Boston should be on everybody’s list to visit right now, even if only for a weekend getaway. With the Big Dig getting closer to completion, traffic problems have eased up considerably. It’s time to look again at what this beautiful city has to offer.
But once you’ve decided to make the trip, where to stay? There are many luxurious and pricey downtown hotels including 15 Beacon, the Four Seasons, and two Ritz-Carltons. We asked Contributing Editor Sheridan Collins to track down 11 stylish smaller hotels tucked away around town. We wanted elegance, style and personal service. Sheridan found that most are converted brownstones with fewer than 50 rooms, nicely integrated into their neighborhoods, and, on average, under $200 a night. They have personalities that reflect their neighborhoods and are starting points for great walks. Staying in one of these gems is like having your own apartment, with the same feelings of comfort and familiarity.
How about a floating hotel?
The most unusual lodging in town is The Golden Slipper, a bed & breakfast afloat a 1960 Chris-Craft cabin cruiser docked at Lewis Wharf in the North End. From Logan Airport, it’s a $10 water-taxi ride almost door to door. Gretchen and Jack Stephenson rent the boat to a maximum of four people at a time.
“They should be family or good friends,” Gretchen told Sheridan, “because it’s like a private party.”
There’s an aft cabin with double bed, a living/dining area with pullout couch, and one head with a shower. An aft sundeck set up with wicker furniture is a perfect place for watching the water traffic or taking in the stars. The Golden Slipper never leaves the slip, but you can; it’s an easy walk to dozens of restaurants and historic attractions. Continental breakfast is provided. She’s available from May 1 to Nov. 15.
Barely six blocks away is La Cappella Suites Hotel. As the name implies, this started out as a one-story chapel, built by Italian immigrants in 1941. Converted into a five-story B&B, it is located on North Street, steps from the Freedom Trail and the Italian restaurants of the North End. Here, location is everything. Paul Revere’s house is a few doors away, and the roof offers a killer view of the harbor, the downtown skyline, and Old North Church. La Cappella has three rooms, one on the fourth floor and two on the fifth, and each floor has a living/dining area and a kitchen fully stocked for breakfast. Large rooms, high ceilings, private baths, and quiet nights make this B & B a great place to settle if you’re following the tracks of Boston’s history or the smell of linguine with clam sauce.
The best-known part of Boston is probably Beacon Hill, the posh, old section of town north of the Common that boasts handsome, Federal-style homes with purple glass windows and the antiques Mecca of Charles Street. The Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro opened on Charles just three years ago and has become part of the local scene. Two brownstones were joined together to create the hotel of 13 charming rooms, each one slightly different in shape and design. A terrace between the two buildings looks down on Charles Street. The location isn’t always quiet, but the atmosphere can’t be beat. With the room comes a full breakfast in the bistro.
Down a block and across the street is The Charles Street Inn, a boutique hotel opened four years ago in an 1860 Victorian townhouse that is on the National Register of Historic Places. The nine rooms–each named after a Victorian patron of the arts–are beautifully appointed with period antiques, original paintings, and working marble fireplaces. Canopy beds, chandeliers, and oriental rugs reflect the elegance and refinement Beacon Hill is known for. Breakfast is delivered to your room each morning, to be enjoyed privately in your spacious room.
Continue walking to Charles Circle and discover John Jeffries House on your left at the foot of Beacon Hill. What a pleasant surprise! This 46-room inn used to be the nurses’ building for the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary across the street. Renovated as an inn 18 years ago, rooms are pleasant and comfortable with large private baths. A spacious sitting room on the main floor offers 24-hour coffee service and continental breakfast in the morning along with a sunny view of the river. Fourth-floor rooms facing the river are best.
Back Bay way
The sophisticated residential and shopping area of Back Bay offers a choice of hotels. For style and trendy location you have to sacrifice something, and that something is quiet nights. Chances are you’ll be out late anyway, enjoying the action at restaurants and watering holes nearby. The Newbury Guest House is a fabulous find, with large, comfortable rooms, feather beds, high ceilings, and free parking behind the hotel. It was built in 1882 as a private home and now offers 32 private rooms decorated in Victorian style. There’s a wonderful sitting room on the main floor where you can meet friends or just read the paper. Breakfast is served each morning on the ground floor.
Across Massachusetts Avenue, Oasis Guest House is 22 years old, the second-oldest B&B in the city. Joe Haley is the long- time owner and he’s made sure the inn lives up to its name. Oasis was created out of four, three-story brownstones broken up into 30 pleasant rooms filled with old oak furniture. There’s a deck on the back of each building where guests can gather. A continental breakfast is laid out each morning in the kitchen off the front sitting room. The tree-lined street is a quiet contrast to the lively Back Bay atmosphere just three blocks away. The Oasis is a terrific value in every way.
One of Back Bay’s landmarks is the stately Eliot Hotel on the corner of Massachusetts and Commonwealth avenues. Originally part of the Harvard Club next door, the Eliot was built in 1925, and the 95-room hotel follows genteel European models. Most of the rooms are suites, with bedroom and sitting room separated by French doors. The rooms are decorated in chintz and Queen Anne-style furniture, and a number of them have minibars or pantries. Guests receive complimentary passes to the Boston Sports Club. The Eliot is pricey, but seasonal or package rates can lower the rate by as much as half.
The Gryphon House is another B&B created from a 19th-century, single-family home. It now houses eight large, beautiful suites, all with queen beds, gas fireplaces and private baths with tubs. It’s a contrast to find such elegance so close to the student life of Boston University. A continental breakfast and free on-site parking, plus its great location near Symphony Hall and other landmarks, can make reservations hard to get.
The mood is sleek and modern at the two-year-old Charlesmark Hotel. This 19th-century Back Bay mansion has chosen a different style than its neighbor, the Old South Church. The second-floor lobby, in grey, red and black, doubles as a computer lounge and breakfast area. Elegantly spare, the guest rooms are appointed in marble and wood and feature muted lighting, wireless internet and surround-sound. This inn aims to attract the harried businessman, and comfort and service are important here.
The South End is a fast-growing area of the city often overlooked by sightseers. Block after block of Victorian townhouses line the streets, so it is easy to miss the Encore Bed & Breakfast, itself a converted brownstone. This is one of Boston’s most diverse neighborhoods, with lots of new restaurants opening around the corner on Tremont Street. Reflecting the artistic interests of owner Reinhold Mahler, the three rooms in this small inn are named Bernstein, Sondheim and Albee. Sleek furniture in the guest rooms suggests Bauhaus, and masks from around the world cover the wall of the breakfast room.
When you book any of these hotels, it’s wise to ask for specials. Even small hotels make price adjustments based on the season or the economy. Choosing is the hard part; each one boasts something special.
Just the Facts: Boston’s Small Gems
The Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro: 25 Charles St.; 617-723- 7575; beaconhillhotel.com. Rates are $245 to $365, parking $20 extra.
The Charles Street Inn: 94 Charles St.; 617-314-8900; charlesstreetinn.com. $200 to $425.
The Charlesmark Hotel: 655 Boylston St.; 617-247-1212; thecharlesmark.com. $120 to $180.
The Eliot Hotel: 370 Commonwealth Ave.; 617-267-1607; eliothotel.com. Prices start at $295, valet parking $29 extra.
Encore Bed & Breakfast: 116 W. Newton St.; 617-247-3425; encorebandb.com. $120 to $190.
The Golden Slipper: Lewis Wharf; 781-545-2845; bbonline.com/ma/goldenslipper. $175 for two people, $35 each additional person.
The Gryphon House: 9 Bay State Road; 877-375-9003; innboston.com. $149 to $265.
John Jeffries House: 14 David G. Mugar Way; 617-367-1866; johnjeffrieshouse.com. $95 to $175, parking $19 extra.
La Cappella Suites Hotel: 290 North St.; 888-523-9020; lacappellasuites.com. $95 to $210
Newbury Guest House: 261 Newbury St.; 617-437-7666; newburyguesthouse.com. $125 to $175 for one person, $15 each additional person.
Oasis Guest House: 22 Edgerly Road; 800-230-0105; oasisgh.com. $80 to $140, parking $15 extra.