A July 18 Travel article on Boston incorrectly said that Daniel Webster plotted the American Revolution in the Green Dragon Tavern. Webster was born in 1782, after the revolution. (Published 7/20/04)
Ask the typical mayor for a political tour of his city and you're likely to find yourself staring at a couple of statues, war memorials and grave sites. But when I invited Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino to preview what awaits the Democratic delegates coming for their national convention, he picked a bar.
Not just any bar but Doyle's, a watering hole in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, very much alive with the ghosts of politics past, present and future.
"This is the official gathering spot of locals, a place where you can meet mayors, state representatives, guys coming from softball games," said Menino, surveying the crowd from his coveted front corner table. "This is not some architect-designed color scheme. It's real."
Forget about Cheers, the tourist trap ruined by the popular 1980s sitcom. Doyle's is quintessential Boston, the perfect blend of politics, beer, baseball, beer, religion and . . . did I mention beer?
Menino, 61, not only has his own table, but an entire room festooned with photos of hizzoner from age 7 to the present. Every famous Kennedy -- as well as several presidents and popes -- has at least one portrait on the walls. And this is the place where a trio of Boston Globe writers chose to launch their biography of John Kerry, the local boy who will accept his party's presidential nomination onstage at the FleetCenter July 26-29.
Now inappropriately named a cafe, Doyle's offers a selection of 50 single-malt scotches and 30 draft beers. The daily specials never change (New England boiled dinner on Thursdays, roast turkey every Sunday), but the best meal is brunch, served all day on weekends. Patrons can watch a Red Sox game from a stool at the long bar or hunker down in the giant wooden booths. Part of the charm of the place is that it goes light on the charm.
In my eight years living and working in Boston and on several return visits, I did my best to sample the city's political buffet firsthand. I've hoisted a draft with former mayor Raymond L. Flynn at J.J. Foley's and recovered over Doyle's pancakes the day after. I threw the winning pitch in the annual press vs. pols softball game on the Boston Common -- thanks to a generous call by the umpire, Michael Dukakis. And I was packed into the Iron Workers hall in Southie with 600 other singing Irish when Kerry teased Al Gore for "reinventing corned beef and cabbage."
For the Democratic faithful, Boston is a sacred place, complete with places of worship (think Fenway Park) and the requisite demons (curse of the Bambino). And it would be a sin not to get out of the FleetCenter and see some of the political stars in their natural habitat. Scope out Kerry's ooh-la-la Beacon Hill home on historic Louisburg Square, where legend has it Teresa Heinz Kerry thrilled neighborhood kids one Halloween with packets of ketchup that made for perfect fake blood. Please, remember to pronounce the "s" in Louisburg and stay out of the Secret Service's way.
Or maybe Kerry's colleague Ted Kennedy will be in the private upstairs dining room at Ristorante Saraceno (286 Hanover St.), one of his favorite North End eateries. Getting time with the senior senator can be tough these days. But inquire about his favorite Boston haunts and aides can't get him off the phone.
"For me, the Parker House [60 School St.] had all the memories," he said in an interview last month, recounting the childhood lunches he ate with his grandpa, Mayor John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald. "It had sawdust floors, checkered tablecloths and, in those days, all black servants."
The staff has diversified since then, but Honey Fitz adorns the walls and Kennedy still holds confabs at the hotel, now run by Omni. Kennedy diehards (and you know more than a few of you delegates are) can trace JFK's life from his birthplace in Brookline (83 Beals St.) to his well-preserved dorm room at Harvard to the presidential library perched on picturesque Columbia Point in Dorchester.
"When you go to these conventions, the parties are always in a large ballroom of some hotel," observes Menino. "Those don't work. You don't get a flavor of the city."
So he and the Democratic National Committee are introducing a new twist to this year's convention: The opening-night parties will be held at neighborhood spots, such as the Curley birthplace in Jamaica Plain, the Strand Theatre in Dorchester and the L Street Bathhouse in South Boston, aka "Southie," which some in the New York state delegation mistakenly believed was a place for gay men's clandestine liaisons.
It was no accident, however, that Menino chose Doyle's for our rendezvous; many great moments in Boston history have happened in pubs. Daniel Webster declared the Green Dragon Tavern the headquarters of the American Revolution. Ronald Reagan surprised regulars at the Eire Pub in Dorchester the day after his 1983 State of the Union address. And when Brahmin Bill Weld needed to display the common touch in his gubernatorial bid, he bought a round at Foley's.
Judging from what I've seen at past political conventions, a few delegates may aim to make some of their own history in Boston's bars.
Faneuil Hall and Beyond
For the thousands coming to plot the overthrow of George W. Bush, the trip to the site of the Tea Party rebellion represents a pilgrimage to hallowed ground. Massachusetts has spawned four presidents and numerous wannabes, including Dukakis and fellow Greek Paul Tsongas.
Though teeming with tourists, Faneuil Hall (State Street, bounded by Commercial, Clinton, Congress and Chatham streets) is a worthy starting place for political junkies. JFK closed his 1960 campaign here and his younger brother rescued his 1994 campaign in the same hall.
The senator still recalls the zinger he delivered to a stunned Mitt Romney: "Turn out the lights, Mitt, this race is all over." Kennedy will return to the grand hall during the convention to host a health care forum.
History aside, Faneuil Hall remains a good spot to nosh or take in a street performance by the myriad musicians, jesters and jugglers who make up with humor what they lack in talent. Unlike the food courts that populate suburban malls, this downtown emporium offers unique dining, from clam chowder (chowdah, please) to Malaysian to pastries at the Kilvert & Forbes bakery Kerry co-founded.
While in the vicinity, be sure to pose on the bench with the bronze likeness of Mayor James Michael Curley (Union Park, North Street), look up at the hideous concrete slab of City Hall (Congress Street) and across the street to the more aesthetically appealing New England Holocaust Memorial (Carmen Park, Congress Street). Then slip down one of the last remaining cobblestone streets in the city, past the Union Oyster House (41 Union St.) to the Green Dragon (11 Marshall St.). Webster plotted the American Revolution in the tavern, but you'll want to devise a strategy for attacking the $14 lobster dinner special.
It would be a mistake to plot your Boston itinerary too precisely; this is a city that rewards walkers. Centrally located Faneuil Hall makes a good starting point to take in the North End, the waterfront or the Downtown Crossing shopping district. You'll have to navigate around the rubble left over from the Big Dig, but the paths are well marked and it's a relief not to have to walk under a highway any longer.
North End, Waterfront
In the North End, the Italian neighborhood that abuts the harbor, follow your nose. Pizzeria Regina (111/2 Thacher St.) serves so-so pizza, but it can't be beaten for feeding a hungry crowd. Going up a notch, try the Daily Catch (323 Hanover St.) for fresh seafood over pasta served in a frying pan or Bricco (241 Hanover St.) for a California take on Italian cuisine. Keep your eye out for dark sedans; Bill Clinton never misses a chance to pick up cannoli at Mike's Pastry (300 Hanover St.) when he's in town.
If you haven't got a motorcade, don't try driving down Hanover Street; locals watching European soccer matches in the bars and cafes tend to spill out into the traffic.
Amble into the Old North Church (193 Salem St.) and you might catch guide Scott Evans mentioning that Gerald Ford returned to the church made famous by Paul Revere's ride to open the 1976 bicentennial celebrations. Evans and other volunteers also have the inside skinny on the fate of the first two steeples and some of the 1,100-plus figures buried in the 37 tombs in the crypt below.
From his downtown office in the JFK Federal Building on New Sudbury Street, Kennedy can spot the North End's Garden Court Street where his mother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, was born, and nearby Ferry Street where his grandfather grew up. For Kennedy, 72, virtually every neighborhood holds family memories.
"There is not a view like that in the world where a political leader can look out and see where his parents and grandparents were born," he said.
Wander a few blocks from the heart of the North End and park yourself on a bench. You are gazing out into the very same harbor where the revolutionaries dumped tea in 1773. George H.W. Bush blamed Dukakis for the polluted waterway and Weld jumped in a few years later to prove it was clean. Even with that precedent, swimming is not advised.
Better yet, escape the city heat on a boat. The Boston Harbor Islands (www.bostonislands.org) are just a few miles offshore, but temperatures there run several degrees cooler. Swimming is permitted at several of the islands, as well as hiking, fishing and bird-watching. Many have the basic necessities for a good picnic -- grills, tables and restrooms. Take one of the longer excursion boats and you may even catch a glimpse of whales.
A bit farther down the waterfront sits the Barking Crab (88 Sleeper St.), one of the few places in the city where you don't need a jacket and tie to enjoy fresh seafood. (The other is Jasper White's Summer Shack at 50 Dalton St.) Sit at one of the picnic tables and keep an eye out for indicted mobsters coming out of the new John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse.
Just beyond the waterfront and South Station is one of the best-kept dining secrets in Boston: Les Zygomates (129 South St.), a reasonably priced French bistro with live jazz and good wine. Call for a reservation, and your friends will think you are really cool.
If you paid attention in high school history class, you know the architectural highlights of Beacon Hill: the State House, the Park Street Church and the Old South Meeting House. But Kennedy recommends seeking out lesser-known historic delights, such as the African Meeting House (8 Smith Court). It was in the 1806 church that the Union recruited "colored" soldiers for the legendary 54th Regiment, though contrary to popular lore, it was not a stop on the Underground Railroad.
"You can hardly find it on Beacon Hill, but it is just enormously interesting," Kennedy said.
In the shadow of the State House sits the nation's oldest public park, the Boston Common, with its ballfields, food vendors and dog walkers. Just beyond is the more refined Public Garden, home to the Swan Boats and the "Make Way for Ducklings" sculpture modeled after the popular children's book.
Since you're in the neighborhood, see if the Kerrys are dining at one of their regular spots, such as Hamersley's Bistro (553 Tremont St.), the Federalist (15 Beacon St.) or Locke-Ober (3 Winter Pl.). Local med student Vanessa Kerry says she and her dad head to Gyuhama (827 Boylston St.) for sushi. If you haven't got the Kerry-Heinz bank account, walk down the hill to Charles Street and get a bite at the Sevens (77 Charles St.), Figs (No. 42) or Torch (No. 26).
Like Washington in recent years, Boston has experienced an explosion of high-end restaurants. The big-name chefs to seek out include Todd English, Lydia Shire, Jasper White, Gordon Hamersley and Michael Schlow. If you're on an expense account, hotel concierges will happily direct you to the priciest -- often overpriced -- restaurants.
The terminally hip park themselves in the cafes and bars in the vicinity of ultra-chic Newbury Street on the stretch from Arlington Street to Massachusetts Avenue. People-watch -- or be seen -- from the open windows at Sonsie (327 Newbury St.) or Vox Populi (755 Boylston St.).
For a taste of the new political culture, head to the South End, an easy stroll from the hotels in Copley Square. Some of the most innovative cooking in the city is taking place in the now fully gentrified, very gay-friendly neighborhood of Victorian buildings. You can spare yourself a bit of embarrassment by not confusing the South End with Irish, working-class Southie.
At Bomboa (35 Stanhope St.), a Brazilian restaurant that segues seamlessly from quiet cocktail hour to thriving dinnertime to after-hours hot spot, the bartenders mix up killer tropical drinks, loaded with freshly crushed mint leaves and plenty of lime. Take a friend, portions are huge.
On a recent Saturday night, a giddy bachelorette party, complete with a ridiculously adorned bride-to-be, suddenly found itself mingling with an equally boisterous table of men. Just back from the annual Gay Pride festivities, they too were celebrating marriage. Massachusetts, remember, was the first state in the nation to sanction gay weddings.
No Massachusetts political junket would be complete without a trek across the Charles River to the "People's Republic of Cambridge."
Tip O'Neill's home town is a city of squares, each with a distinct personality. One of the simplest ways to sample Cambridge is to head straight up Massachusetts Avenue through each square. Most correspond with a stop on the Red line of the subway, or the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which locals have simply abbreviated to the "T."
Start at Kendall Square, home to MIT, and work your way up through Central, Harvard and Porter. For creative ethnic food, try the Cambodian-French combinations at the Elephant Walk (2067 Massachusetts Ave.) or upscale Cuban at Chez Henri (1 Shepard St.).
Just beyond Porter Square is Verna's (2344 Massachusetts Ave.), the humble bakery where O'Neill regularly stopped for a doughnut, or crull-ah in local parlance. (Even before you reach the city limits, it's obvious this is doughnut territory. Whether landing at Logan airport or arriving via the Massachusetts Turnpike, Dunkin' Donuts is there to greet you.)
In the heart of Cambridge, of course, is Harvard, its brick and ivy enlivened by resident skateboarders, strollers and street musicians. Pick up souvenirs at the Coop; your hometown paper at Out of Town News, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, plopped dead-center in the square; and a bit of culture (cul-chuh) at one of the half-dozen university museums.
Many of the eateries in and around Harvard cater to the student budget. Some of the better ones include Bartley's Burger Cottage (1246 Massachusetts Ave.) with its signature sweet potato fries, John Harvard's Brew House (33 Dunster St.) and the always-crowded, always-fun Border Cafe (32 Church St.). Quieter, more elegant fare can be found at Sandrine's (8 Holyoke St.), the cozy Harvest Restaurant (44 Brattle St.) and UpStairs on the Square (91 Winthrop St.), where Kerry campaign chairwoman Jeanne Shaheen escaped for a civilized glass of wine and dinner during her stint at the JFK School of Government.
On sunny days, the locals line up at Darwin's Ltd. (148 Mount Auburn St.), a gourmet sandwich shop that packs the best picnic in town. Take your goodies to the banks of the Charles to watch the crew teams and Frisbee tossing. Or for a quieter repast, continue down Mount Auburn Street to commune with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the park in front of his house (105 Brattle St.). That's how uber-Democrat Donna Brazile got back her sanity after the 2000 election.
Ceci Connolly is on the National staff of The Washington Post.