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Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Fort Point

A guide to Boston’s transformed waterfront

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Few city neighborhoods have undergone the kind of transformation that Fort Point has over the pas few years. Comprising about 100 waterfront acres in South Boston, the area has become Boston’s hottest—and hippest—district, home to museums, famous restaurants, and a vibrant artists enclave.

The neighborhood was named for a long-departed fort built on a hill there during the colonial era, when the area’s topography was quite different. Today, the land is flat and landfill has extended the shoreline markedly. The hill’s height made it an ideal place to position cannons. The area was the site of the Boston Tea Party; it was developed by the Boston Wharf Company in the 1830s to house its vast supply of sugar and molasses and to store cargo from local rails and ships docking in Boston Harbor.

Fort Point, Boston Harbor Walk

Boston HarborWalk

After warehousing and manufacturing declined in the 20th century, the area was largely abandoned. Artists began moving into the empty warehouses in the 1970s, attracted by low rents. More than 300 artists call the neighborhood home now, making it one of New England’s largest artist enclaves, and their work fills nearby galleries. But with soaring rents and the arrival of major corporations, including pharmaceutical giant Vertex, artists are waging a constant battle to keep studio space affordable.

With a goal of transforming the neighborhood into a thriving business and residential area, the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01) created the 100 Acres Master Planning Process in 2006, adding 11 acres of new public space. Emphasizing its new identity, it has even been given a new name: the Innovation District.

To learn more about the neighborhood, visit the of Fort Point Channel, a nonprofit made up of area business leaders and residents. The organization arranges such community events as outdoor concerts, artist receptions, and fitness classes.

Many stores and stops are right on the water and the cool ocean breezes can cause a chill, so dress appropriately when you go. Be prepared to walk since the neighborhood is spread out. It is definitely worth exploring.

BU Today has compiled a list of some of the best places to investigate, nosh, and shop when you visit.

Fort Point, South Station

South Station
700 Atlantic Ave.

South Station is the gateway to Fort Point if you’re arriving by public transit. You know this spot well if you’ve ever taken the Bolt Bus, Mega Bus, or (the now-defunct) Fung-Wah. The station, built in the neoclassical revival style, opened in 1899, and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Step into the elegant main terminal, and you’ll notice the terrazzo-floored grand concourse, often the site of concerts and performances. There are more than 10 fast food eateries in the food court offering all kinds of cuisine for hungry travelers.

This is also the spot to hop on the MBTA’s Silver Line, with its several stops along the Fort Point neighborhood. While the area lends itself to walking, the bus may be a smart move in inclement weather.

Boston HarborWalk

The HarborWalk was built to connect pedestrians to Boston Harbor, which is no longer the dirtiest harbor in America after a 20-year, $4.5 billion cleanup. Nearly 39 miles of the planned 47-mile path winding through Charlestown, downtown Boston, and Fort Point is complete. The path is landscaped with flowers and trees, and sculptures and informative plaques can be found as well.

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston
600 Atlantic Ave.

The Federal Reserve Bank is one of 12 Federal Reserve banks nationwide making up the country’s central banking system. Completed in 1974, the building looms high above as you walk from South Station towards the Fort Point neighborhood. Just over 600 feet, the 33-story building is one of the city’s tallest. Sheathed in anodized aluminum, it is often referred to as the “venetian blind building” because of its exterior design. An opening near ground level allows sea breezes to pass through. The skyscraper, which does not offer tours to the public, is along the HarborWalk. Check out two sculptures on the grounds: Life Force, by David Bakalar, and Ominous Icon #7,, by Denis Kowal.

Boston, Fort Point Artist Gallery

Fort Point Artist Gallery, 300 Summer St., M1

Fort Point Arts Community Gallery
300 Summer St., M1

The nonprofit Fort Point Arts Community was founded in 1980 with the goal of promoting local artists. Their work can be seen all over the neighborhood, but this space offers not just a gallery, but also a studio space for artists. The building stands out from others on the street because of its sweeping sculptural overhang.

John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse
One Courthouse Way

This federal courthouse is named for legendary South Boston politician Joe Moakley, who died in 2001. Moakley served in Congress for 28 years and was a public servant for more than 50. The large brick courthouse commands much of Fan Pier. Visitors can take an hour-long tour highlighting the building’s art and architecture. An added bonus is the breathtaking views of Boston Harbor. The law library on the top floor is open to the public.

The HarborWalk passes by here, with informative panels about the history of the area, as well as native plantings. There are picnic tables and chairs outside for weary strollers and public restrooms next to the Daily Catch restaurant. This is also the place to catch the Boston Light Tour, which goes out to Little Brewster Island, one of the Boston Harbor islands.

Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum
306 Congress St.

Immerse yourself in history at this unique floating museum. Located on the Congress Street Bridge, the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum promises a multisensory experience. Not only do visitors learn about the events that led to the American Revolution, they’re given a chance to be a part of the action as actors help re-create the events of that fateful night in December 1773. Visitors are assigned different parts to play. The museum features the Robinson Half Chest, one of only two known Boston Tea Party tea chests still in existence. Explore the authentically restored tea ships and dump tea overboard like the Sons of Liberty did nearly 250 years ago.

Fort Point, Boston Children's Museum

Boston Children’s Museum, 308 Congress St.

Boston Children’s Museum
308 Congress St.

You can’t walk past the Boston Children’s Museum without noticing the giant inflatable Arthur or the 40-foot-tall Hood milk bottle. This is the second oldest children’s museum in the country and certainly one of the best—it underwent a $47 million renovation in 2007 and is now LEED-certified. The museum, in an old wool warehouse on Children’s Wharf, isn’t just for kids (although adults without children must show a driver’s license or a passport). And while the admission is a tad steep, there’s lots to do to make you feel like a kid again, like the Japanese silk merchant’s house, which was painstakingly transported from Japan, and a hands-on art studio. It’s the perfect place to take restless kids on a rainy day.

Tavern Road & TR Street Foods
343 Congress St.

Owned and operated by brothers Louis and Michael DiBiccari, Tavern Road matches the innovative style of its neighborhood. A huge 30-foot mural by Fort Point–based artists Project Super Friends pops off the wall, giving the restaurant an energetic atmosphere. Infused with local ingredients, the menu at Tavern Road focuses on carefully crafted small plates, like porchetta with nectarines, violet mustard, and almonds. The expansive bar offers refreshing libations, like the Cruela (sweeter than its name implies), made with Cachaca, Galliano, maraschino, crème de cacao white, and T Peychaud’s bitters.

Attached to the main restaurant is the tiny lunch spot TR Street Foods, offering equally creative and tasty options. The eatery serves a constantly changing selection of globally inspired street food. A customer favorite is the lamb meatball sandwich.

Boston Fire Museum
344 Congress St.

The Boston Fire Department, which traces its roots back to 1678, is one of the oldest in the country, and this museum has firefighting memorabilia that recalls moments from the department’s proud history. Housed, appropriately, in a former firehouse, the museum displays antique fire alarms, an 1860s fire truck, old photographs, and some of the first equipment used by Boston firefighters to battle blazes. The museum is open only on Saturdays (free admission, but a donation is appreciated) or by appointment.

Boston, Fort Point neighborhood, Boston Fire Museum

Boston Fire Museum, 344 Congress St.

Drink
348 Congress St.

All bars should be like this one. You take a seat and tell the bartender how you’re feeling that day. The bartender talks to you, finding out what tastes and flavors you like and don’t like, then whips up something especially for you. It is on the pricier side, but the classy ambiance and delicious craft cocktails are worth the money. Drink also serves small bites. Come early, because there is often a line to get in.

Lucky’s Lounge
355 Congress St.

There’s no sign out front, but descend the stairs into Lucky’s Lounge and you’ll feel like you’ve arrived at a swanky speakeasy. Live bands play Motown, funk, and blues five days a week. The lounge is famous for its Sinatra Sunday brunch—with live Sinatra covers and an Ol’ Blue Eyes’ omelet (creamy fontina cheese, smoked prosciutto, and diced tomatoes, topped with sautéed mushrooms, and choice of potato). At night, try the steak frites, pasta primavera, or grilled salmon and orzo salad. The lounge serves a wide selection of beers and cocktails, and it’s a great spot for dancing. Best of all, there are happy hour specials from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Trillium Brewing Co.
369 Congress St.

Owned and operated by Jean-Claude Tetreault and his wife, Esther, Trillium opened in March 2013, joining Boston’s better known breweries Harpoon and Samuel Adams. Trillium produces a handful of delicious ales. The brewery, adorned with handcrafted wooden features, has a farmhouse feel. Its locally inspired beers are made from artisan ingredients and practices. Grab a growler at this welcoming brewery and fill it with the Fort Point Pale Ale, a malt beer with citrus flavors and a dry finish. You can also find Trillium’s brews at local watering holes such as Publick House, Local 149, and Lord Hobo. Trillium is closed Sundays and Mondays and open only from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 6 p.m. Saturday.

Boston, Fort Point neighborhood, Flour Bakery

Flour Bakery and Cafe, 12 Farnsworth St. #1

Flour Bakery and Café
12 Farnsworth St., #1

Stop in here for a sweet or savory fix. The line stretches all the way to the door at this bakery-restaurant, and the chalkboard menus on the walls will make your mouth water no matter what time of day you visit. For breakfast, try an oatmeal maple or lemon ginger scone or the cinnamon cream brioche. For lunch, there’s the roast beef sandwich (horseradish, crispy onions, and tomato) or the grilled Portobello melt. You might see chef and owner Joanne Chang behind the counter rolling croissants. A Harvard grad, she has expanded Flour to three other locations in Boston and Cambridge, and with her husband also runs the Chinese restaurant Myers & Chang in South Boston.

 

Bee’s Knees Supply Co.
12 Farnsworth St., #2

Everything at Bee’s Knees is flawless. And we mean everything. The supply company has a beer and wine section that will make your head spin: craft beers, rare brands of microbrews, specialty beers, and wines from around the world. The butcher shop favors local providers who treat their animals humanely and use minimal hormones and chemicals. The cheese department has imported cheeses from France and Italy as well as domestic cheeses, and the store’s cheesemongers make their own burrata and mozzarella in house by hand. Inside this stylish space you’ll also find a chocolate factory, a charcuterie department, a section of fine culinary tools and handcrafted ceramics, a floral lab, a fresh selection of local produce, and a café that welcomes custom orders. By the time you’re finished reading this, you should be halfway to the store.

Blue Dragon
324 A St.

Blue Dragon, in the heart of this trendy section of town, is an Asian gastropub offering a fun, neighborhood feel, and some tasty tapas. Created by award-winning chef Ming Tsai, who specializes in East-meets-West cuisine, the menu offers scrumptious snacks like Japanese sweet potato chips with charred scallion and meat jus dip, and plates to share like crispy pork tail with mango sticky rice and teriyaki bison mini burgers with teriyaki caramelized onions and shiitakes. Head to the bar for a craft beer, premium sake, or one of the signature cocktails, such as the Bangkok Sunrise, mixed with Reposado tequila, grapefruit, cinnamon, and a mezcal rinse. You’ll want to make this spot, named one of Zagat’s 24 New Restaurants You Need to Know, your new corner hangout.

Fort Point, The Barking Crab

The Barking Crab, 88 Sleeper St.

The Barking Crab
88 Sleeper St.

The Barking Crab is the place to eat when the weather gets nice. Patrons can enjoy a spectacular view of the harbor and the Boston skyline from outdoor picnic tables at this lively restaurant. Try either of two lobster rolls—the Boston Lobster Roll, lobster salad with mayonnaise, served on a toasted roll, and the Naked Lobster Roll, which comes with a bigger serving of lobster meat, tossed with hot drawn butter. The restaurant also serves raw oysters and steamed mussels. Landlubbers will be happy with the great burgers. Recorded music plays in the background some nights, live music on others.

Institute of Contemporary Art
100 Northern Ave.

The Institute of Contemporary Art, which relocated to Fort Point from the Back Bay in 2006, is housed in a sleek modern building that looks like it’s suspended over the water, designed by architects Diller Scofidio & Renfro. The museum offers a first-class showcase of contemporary art and media, including film, video, performance, and literature. The permanent collection has works by artists Tara Donovan, Shepard Fairey, Alex Hubbard, Alice Neel, and Cindy Sherman. Go on Thursday nights, when the museum offers free admission, or attend the popular ICA First Fridays, held on the first Friday of each month, featuring guest DJs, gallery talks, live performances, and specialty drinks inspired by the museum’s current collection.

Legal Harborside
270 Northern Ave.

This restaurant, the latest in the famed Legal Sea Foods chain, has three floors—and three dining options—to choose from. The first floor is a typical Legal’s, with an outdoor deck and patio doors open in nice weather; the second floor is fine dining (Parents Weekend, anyone?); the third floor serves cocktails and has an outdoor fireplace and a retractable roof. The food isn’t cheap, but anyone can afford a cup of the clam chowder that has been served at every presidential inauguration since 1981. Also try Legal Test Kitchen, across the street at 225 Northern Ave., for inventive, multicultural, and seasonal dishes from the restaurant.

Institute of Contemporary Art

Institute of Contemporary Art, 100 Northern Ave.

Harpoon Brewery
306 Northern Ave.

Harpoon was given the first beer-brewing permit in Massachusetts in 25 years when it launched in 1987. Its beers are popular at bars around the country, and the brewery has won many awards for inventive concoctions. As brewery tours go, this one’s pretty rad. For a $5 donation to charity, visitors get to see the working facility and a chance to sample unfiltered beer right from a giant vat. At the tour’s end, they can use their souvenir glass to try all the beer they want at the mini-bar. This is a chance to sample unusual beers you might hesitate to spend money on when buying a six-pack, like the Raspberry UFO or a chocolate stout.

Empire
One Marina Park Dr.

As its name implies, this Asian restaurant and lounge is large (14,000 square feet to be exact) and luxurious. Run by Big Night Entertainment Group, which also operates local hot spot Red Lantern, Empire boasts a dazzling interior that combines traces of ancient China with a contemporary twist. The sleek space can accommodate big groups and offers plates that are perfect for sharing among friends, such as the shrimp and tofu fritters, lobster scallion pancakes, and of course, many sushi options. Wash it all down with a refreshing Mai Tai.

Getting there: By public transportation, take the MBTA Red Line to South Station and walk over Fort Point Channel towards the water. Or at South Station, hop on the Silver Line waterfront bus, which runs through the neighborhood.


View Fort Point in a larger map

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

Explore other area neighborhoods here.

This story originally ran July 18, 2011; it has been updated to include new locations and current information.

Have a suggestion for a neighborhood you would like to see featured on BU Today? Leave it in the comments section below.

3 Comments

3 Comments on Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Fort Point

  • Julia on 09.27.2013 at 8:14 am

    This is SOUTH BOSTON (aka southie) not the South End. Big difference. Two entirely different neighborhoods. People confuse them all the time, but they are not the same place.

    • Julia on 09.27.2013 at 6:01 pm

      I didn’t notice that you guys revised the article base on my first comment. Much appreciated!

  • WHB on 09.27.2013 at 9:44 am

    Visit the Fort Point Theater Company (http://www.fortpointtheatrechannel.org), too! I saw Indiscreet Discretion there last year, and it was amazing.

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