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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 2004 by 281,000 red, white, and blue LED lights.

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 is lively, diverse, a mini-hub within the Hub.

Comicopia, 464 Commonwealth Ave.

Comicopia, 464 Commonwealth Ave.

464 Commonwealth Ave.

A mainstay of Kenmore Square for more than two decades, Comicopia stocks several thousand comic books and 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, which replaced French bistro Josephine earlier this year, 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 “a selection of everything for everybody, with the exception of Budweiser,” and with more than 17 rotating drafts and 150 bottles to choose from, it makes good on its 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 The Lower Depths does offer “wine for the whiners,” they do not serve hard liquor. The recently revamped dinner menu, which is excellent, includes Latin American–style tapas and tacos. Happily, they’ve kept their famed beef and veggie tacos. Be sure to bring cash, because The Lower Depths doesn’t take credit cards.

India Quality
484 Commonwealth Ave.

Rated Boston’s best Indian restaurant by Zagat for more than a decade now, India Quality is the place to go if you’re craving a warm, spicy curry. With more than 40 entrées, including beef, chicken, lamb, goat, seafood, 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. For students, India Quality offers a 10% discount on dine-in and pick-up orders with a valid college ID.

486 Commonwealth Ave

Nuggets has been supplying BU students with music since 1978. With more than 10,000 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 Nuggets’ 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 like crispy oyster sliders, fried clams, lobster, and a daily selection of fresh fish. The restaurant also offers an innovative cocktail list and a very popular weekend brunch. Island Creek isn’t cheap, but it’s an excellent place for a celebratory dinner.

The Hawthorne
500A Commonwealth Ave.

Connected to Hotel Commonwealth, this intimate 18-seat bar gives off a homey vibe. Co-owner Jackson Cannon is one of the finest mixologists in the city, so it’s no surprise that the bar received Tales of the Cocktail’s 2017 Spirited Award for best American hotel bar. Cannon recently streamlined the Hawthorne’s drink menu to feature five-to-seven rotating specialty cocktails and doubled the bar’s beer selection.

Eastern Standard
528 Commonwealth Ave.

Located in the Hotel Commonwealth, Eastern Standard is one of Kenmore Square’s fanciest restaurants. Menu items are pricey but worth it. The innovative menu includes everything from roasted bluefish to smoked pork blade steak. For an appetizer, if you’re feeling adventurous, try the roasted bone marrow with fried capers, shallots, and parsley. The Eastern Standard kitchen stays open until 2 a.m. nightly, and diners can enjoy the patio year-round—it’s heated during the 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. Today, the hotel bills itself as “Boston’s only true budget hotel.”

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 fixture in Kenmore Square. 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 the perfect 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.

The brews on tap at Boston Beer Works always flow. This Beantown landmark, just a curveball away from Fenway Park, specializes in a changing assortment of drafts, including the 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 including wings, burgers, and onion rings, is accompanied by more sophisticated fare like Faroe Island pan-roasted salmon and barbecue steak tips.

House of Blues
15 Lansdowne St.

The newest addition to Lansdowne Street, the 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 new 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 blues, some folk, and Southern-inspired cuisine. 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 whilst getting an amazing view of the field—all at a reasonable price. The Bleacher Bar provides patrons with the experience of an All-American pub while steeping them in the history of Fenway Park. 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, five full bars, and two restaurants. The latest addition, Cheeky Monkey Brewing Company, offers 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 top 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 Budweiser 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. Here, 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.

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 a spicy vegan chorizo, black bean salsa, and jalapenos. And the mac n’ cheese is made with sweet potatoes, shitake bacon, and a cheese sauce made from cashews. It’s surprisingly good.

Blackbird Donuts
20 Kilmarnock St.

This Fenway outpost of the popular South End artisanal doughnut shop recently opened next door to CityTarget. The donuts are formed from brioche dough, with house-made glazes, frostings, and toppings. The constantly rotating roster of flavors can include salted toffee, powdered sugar, and lemon berry swirl. Patrons can order full-sized donuts 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). Among Blackbird’s legions of fans: Grammy-winner Adele, who visited several times while in town during a recent tour

1271 Boylston St.

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 yakitori, sushi, sandwiches, and a selection of shareable dishes and small plates. The chic 100-seat eatery sports a Japan-inspired craft cocktail list, with Tokyo Ta (tequila, long-leaf green tea, Midori, and lemon) and over 20 different sakes.

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 be sure to order one of Honeygrow’s cold-pressed juices to go along with your meal. With combinations like apple, spinach, cucumber, lemon, and basil, they’re delicious.

Tasty Burger, 1301 Boylston St.

Tasty Burger, 1301 Boylston St.

Tasty Burger
1301 Boylston St.

Tasty Burger is not your average burger joint. Named after a line in the film Pulp Fiction, this edgy restaurant is covered with artwork that pays homage to the movie. 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. Most visitors enjoy the Big Kahuna Burger—also a Pulp Fiction reference—and the Spicy Jalapeño. It’s open until 2 a.m. every day, just in case you have a midnight craving for a burger. There’s also a $10 Starvin’ Student special, which includes a burger or cheeseburger, side order of fries, and a can of beer.

Citizen Public House and Oyster Bar
1310 Boylston St.

If you’re in the mood for a unique dining experience, check out the Citizen Public House and 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 to choose from, including risotto and baked hake, which are available every night until 1 a.m. The tavern also carries more than 200 whiskeys, including a small number of hand-selected single barrels. Whiskey specials of the week are featured as well.

Basho Japanese Brasserie
1338 Boylston St.

In Japanese, basho means “a place where things happen,” and what’s happening at this Kenmore Square eatery is sushi—some of the best to be had in Boston. The menu has plenty of inventive signature rolls, and fresh ingredients are flown in daily. There are 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 (she is 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 and offers a range of options, from crispy pork rolls with lettuce, herbs, and sour broth to house-smoked bluefish handrolls, made with soy coconut sticky rice, cucumber, and pea shoots. Many of the inventive cocktails also draw inspiration from Southeast Asia. The tiki drinks are especially popular. Tiger Mama is open nightly for dinner and is known to get crowded, so reservations are recommended.

Sweet Cheeks
1381 Boylston St.

For a taste of “the American south, north of the Mason Dixon,” head over to Sweet Cheeks for some authentic southern barbecue. The menu includes tray deals and entrées like Berkshire pork belly, fried chicken, pulled pork, and great northern 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. The lemon blueberry layer cake is unforgettable.

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 recently opened a Fenway outpost 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 a.m.

Neighborhoods Coffee and Crepes
96 Peterborough St.

This artisan coffee and crepe shop seeks 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 and Vermont Coffee Company, organic fair trade tea from Numi, and locally sourced ingredients from nearby farms. Furthermore, each month the café features the work of a local entrepreneur, whose products are sold on consignment. Proceeds support the charitable cause or causes that Neighborhoods is supporting at the time.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
280 The Fenway

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 concert series in the courtyard. 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, offers a beach-like vibe and 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, replete with fireplace and palm trees. Entrées include a grilled hanger steak, corn-stuffed cappelletti with clams and lobster, and crispy trout. Tapestry is run by husband and wife owners Kevin Walsh and Meghann Ward, both veterans of Boston’s restaurant scene. There’s also a patio, perfect for dining outdoors during warm weather months. Tapestry has become a popular weekend brunch destination—one taste of the caramelized pineapple 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 each 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 anywhere 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, including 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, designed in the late-19th century by one of the nation’s foremost landscape architects, Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed 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.