collection of Chinese art, Egyptian artifacts, and the largest collection of Japanese art outside of Japan. The Art of the Americas wing opened in 2010, adding 53 galleries and enough new exhibition space to display over 5,000 American objects, more than double the previous number. It houses the MFA’s extensive American art collection, with numerous works by John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, John Singer Sargent, and American Impressionists Childe Hassam and John Twachtman. MFA admission is free for BU students.

Emerald Necklace

An oasis of green, the Emerald Necklace is a series of nine parks covering 1,100 acres, created in the late 19th century by one of the nation’s foremost landscape architects, Frederick Law Olmsted, who was also responsible for New York City’s Central Park. Olmsted designed the parks—which are linked by parkways and waterways—to provide a respite from urban living for people of all classes. The necklace begins at the Boston Common, winds through the Back Bay Fens (a former saltwater marsh in the Fenway), and ends at 527-acre Franklin Park, the city’s largest park. The Emerald Necklace has numerous walking trails and bike paths and various events throughout the year. More information and maps are available here.

Getting There

To Kenmore: Take any MBTA Green Line trolley to the Kenmore Square stop or walk down Comm Ave. To the Fenway: Take an MBTA Green Line D trolley to the Fenway stop. To Fenway Park: Walk down Brookline Avenue from Kenmore Square; the park is on your left. To the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: Take an MBTA Green Line E trolley to the MFA stop or the #39 bus from Copley Square to the Museum stop.

Learn about other neighborhoods around Boston here.

This story originally ran March 4, 2009; it has been updated to include new locations and current information.