Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Brookline Village
Unique shops, great restaurants, and plenty of history
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 created 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, home to the police and fire stations, public library, and courthouse.
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 street parking is illegal, and family-owned businesses far outnumber chains.
There are exceptions. Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts have made their way into the neighborhood, but those in the know often walk a few blocks to one of the many local independent cafés in the neighborhood.
Daniel F. Ford Park and Playground at Emerson Garden
Fronted by Davis Avenue and Emerson Street
This two-acre playground is nestled in a residential area of Brookline Village. Trees shade the perimeter of a large grassy field lined with benches, providing a spot for reading, relaxing, and people-watching. Along with slides, a climbing structure, and a toy ship, the playground has Brookline’s first spray pool, where children can cool down on a hot summer’s day. The nearby park, with walking paths, is dog-friendly, and offers off-leash hours, for a fee, for your canine companions between dawn and 9 am as part of the town’s Green Dog Program.
Between Linden Place and Linden Street
Established in 1843, this quiet park sports just a single play feature: a circular sandbox, about 20 feet in diameter. The park offers passersby a reprieve from Harvard Street’s traffic and a peaceful place to eat take-out from numerous neighboring cafes. A single table sits at the front entrance, and benches are scattered throughout. Near the back entrance is one dedicated to “Alan J. Gagne (1952–2006), Linden Street’s beloved mailman.” Linden Park dates back to 1844 and is listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places.
Between Linden Place and Toxteth Street
This tranquil park doesn’t have slides or sandboxes, but does feature shady benches, ideal for reading a good book or enjoying a relaxed lunch. Established in 1843, the park is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Brothers & Sisters Co.
7 Station St.
In the heart of Brookline Village, Brothers & Sisters Co. Coffeehouse has recently taken up residence where KooKoo Café was. And like its predecessor, the new café serves passersby who’ve just gotten off the MBTA D Line with a wide variety of pastries and beverages. A sign at the front promises, “the same delicious food and the same wonderful drinks” that fans of KooKoo Café have grown to love over the years. The café is decorated with colorful pastel drawings, decorative lamps, and an assortment of cozy leather booths, with speakers playing a constant flow of indie and classic rock tracks. It’s the ideal spot for anyone in search of a quiet break.
17 Station St.
Skylights allow natural light to pour into the space at this yoga studio, which offers yoga classes for both beginning and veteran adults (Slow Flow, Iyengar, Gentle, and Vinyasa) as well as for kids and teens. The studio also has Capoeira and Shotokan karate for children and adults, and a demanding strengthening/sculpting barre class on Friday and Sunday mornings. “We have a strong grassroots community here,” says co-owner Ali Mohajerani. “People don’t show up here to be seen—it’s a no-hype place to practice.” Learn more about classes here.
Puppet Showplace Theater
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 (some 20,000 every year), 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. Although mainly for families, school groups, and campers, the theater also hosts programming for adults, like the Puppet Showplace Slam, Boston’s only puppet cabaret. The theater offers a variety of classes and workshops for adults as well as summer camps for youth and children.
5 Harvard Square
The chocolatiers here create handmade artisan chocolates, filling molds and operating a tempering machine in an open kitchen behind the counter. Only natural ingredients—pure butter, cream, fresh-roasted nuts, fruits, and premium European chocolate—are used. A specialty is the hazelnut Viennese, a chocolate cube comprising 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 hollow shell of dark or milk chocolate filled with a variety of artisan chocolates. Each cake comes with a wooden mallet, so it can be smashed and the chocolate treasures released. The store also blends several dark chocolates to make a 72 percent cocoa-rich, dairy-free vegan chocolate. Follow Serenade Chocolatier on Facebook or Twitter for news of special events and free samples.
6 Harvard Square
Boasting a mouthwatering selection of items such as brisket sandwiches, chicken and waffles, BBQ Guinness steak tips, and sides like collard greens and dirty fries, Magnolia Smokehouse is an excellent option for those who enjoy smoked meat. Also home to the Ellis Room, an intimate cocktail lounge popular for its seasonal cocktails, friendly staff, and lively music, 6 Harvard Square promises a great night out.
6 Harvard St.
Opened in December 2018, Poke Garden has brought a fusion of Hawaiian and Japanese cuisine to Brookline. With its selection of signature bowls and a build-your-own option, diners will find plenty of different combinations to suit their sushi cravings. Bowls can also be ordered online and are available for delivery. Be sure to check out the online discounts.
14 Harvard St.
An Irish 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. Try the poutine (house fries and Irish cheese curds in a rich brown gravy) or the shepherd’s pie with braised lamb and roasted root vegetables. Be sure to save room for dessert: the bread pudding with sliced pears and caramel sauce is out of this world. Matt Murphy’s is also a popular weekend brunch destination: try the Irish breakfast or the pork hash. Many of the liquors served are from local Bully Boy Distillers. Note: the restaurant is cash only.
Henry Bear’s Park
19 Harvard St.
This store offers toys and games arranged by age and theme. But it’s not just for kids. Adults will find gems in the age 8-to-12 section, with classic board games such as Scrabble, Apples to Apples, Battleship, and Connect 4. The store hosts free events that include educational games and various craft projects, popular with local families. The name comes from a children’s book by David McPhail, published in 1976—the year the first store opened on Huron Avenue in Cambridge. It now has seven locations.
22 Harvard St.
Orinoco’s fare is rooted in traditional Venezuelan cuisine. Chef Carlos Rodríguez, who has taught classes in BU’s Culinary Arts Program, applies nuevo Latino techniques to bring out exotic flavors, an approach exemplified by the restaurant’s asado negro—slow-cooked beef roast served au jus with rice and sweet plantains. The restaurant also has a full bar offering authentic South American wines, beers, and tropical fruit drinks and Caribbean-inspired specialty cocktails. Be sure to stop by on Sundays for the delicious brunch as well. 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 eatery (there are two others, in the South End and Harvard Square) was named Brookline Village’s Best Neighborhood Restaurant by Boston magazine in 2018.
Martin’s Coffee Shop
35 Harvard St.
This Village mainstay (it’s been in business since 1918) is a favorite with locals for breakfast and lunch. Grab a seat at the counter and enjoy a hearty meal of pancakes, French toast, or create-your-own eggs Benedict. It opens at 7 am (8 am on Sundays) and closes at 3 pm. The lunch menu offers an extensive list of subs, burgers, and classic home-style favorites. The coffee shop is cash only; online ordering is available.
Bottega di Capri Italian Deli
41 Harvard St.
This cozy delicatessen gives Italian eateries in the North End a run for their money. Featuring fresh, affordable homemade pastas and more than a dozen sauces for eat-in or takeout, it’s the place to grab a sandwich for 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.
43 Harvard St.
Often described as a “miracle worker,” Boonsom “Bonnie” Pasooktham is a trusted and talented seamstress, known for her pleasant demeanor and exceptional 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 wedding and special-occasion gowns and other articles of clothing.
60-62 Harvard St.
Gateway Arts, a service of the nonprofit Vinfen, is a studio art center dedicated to creating careers in art for people with disabilities. For more than 40 years, the studio spaces, gallery, and storefront have supported artists with developmental and psychiatric disabilities, providing them studio mentorship to help them grow professionally and a neighboring store where they can sell their artwork, which includes paintings, silk scarves, fine jewelry, wooden furniture, cards, hand-woven textiles, and pottery. Gateway also hosts exhibitions throughout the year in its second-floor gallery space. Half of all profits go directly to the artists. The store is open from 11 am to 6 pm weekdays and noon to 5 pm Saturdays, but you can also find items for sale online.
Pon Thai Bistro
213 Washington St.
Combining classical training in French cuisine with Thai roots, chef and owner Sivika “Pon” Hunter creates elegant but affordable dishes such as wok-fried spicy basil eggplant and a variety of traditional Thai curries. Pon Thai has a large wine selection to match its diverse menu; the white wines are designed to play off dishes that are heavy on spices and chilies. The menu features what she calls the “trinity of sauces”—fish sauce, oyster sauce, and soy sauce. Among the standouts is the laab duck, an entrée of minced duck, mint, cilantro, scallion, crispy shallot, lemongrass, roasted rice powder, crushed pepper, and tamarind dressing.
The Children’s Book Shop
237 Washington St.
Greater Boston’s oldest independent bookstore, this shop has been delighting young minds since 1977. With more than 28,000 titles available, it offers children’s classics (e.g., Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings), the latest in picture and chapter books, and young adult fare. Rows of books, from pop-ups to contemporary novels, classics, and nonfiction, are sorted by age and genre. A section at the front has books autographed by authors who have done readings sponsored by the Children’s Book Shop at the nearby Public Library of Brookline. The knowledgeable staff will help you find just the right gift for any young reader. It frequently has been named best children’s bookshop by Boston magazine. The store also hosts numerous events and programs.
278 Washington 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. The fee to use one of the six workstations is $3; doing it yourself takes about an hour and can significantly lower the cost of framing a beloved piece of art. 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. Be sure to check out the store’s website for special offers. Framers’ Workshop will also do custom orders for you.
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 and lunch sandwich shop. Kelsey and his wife, Rachel, seek out local, organic ingredients like all-natural, antibiotic-free meats, fresh bread from Iggy’s in Cambridge, and fresh produce from Brookline’s Allandale Farm. Former America’s Test Kitchen editors with degrees from the Culinary Institute of America, the couple prepares food on site. Their slow-roasted pork, which takes three days to prepare, is one of the shop’s most popular items. It is used in two sandwiches, pork fennel and pork rabe, sold only on Saturdays. Cutty’s menu caters to carnivores—its best seller is the roast beef 1000—but vegetarians will enjoy the shop’s soups, salads, and eggplant spuckie (an old Boston term meaning sub), with eggplant, hand-pulled mozzarella, and olive-carrot salad on a ciabatta roll. Once a month, on Super Cluckin’ Sunday, the line is out the door with customers yearning for one of the two kinds of chicken sandwiches Cutty’s offers that day: honey mustard or BBQ ranch fried chicken with sauces, lettuce, and shaved sweet onion on a sesame brioche bun.
Anatolia Buffet & Kebab House
305 Washington St.
Previously known as Brookline Family Restaurant, Anatolia Buffet & Kebab House serves much of the same traditional Turkish cuisine that made its predecessor so popular. The new restaurant is run by former Brookline Family Restaurant co-owner Ahmet Ozseferoglu and his cousin, Ali, who serve up specialties from their homeland, including an Adana kebab (named after the fourth-largest city in Turkey, where it originated), consisting of spicy ground lamb on skewers. Although the halal-certified menu is heavy on meat, vegetarians will enjoy feta cheese pizza and a variety of cold appetizers and salads. Many dishes are served with pide, a homemade sesame-seeded bread that’s soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside—it’s delicious. 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 in the heart of Brookline Village. “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 is there represents the Mallios family’s heritage and hobbies. Paintings of Greek buildings hang alongside a mounted swordfish, and a 150-gallon fish tank anchors the front counter. Many customers choose to carry out or order online, but there is ample seating inside. Be sure to try one of the specialty pizzas, like the Alfredo pizza with broccoli, grilled chicken, and Alfredo sauce. You’ll be glad you did.
320 Washington St.
Wow Barbecue began life as a food truck serving authentic Chinese barbecue (food on a stick) before expanding into two brick-and-mortar restaurants, one in Providence, R.I., the other in Brookline Village. The restaurants dish up a comprehensive menu of traditional Chinese street cuisine, with an emphasis on skewers. Featuring meat or vegetables doused in cumin, the skewers, traditionally cooked over a charcoal grill, here are cooked over a gas grill with volcano rocks to preserve the signature smoky flavor of the cuisine. Wow offers two dozen specialty skewers, ranging from basics like chicken or beef served with Thai chili, dill yogurt, and carrot hummus to more unique offerings like lamb kidney, squid, quail egg, and chicken gizzards. The menu also includes soups, Asian fusion tapas-style small plates, and entrées, including behemoth “plates for two.”
Newsboys Memorial to Albert Edward Scott
333 Washington St.
Tucked away alongside Brookline Town Hall, this small memorial honors all of those Brookline residents who gave their life while serving their country. But if you walk to the back of the memorial, you’ll discover that it specifically honors Albert E. “Scotty” Scott, a 15-year-old newsboy who lied about his age and entered World War I while still a Brookline High School freshman. Less than a year after entering the Army, Scott became a folk hero in Brookline, reportedly killing or injuring some 30 German soldiers in Eips, France, before being killed by one of them. A plaque commemorating his sacrifice was erected by the Roosevelt Newsboys’ Association of Boston.
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 like Conan O’Brien, and sports luminaries like Theo Epstein and Bob Kraft. Besides books, the library offers all of its card-carrying members access to ESL conversation groups; foreign language books, including large collections of Chinese, Russian, and Hebrew texts; and museum passes for reduced admission to cultural institutions like the New England Aquarium, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Museum of Science. The library hosts story times, puppet shows, and a teen book club, and also provides resources for people with disabilities, seniors, and students. Keeping up with technology, the library loans digital books and audiobooks powered by OverDrive software, so patrons can read or listen on their e-readers and iPads. Titles are available electronically for two weeks, then they vanish; 3-D printers are also available.
Off the beaten path
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 sheltered fugitive slaves, including Henry “Box” Brown, who shipped himself in a box to gain freedom. 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.
147 Cypress St.
Owner and chef Colleen Marnell-Suhanosky, a James Beard award–winning cookbook author, wants customers to feel at home in her restaurant, and the menu does just that. There are breakfast offerings like a variety of egg dishes, green hummus toast made with white beans and smashed swiss chard hummus, and other innovative dishes geared to health-conscious diners. Lunch items include fresh salads and home-style favorites like grilled cheese. Try the daily soup with an Italian tuna or Cuban-style braised pork sandwich made with bread baked on site. The baked goods are delicious, as well. You can grab a seat at the counter or on the hot pink leatherette couch, an heirloom from the owner’s grandparents’ Italian restaurant in Minneapolis.
Shambhala Meditation Center
646 Brookline Ave.
Discovering your own kindness, goodness, strength, and wisdom as a means to moving toward a more harmonious society is the goal of the Shambhala community, and to that end it offers weekend workshops, dharma talks, and meditation in two shrine rooms appointed with comfortable mats and scented with incense. The center welcomes people of all faiths and traditions, with weekly theme nights such as a 30s and Under gathering; the Heart of Recovery, which brings together Buddhist meditation practice and the 12-step model of recovery for people on the path to sobriety; a monthly LGBTQ meditation group; and another for those who self-identify as people of color. All drop-in groups are free, and no preregistration is required—a donation of $5 to $10 is suggested for those who can afford it.
Brookline Reservoir Park
Route 9 between Lee and Warren Streets
Both runners and walkers make use of the one-mile circumference of 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, although currently the reservoir is drained to allow for much-needed renovations to the park and gatehouse. The $3.2 million project is expected to be completed by spring 2020. When the reservoir is refilled, those wishing to fish need only bring a permit from the office of the Town Clerk, along with their fishing gear. The Brookline Reservoir Gatehouse, which was built 1848, 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. In 2015, the National Park Service declared the Brookline Reservoir and Gatehouse a National Historic Landmark.
Evelyn Kirrane Aquatic Center
60 Tappan St.
Named for 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 has three pools: a shallow one for children and beginners, a lap pool, and a diving area. The last 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, but a reduced rate of $3 and $5 is available for students. Yearly adult and family passes are also available for purchase. Private and group swimming lessons are available for Brookline residents (prices vary).
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 headed down Harvard Street.