Boston, the Boston Way
A Weekend at the Loews Boston Hotel
Boston’s life is on its sidewalks. In suburbia we nestle in our individual cocoons of picket fences and manicured lawns, in the countryside we find the same comfort of hearth and home with our individual spaces that are more wide open, but life in Boston is defined by broad sidewalks leading between shops, restaurants, and night clubs. We recently visited a hotel in Boston’s Back Bay that opened up those sidewalks to us, one that not only put us in the middle of the Boston street life, but actually joined in with the swirling teeming movement of the city.
Loew’s Boston Hotel is two blocks from Boylston, three from Newbury Street, both packed shoulder-to-shoulder with business after business, many in modern structures, but many more long ago occupying the lower floors of every brick office building and classic brownstone. The traditional view of Boston is one of dignity and refinement, but while Boylston and Newbury are worlds away from the open-air peddler’s marketplaces most of us only experience in the movies, these streets bustle with patrons streaming from shop to shop to gallery to cafe to business of every type. In big cities, getting out of the workplace, away from the apartment, and even away from the commute is a reason to celebrate. Along the long-straight streets of Back Bay, the refinement is held back by the demands of the shoppers, where every Bostonian feels a little like a tourist in his own town.
Every part of Boston has its own share of the sidewalk life, from Boston’s North End with a distinctly Italian culture, the less-well-off neighborhoods of Mattapan and Jamaica Plains, or the respected neighborhood of Brookline. Boston’s sidewalks are the city’s living room, it’s meeting place, and at the very least, an essential part of getting from point A to point B.
The weekend we visited the Lowe’s Boston Hotel could have been spent entirely inside: the boutique hotel was well appointed and tremendously comfortable, a tremendously-successful conversion of what was once the 1925 Boston Police Department building.
The individual rooms, appointed to the standards a business traveler would expect, were polished and crisp, with just a hint of the Roaring 20’s decor like the frosted glass bathroom door and color choices that evoke the aura of a police captain’s office. The bed was big, plush, comfortable and incredibly tempting to lounge around in, soaking in the chance to sleep late rather than get out and explore.
But exploring was made easy. First, there are the businesses that would likely bring a person to this part of Boston in the first place. Cities, particularly the downtowns of large cities, don’t exist solely for shopping, there is plenty of high-level commerce happening justify building the towers that dominate the Boston skyline. Some buildings are solely for big businesses and almost every building above street level has offices or living spaces for the people of Boston. Banking and finance is not limited to Boston’s Banking District, it spreads throughout Boston’s downtown areas. Right across the street from the hotel are the Liberty Mutual Insurance’s buildings, and around the corner is the John Hancock’s offices. If a person came to Back Bay for business, chances are it’s right outside the doorway of the Loews Boston Hotel.
The original 1925 limestone Boston Police Station was sevens stories, our room was on a front corner of the top story, so it was likely an office of a high-ranking police official. The building served its original purpose until 1993 and was converted into a hotel in 2004, then remodeled again by Loews when it took charge of the property in 2013. Much of the building’s original decor was gone, but the re-purposing kept the entry’s arching ceiling and marble floor, the heavy metal doorway, and the big blue exterior doorway lights. What couldn’t be maintained in form was maintained in spirit, by naming the meeting rooms after Boston’s police chiefs, antique pictures, and touches on the 1925 design aesthetic, like the curved hallway lighting spaces.
Valet parking, meeting rooms, a business center, and exercise room fill the expectations of business travelers. Instead of a few couches in the lobby, Loews has a special shared living area for its guests, with coffees and teas, cozy seating, workstations, and a wall-sized nine-panel TV. Dubbed the Apothecary, it is open 24 hours a day.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Loews Boston Hotel is their restaurant The Precinct Kitchen + Bar. Set below street level, the Precinct embraces the Boston street life and invites it in with open-air seating in its two sunken patios. There are many dining options just outside the doors of the hotel, with renowned steakhouse 23 Grill and Bar across the street and more than two dozen other restaurants within a three block radius, so the Precinct does not settle for being just a hotel restaurant — it’s a full-fledged member of the Back Bay dining experience, offering a creative and exciting dining experience worth seeking out.
Indoors, the Precinct’s wood and leather has a crisp modern feel, with lighter colors and sharp edges. This atmosphere doesn’t say stodgy and traditional, it is perfect for the exact kind of fine dining that executive chef Olivier Senoussaoui creates — creative and exciting takes on traditional foods. The seasonal menu features seafood, beef, and poultry, frequently with a continental flair such as Duck Confit with beet risotto, wild ramps, and cloumage cheese.
Chef Olivier arranged a an experience especially for us, a tasting menu that lets us experience much of the menu in a single evening-long meal. We started with a tasting of shellfish: a ramekin of clam chowder, a seared ocean scallop in parsnip puree, a raw oyster, and a mason jar of mussels. It was enough to taste, enough to get us excited about a full sized serving, but even more, it made us excited to see even more of what was to come. And it was wonderful — next to arrive was a slate with a deconstructed roasted beet salad next to a salad of greens, watermelon, and feta. That was followed by samples of their charcuterie board served in tiny waffle flutes the way that passed appetizers would be presented, which was then followed by steak tartar, sushimi tuna, and lobster roll served on rectangular white china topped with a broad leaf of kelp.
We were already full when the crowning dish of the evening arrived — cutting board holding a steamed rampant red lobster gripping asparagus in one claw, a cob of corn in the other, its tail holding vanilla-seasoned corn relish overflowing onto a bed of roasted fingerling potatoes, paired with a buttered ribeye steak. A filling and flavorful feast to be sure, but also a delight in the presentation. Exactly the thing to order to impress a date.
Unable to swallow a single bite more, Chef Oliver then presented us with dessert — a pair of chocolate martinis topped with a slab of hard candy and a pair of hot beignets. Of course we found room for dessert.
Full, perhaps more than full, we returned to our room, our 46-inch TV, and our oh-so-comfortable bed. As much as we love the sidewalks of Boston, were were thankful that our room was right upstairs.
For more information about the Lowes Boston Hotel, visit them online at www.loewshotels.com/boston-hotel
For information about the Precinct Kitcen + Bar, visit them online at www.precinctkitchenandbar.com