CHINATOWN, THE THEATER DISTRICT, AND SOUTH END

Boston’s compact Chinatown is one of the oldest and most significant in the US, concentrating a wealth of Asian experience in a small patch of real estate. Theater-goers find the proximity of Chinatown to the Theater District a boon for pre- and post-show dining. The Theater District itself is among the liveliest in the US, and its architecturally distinctive playhouses are nearly always active, often with local productions. Adjoining the Theater District to the south is South End, once an immigrant tenement area and now Boston’s most diverse neighborhood by race, cultural background, and sexual orientation. It is also the country’s largest historical district of Victorian town-houses. Following four decades of gentrification and swift inflation of real estate prices, South End is now home to a burgeoning, energetic club, café, and restaurant scene.

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1. Beach Street and Chinatown

As the periphery of ethnic Chinatown becomes increasingly homogenized, Beach Street remains the purely Chinese heart of the neighborhood. An ornate Dragon Gate at the base of Beach Street creates a ceremonial entrance to Chinatown. The wall behind the adjacent small park is painted with a dreamy mural of a Chinese sampan boat.

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Dragon Gate entrance to Chinatown on Beach Street

2. Boston Center for the Arts

prac_info 539 Tremont St • 617 426 5000 • www.bcaonline.org

The massive Cyclorama building is the centerpiece of the BCA, a performing and visual arts complex dedicated to nurturing new talent. The center (see Boston Center for the Arts) provides studio space to about 50 artists, and its Mills Gallery mounts rotating visual arts exhibitions. The BCA’s four theaters host avant-garde productions of dance, theater, and performance art.

3. Tremont Street

The part of Tremont Street between East Berkeley and Massachusetts Avenue is the social and commercial heart of the South End. Many of the handsome brick and brownstone townhouses have been restored to perfection, some with a boutique or café added at street level. The liveliest corner of the South End is the intersection of Tremont with Clarendon and Union Park streets, where the Boston Center for the Arts and a plethora of restaurants and cafés create a compact entertainment and dining district.

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Tremont Street townhouse windows

4. Boch Center – Wang Theatre

prac_info 270 Tremont St • 617 482 9393 • www.bochcenter.org

With a theater modeled on the Paris Opera House and a foyer inspired by the Palace of Versailles, the opulent Wang Theatre (opened 1925) is a grand venue for touring musicals, blockbuster concerts, and local productions (see Boch Center – Wang Theatre).

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Grand foyer of Wang Theatre

5. Piano Row

In the late 19th century, the headquarters of leading piano makers Steinert, Vose, Starck, Mason & Hamlin, and Wurlitzer were all located on the section of Boylston Street facing Boston Common, giving the block (now a historic district) its nickname of Piano Row. Over a century later, those Beaux Arts buildings still echo with music. The ornate Colonial Theatre opened in 1900. It is owned and managed by Emerson College. Another attraction on Piano Row is Boylston Place, a small-scale club and nightlife center.

6. South Station

A brick temple to mass transportation, the Neo-Classical Revival South Station was erected in 1898 at the height of rail travel in the US, and was once the country’s busiest train station. Following extensive restoration in 1989, it now serves as an Amtrak terminal for trains from the south and west of the city, as well as a “T” stop and a social and commercial center with a lively food court and occasional free lunchtime concerts.

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South Station’s imposing Neo-Classical facade

7. Villa Victoria

prac_info Area bounded by Shawmut Ave, Tremont St, W Newton St, & W Brookline St • Center for the Arts: 85 W Newton St; 617 927 1737; www.ibaboston.org

Villa Victoria is a virtually self-contained, primarily Hispanic neighborhood that grew out of a unique collaboration among Puerto Rican community activists, flexible city planners, and visionary architects. With its low-rise buildings, narrow streets, and mom-and-pop stores, Villa Victoria replicates the feel of Puerto Rican community life. At its heart, the Center for the Arts sponsors concerts and exhibitions. In mid-July the center puts on the Latino arts and cultural celebration Festival Betances.

8. Union Park

Constructed between 1857 and 1859, this small park surrounded by English-style brick row houses was built to contrast with the French-inspired grid layout of nearby Back Bay. Graced with lovely trees and fountains and verdant with a thick mat of grass, the square was one of the first areas in the South End to be gentrified.

9. Holy Cross Cathedral

prac_info 1400 Washington St • 617 542 5682 • Open 9am–6pm daily

Holy Cross, the largest Roman Catholic church in Massachusetts, acts as the seat of the archbishop of Boston. The cathedral was constructed between 1866 and 1875 (on the site of the municipal gallows) to serve the largely Irish-American workers who lived in the adjoining shantytown. Today the congregation is principally of Hispanic origin. Of note are the magnificent stained-glass windows, which include rare colored glass imported from Munich in the 19th century, and the powerful Hook & Hastings organ which, when played with the stops out, seems to make every piece of Roxbury puddingstone in the building reverberate.

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Exterior of Holy Cross Cathedral

10. Southwest Corridor Park

The first section of the 5-mile (8-km) Southwest Corridor Park divides South End and Back Bay along the “T” orange line corridor. In the residential South End portion, a path strings together numerous small parks. Between Massachusetts Avenue and West Roxbury, the park broadens to include amenities such as tennis and basketball courts.

EXPLORING CHINATOWN AND SOUTH END

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MORNING

Begin on Washington Street where you can peruse the exotic produce, Chinese teas, imported Asian spices, and specialty foods at Jia Ho. Continue down Essex Street, ducking into Oxford Place to see the mural, Travelers in an Autumn Landscape, based on the scroll painting by the same name at the Museum of Fine Arts. The distinctive and colorful Dragon Gate to China-town stands at the corner of Edinboro Street and Beach Street, along with pagoda-style phone booths. Continue to the corner of Essex and Chauncy where Essex Corner offers a wide range of goods. Stop for lunch at Shabu-Zen.

AFTERNOON

Walk down Tremont Street to the South End, or hop on the “T” two stops to Back Bay Station. Head west on Columbus Avenue to see the elaborate bronze sculptures that tell the story of escaped slave Harriet Tubman, who led many others to freedom on the Underground Railroad, a series of hiding places in non-slave states. Back at Tremont Street, visit the Boston Center for the Arts to get a snapshot of local contemporary art at the Mills Gallery. Then, if you have time, stroll around gracious Union Park before returning to the arts center for dinner and live music at The Beehive. There is a good chance that local jazz artists will be playing.

Shops

1. Jia Ho Supermarket

prac_info 692 Washington St

This compact market offers vegetables, tropical fruits, and packaged foods essential for cuisines from Singapore to Seoul.

2. Flock

prac_info 274 Shawmut Ave • Closed Mon

Flock sells stylish and easy-to-wear women’s clothing and accessories with a modern Bohemian flair, plus an eclectic range of gifts and affordable home decor items.

3. Hudson

prac_info 12 Union Park St

This home decor boutique by interior designer Jill Goldberg offers home furnishings and a delightfully eclectic mix of decorative accent pieces that includes traditional, country, vintage, and modern pieces.

4. Essex Corner

prac_info 50 Essex St

This large shop gathers all the Asian merchandise found in Chinatown into one easy-to-peruse location.

5. Tadpole

prac_info 58 Clarendon St

Tadpole’s cheery selection of clothing, toys, and accessories for children are a favorite among the locals. Limited edition strollers are very popular.

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Tadpole on Clarendon Street

6. Lekker Home

prac_info 1313 Washington St • Closed Mon

Contemporary Italian, Scandinavian, and German home design items are the highlights of this emporium, which offers the latest trends in homeware.

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Lekker Home linens

7. Michele Mercaldo Jewelry

prac_info 276 Shawmut Ave • Closed Sun & Mon

Jewelry by contemporary designer Michele Mercaldo and her colleagues is displayed in creative and unusual ways at this South End store.

8. Bead & Fiber

prac_info 460 Harrison Ave • Closed Mon

Whether you’re looking for beaded jewelry or fiber art, or simply the materials to make them, this shop and gallery offers everything you need, including classes.

9. Urban Grape

prac_info 303 Columbus Ave

This stylish award-winning liquor store uses “progressive shelving”, a unique system of organizing wines by their body instead of region or variety to make it easy for customers to select wines.

10. Syrian Grocery Importing Company

prac_info 270 Shawmut Ave • Closed Sun & Mon

Harking back to the South End’s days as a Middle Eastern immigrant neighborhood, this grocery sells southern and eastern Mediterranean essentials, from preserved lemons to rare Moroccan argan oil.

Nightclubs and Bars

1. Whisky Saigon

prac_info 116 Boylston St • 617 482 7799 • Closed Sun–Tue • Adm

The colorful and sophisticated bar up front becomes a glamorous dance scene in the back.

2. Toro

prac_info 1704 Washington St

Barcelona-style tapas complement an all-Spanish wine list and a select group of creative cocktails with names like Verdad y Amor (Truth and Love).

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Spanish paella at Toro

3. Wally’s Café

prac_info 427 Massachusetts Ave

Exhale before you squeeze in the door at Wally’s. This thin, chock-full sliver of a room is one of the best jazz bars in Boston, and has been since 1944.

4. Five Horses Tavern

prac_info 535 Columbus Ave • 617 936 3930

This atmospheric, brick-walled tavern boasts an impressive collection of craft beers from around the world. It also serves fine whiskeys and American comfort food.

5. Delux Café

prac_info 100 Chandler St • Closed Sun

Cheap drinks and an Elvis shrine lend an edge to the trendy scene here. It’s good clean fun for hipster grandchildren of the beatniks. Regulars and visitors alike rave about the fried chicken.

6. Royale

prac_info 279 Tremont St • 617 338 7699 • Adm

This massive two-story dance hall occasionally morphs into a live-performance concert venue for touring acts.

7. Venu

prac_info 100 Warrenton St • Closed Mon & Wed

Music varies each night of the week, but it’s always the same Prada-Armani-Versace-clad crowd. The Art Deco bar makes for a beautiful look.

8. Jacque’s Cabaret

prac_info 79 Broadway • Adm

This multifaceted pioneer drag-queen bar features female impersonators, edgy rock bands, and cabaret shows.

9. The Beehive

prac_info 541 Tremont St • 617 423 0069

Live jazz, delicious cocktails and beers, as well as good, hearty fare make The Beehive one of the best venues in South End.

10. The Butcher Shop

prac_info 552 Tremont St

A full-service butcher shop and wine bar pairs house-made sausages, salami, and foie gras terrine with Old World wines of Italy, France, and Spain by the glass or bottle. Gourmet “Burgers and Beers” evenings take place in the summer months.

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Interior of The Butcher Shop

Asian Restaurants

1. Peach Farm

prac_info 24 Tyler St • 617 482 3332 • $

Perfect for family-style dining, this restaurant lets you select your choice of fish from a tank. Good daily specials.

2. New Shanghai

prac_info 21 Hudson St • 617 338 0732 • $

Typical southern Chinese fare is avail-able, but the best bets are northern dishes such as tea-smoked duck, Sichuan fish, and Mongolian beef.

3. Penang

prac_info 685 Washington St • 617 451 6372 • $

Nominally “Pan-Asian,” Penang has a chiefly Malay menu, ranging from inexpensive noodle staples to more contemporary concoctions.

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Exterior of Penang

4. Emperor’s Garden

prac_info 690 Washington St • 617 482 8898 • $

Dim sum in this historical opera house is a theatrical experience. Note that most southern Chinese dishes are large and best shared.

5. Hei La Moon

prac_info 88 Beach St • 617 338 8813 • $

A huge, rather formal Pan-Chinese restaurant on the Leather District side of Atlantic Avenue. On weekend mornings, a large crowd is guaranteed for the dim sum.

6. Taiwan Cafe

prac_info 34 Oxford St • 617 426 8181 • No credit cards • $

The typically Taiwanese over-bright cafeteria appearance of this place should not deter aficionados of authentic, adventurous dishes like spicy pig ears and jellyfish.

7. Shojo

prac_info 9A Tyler St • 617 423 7888 • $$

Savor suckling pig bao (steamed stuffed bun) and chicken tacos with yuzu slaw at this snazzy Japanese restaurant. Superb craft cocktails.

8. China King

prac_info 60 Beach St • 617 542 1763 • $

This eatery offers an extensive menu of Chinese delicacies, plus the must-try Peking duck. Order it a day ahead for a minimum of four diners.

9. Shabu-Zen

prac_info 16 Tyler St • 617 292 8828 • $$

Choose your meats and vegetables and your cooking liquid at this traditional Asian “hot-pot” joint.

10. Dumpling Café

prac_info 695 Washington St • 617 338 8858 • $

This casual spot sells several varieties of dumpling made fresh daily, alongside delicacies such as duck tongue.

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Diners at Dumpling Café

Restaurants

1. Picco

prac_info 513 Tremont St • 617 927 0066 • $

This friendly little place is popular for its thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas and decadent homemade ice cream.

2. Myers + Chang

prac_info 1145 Washington St • 617 542 5200 • $$

Clever reinventions of classic Chinese dishes such as lemon shrimp dumplings are served here. Wash down with sake-based cock-tails containing guava and lychee.

3. El Centro

prac_info 472 Shawmut Ave • 617 262 5708 • $

Authentic Mexican cuisine from a Sonoran chef emphasizes fresh flavors and serves authentic tamales and tortillas made from scratch.

4. Banyan Bar + Refuge

prac_info 553 Tremont St • 617 556 4211 • $$

A chic Pan-Asian gastropub, Banyan Bar + Refuge serves innovative fare such as roasted chicken with wasabi gratin potatoes and kimchi fried rice.

5. Les Zygomates

prac_info 129 South St • 617 541 5108 • Closed Sun • $$$

French bistro fare, dozens of wines by the glass, and live jazz is on offer near Boston South Station.

6. Coppa

prac_info 252 Shawmut Ave • 617 391 0902 • Closed L Sat • $

Small, Italian-inspired plates make Coppa perfect for grazing while sipping glasses of wine and basking in the romantic ambience.

7. Aquitaine

prac_info 569 Tremont St • 617 424 8577 • Closed L Mon–Fri • $$$

A Parisian-style bistro popular for its snazzy wine bar and its French market-style cooking. Black truffle vinaigrette makes Aquitaine’s steak-frites Boston’s best.

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Aquitaine’s classically French interior

8. Masa

prac_info 439 Tremont St • 617 338 8884 • Closed L • $$$

Refined New American dishes with southwestern accents are complemented by killer margaritas, colorful decor, and good wines.

9. Ostra

prac_info 1 Charles St S • 617 421 1200 • $$$

This sophisticated restaurant in the Theater District serves contemporary Mediterranean fare in both innovative and classic preparations.

10. Giacomo’s

prac_info 431 Columbus Ave • 617 536 5723 • $

This offshoot of a very popular North End eatery offers heaped portions of filling Italian fare at great prices. The restaurant accepts cash only.

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