Nearby Neighborhoods: Fort Point
A guide to Boston’s transformed waterfront
See more of Fort Point in the slideshow above. Photos by Vernon Doucette
Few city neighborhoods have undergone the kind of recent transformation that Fort Point has. Comprising about 100 waterfront acres in the South End, the area has become Boston’s hottest—and hippest—district. Fort Point is 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, and was also the site of the Boston Tea Party. The area 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.
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 the area’s 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 the aim of transforming the neighborhood into a thriving business and residential area, in 2006 the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01) created the 100 Acres Master Planning Process, 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 Friends of Fort Point Channel, a nonprofit made up of area business leaders and residents. They organize 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.
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 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 imposing building, 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 bus, 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.
The HarborWalk was built to connect people to Boston Harbor, which recently underwent 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 towards the Fort Point neighborhood from South Station. Measuring 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.
Fort Point Arts Community Gallery
300 Summer Street 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 studio space for artists and a café. The building stands out from others on the street because of its sweeping sculptural overhang. On the way out, stop for a sandwich and a drink at the Channel Café in the basement.
Boston Fire Museum
344 Congress St.
The Boston Fire Department is one of the oldest in the country, and this museum has firefighting memorabilia that recalls the department’s proud history. Housed in an old 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 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. Located in an old wool warehouse on Children’s Wharf, the museum isn’t just for kids (although adults visiting without children must show a driver’s license or 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.
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 and offers an hourlong tour highlighting its art and architecture and breathtaking views of Boston Harbor. The law library on the top floor is also 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 located 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.
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 includes works by artists Tara Donovan, Shepard Fairey, and Cindy Sherman. Go on Thursday nights when the museum offers free admission.
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 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, it offers seven happy hour specials from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, which increase in price from $1 (oysters) to $7 (burger with fries).
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 cocktails are worth the money. Drink also serves small bites. Come early, because the place gets crowded.
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 locations in Boston, and with her husband also runs the Chinese restaurant Myers & Chang in South Boston.
The Barking Crab
88 Sleeper St.
The Barking Crab is the place to eat when the weather gets nice. Guests 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, with live music other nights.
270 Northern Ave.
This restaurant, the latest in the famed Legal Sea Foods chain, offers three floors—and three dining options—for visitors 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 treat themselves to a cup of the 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.
306 Northern Ave.
Harpoon was given the first beer-brewing permit in Massachusetts in 25 years when it launched in 1987. Harpoon’s 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 try unusual beers you might be hesitant to spend money on when buying a six-pack, like the Raspberry UFO or a chocolate stout.
Getting there: 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.
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