Boston's Jamaica Plain Is Plain No More

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sandwiched between one of Boston's worst housing projects and a family-run farm, and flanked on either side by rows of working-class triple-deckers and a small glacial lake, Jamaica Plain was a neighborhood destined to become cool. And indeed JP, as hip Bostonians call it, is now a destination.

In its rawer days, the low rents and relative proximity to the center of Boston attracted immigrant groups and artists to what had been a stronghold of the Irish old guard. (JP is just three miles southwest of downtown.) Now, that eclectic mix has given rise to a colorful jumble of restaurants, bars, shops and sky-high property values. Tourists can enjoy a short stop, though, without breaking the bank.

Driving there along the disorderly twists and turns of the Jamaicaway, you'll get a lovely view of Jamaica Pond and the rambling mansions where Boston's elite spent their vacations, back when the trip could be made only on horseback. But the crazy Boston drivers who zoom by you at breakneck speed can also give you a heart attack.

Alternatively, the only stressful thing about taking the Orange Line subway is figuring out how to buy a ticket from the inscrutable machines. Fifteen minutes out from the city center, get off at Green Street, where a three-block walk takes you to Doyle's Cafe (3484 Washington St., 617-524-2345) and Jamaica Plain as it once was. A local institution since 1882, this Irish pub serves up New England favorites done right (bowl of clam chowdah, $5.50; fish and chips, $9.95) and ale ($4.50) that's aged better than the politicians who perennially fill the dark wooden booths to drink it.

If you're still in need of liquid refreshment, the Samuel Adams Brewery (30 Germania St., 617-368-5080) sits less than a mile down the road. Although the company is entirely modern, dating only to 1984, it picks up on Boston's long tradition of beer consumption. Sam Adams's namesake brewery is housed in a renovated 19th-century facility in what was once a major brewing district. Get in the spirit with a tour, tasting and souvenir glass all for a mere $2 recommended donation.

The Arnold Arboretum (125 Arborway, 617-384-5454), a mile and a half to the south, offers space for more-sober reflection. The 265 acres of botanical gardens feature extensive native and foreign plant collections, complete with a rose garden, lily pond and fragrant lilac grove when the season is right. On the other side of JP, the Jamaica Pond area showcases homo sapiens as absorbing and varied as the arboretum's flora, as well as the opportunity for a sail ($15 per hour), row ($10 per hour) or stroll (free) around the 1.5-mile paved perimeter trail.

The aptly named Centre Street runs between these two natural spaces and serves as the convergence point for JP's many subsets, and then some. The only major demographic group lacking from JP's population (Irish-Catholic, black, Latino, student, gay and yuppie are particularly well-represented) is Asian, yet the street overflows with tantalizing eateries from that continent.

The Indian specialties at Bukhara (701 Centre St., 617-522-2195) draw Bostonians the city over (lamb rogan josh with exotic spices, herbs and nuts, $13.95; swordfish masala in a creamy tomato sauce with a touch of fenugreek, $15.50). True to its name, the Wonder Spice Cafe (697 Centre St., 617-522-0200) adds an enchanting sweet accent to its rich Thai and Cambodian dishes under the watchful gaze of Khmer goddesses and golden Buddhas (mango curry de legumes, $11.95; loc lac sirloin steak marinated in oyster sauce, $12.95).

Two blocks down is the original JP Licks Homemade Ice Cream Cafe (659 Centre St., 617-524-6740). The line can get long on hot summer nights when the kids in front of you are deliberating over the 20-plus flavors, including Red Sox-inspired Manny mocha chip (as in Ramírez, one scoop for $3.60) and Green Monster tea (two scoops, $4.25), and such toppings as granola and Cocoa Pebbles.

In the mood for a jazz-playing soul singer or a Beat-happy poet? Make your way to Jamaicaway Books and Gifts (676 Centre St., 617-983-3204) on Sunday afternoons. At other times you can groove with the dashiki-clad cashier to funky world music (CDs, $13.95) while perusing the Africana, among other things, on the shelves.

To finish your evening with an out-of-this-world experience, head to the retro and tastefully neoned Milky Way Lounge and Lanes (403 Centre St., 617-524-3740). The customers are as diverse as the entertainment options, which include salsa, karaoke and extreme bingo nights (occasional cover of up to $10), accompanied by pool, Ms. Pac Man and New England-style candlepin bowling ($25/hour/lane). More than a super-hip subterranean club, the Milky Way is a metaphor for the motley and limitless JP universe.

-- Hilary Krieger

For general info on travel to Boston, Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, 888-SEE-BOSTON, http://www.bostonusa.com. For info on Jamaica Plain, check out http://www.jamaicaplain.com.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company


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