Class up your evening with a meal at Craigie on Main. Credit: Erin Baldassari
Cambridge is often considered a city of squares, and from Central to Kendall, Harvard to Inman, each neighborhood boasts a unique identity. Together, they define the Cambridge experience. So we’ve pulled together a selection of must-visit spots that define the four sides of each square: food, drink, pampering and recreation. From longtime institutions to new icons, here’s where to start on a crawl through the best that Cambridge has to offer.
Eat: Over the last decade, chef Tony Maws has transformed Craigie on Main (formerly Craigie Street Bistrot) into one of New England’s most acclaimed restaurants, serving rustic but refined French and American cuisine without pretention. (Be sure to ask for the limited nightly number of famously delicious but unlisted “Craigie burgers” available at the bar.) With its daily-changing menu of farm-to-table fare, Bondir is already a new classic, serving guests in a cozy, inn-style atmosphere featuring a brick fireplace and tables set with mismatched china.
Drink:Brick & Mortar isn’t just solid; it’s regarded as one of the best watering holes in the city, offering classic and creative sips in a minimalist, loft-style space with a big, copper-topped horseshoe bar. (Cool cred: 100.) On the other side of the spectrum, Cuchi Cuchi revels in a kitschy, 1920s-inspired style. You’ll feel like a flapper sipping on vintage cocktails while the occasional tarot reader tells fortunes. (For added intrigue, book the Chico Chica Boom Table, which features a motion-triggered display of colored lights.)
Pamper: Now celebrating its 10th year, VIM Fitness offers a luxury-level wellness facility at membership prices that are budget-friendly. The main Central Square facility boasts an Eastern, feng shui-style design throughout group exercise studios and equipment-filled workout floors; wander over to a second University Park location to take advantage of Aveda spa treatments. Le Petit Salon & Spa also has un grand reputation, particularly for its Deva method-trained stylists who know how to train unruly curly hair.
Play: From Trivia Nights to big game days, Phoenix Landing is an Irish bar for those that need an alternative to the meathead-packed dives near Faneuil Hall. There’s also plenty of dancing – but if you’re really looking to fist pump, hit NAGA, a sleek nightclub that draws international crowds thanks to a constantly rotating lineup of DJs.
Eat: It’s impossible to ignore the 20-year legacy of Rialto, star chef Jody Adams’ fine destination, where each seasonal menu takes inspiration from a different region of Italy. For something much (much!) more casual, you’ll want to visit the Harvard Square outpost of Tasty Burger, a small Boston-born burger chain that serves creative patties (like the batter fried “Blue Collar” burger) amid a diner-style vibe.
Rialto One Bennett St www.rialto-restaurant.com
Tasty Burger 40 John F. Kennedy St. www.tastyburger.com
Drinkers at Noir. Credit: Erin Baldassari
Drink: A dim and sexy spot for a rendezvous, Noir at the Charles Hotel offers sophisticated cocktails like the “Midnight Manhunt,” a sultry concoction with bourbon and a cinnamon-sugar rim. And though chef Michael Scelfo’s new American restaurant Alden & Harlow is a draw for its food alone, we also love that its beverage program highlights a major new bar trend: draft cocktails. Cheers to that!
Noir One Bennett St. www.noir-bar.com
Alden & Harlow 40 Brattle St. www.aldenharlow.com
Pamper: Incidentally, if those cocktails at Noir don’t offer enough relaxation, we recommend wandering over to Carriage House Salon & Spa, which is a popular pick for manis and pedis, leaving fingers and toes soft, supple and ready to tackle the day’s agenda.
Carriage House Salon & Spa 33 Church St. www.carriagehousesalon.com
Play: There’s always something hot happening at Oberon. When the cool, cavernous space isn’t hosting stage performances for the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.), it buzzes with nightlife: everything from all-Madonna dance parties to “The Donkey Show,” an interactive A.R.T. show that sets Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the disco-fueled days of Studio 54.
Oberon 2 Arrow St. www.americanrepertorytheater.org/oberon
Eat: Chef Ana Sortun has created a local institution with Oleana, her Turkish-Mediterranean restaurant tucked away near Inman Square. Its gorgeous patio is an oasis within an oasis, offering a fabulous, flowery setting for noshing on meze and moussaka. If you’re not in the mood for Middle Eastern, stick to East Coast Grill, which takes its cues from the American South and Caribbean Islands. Hence the super-spicy seafood and BBQ, which hits Scoville Scale-topping heights during infamous “Hell Nights”: fiery evenings that are designed for only the steeliest stomachs.
Oleana 134 Hampshire St. www.oleanarestaurant.com
East Coast Grill 1271 Cambridge St. www.eastcoastgrill.net
Drink: Boston and Cambridge are long on sports bars, but Hit Wicket still stands out. Billed as “America’s first cricket-themed sports bar,” its TVs are tuned in to a selection of global sports, so it’s a fun option when you need a break from Sox-only zones and want to grab beers that hail from countries where “football” means “actually played with feet.” Meanwhile, Bukowski’s Tavern is a beer lover’s paradise that even has its own “Mug Club” through which spirited regulars can earn the rights to their own mug maintained on hand.
Hit Wicket 1172 Cambridge St. www.hitwicketbar.com
Bukowski Tavern 1281 Cambridge St. www.bukowskitavern.net/cambridge
Pamper: Please, put down the boxed hair color. Nothing good can come of it, and if you don’t believe us – just dig out those photos of your “chunky streaks” phase in the late ‘90s. Get a brightened coiffe by turning to the experts at Inman Square spots Salon Bellissima and Franco’s Hair Studio, both teeming with stylists who specialize in tasteful and not-too-trendy deployment of color treatments. Your future photo albums will thank you.
Salon Bellissima 202 Hampshire St. www.salonbellissima.net
Franco's Hair Studio 157 Hampshire St. www.francoshairstudio.com
Play: Jump, jive and wail at Ryles Jazz Club, a Cambridge institution that draws national headliners and local up-and-comers alike. (You can also get dance instruction in everything from swing to salsa.)
Ryles Jazz Club 212 Hampshire St. www.rylesjazz.com
Eat: Blaze a trail to State Park, a campy (pun intended) new Southern restaurant that is designed to look like a dive bar; it’s even covered in neon signs and bric-a-brac from the Paddock Room, an old Whitey Bulger haunt. Dig in to flavor-packed comfort food like “Nashville Hot” fried chicken and Memphis BBQ spaghetti, or shoot pool while pouring out pitchers of quirky cocktails. On weekends, head to Commonwealth for “Marky Mark and the Funky Brunch,” a ‘90s-themed explosion of eats: from dollar oysters to cheeky sandwiches like the Dirty Jersey, made with ham, egg, cheese and “salt ‘n pepa.” (Get it?) Steve “Nookie” Postal, former executive chef for Fenway Park, hits a homerun every time.
State Park One Kendall Square www.statepark.is
Commonwealth 11 Broad Canal Way www.commonwealthcambridge.com
Drink: Wine aficionados will want to fill up at Belly, a modern wine bar with impressive varietals, whole animal feasts, and even patio fire pits for roasting s’mores while sipping Sauvignon. But if you’re a beer drinker, saunter over to Meadhall, one of the area’s best bets for beer. The big wraparound bar boasts 100 varieties on tap, from local craft selections to familiar favorites. Cheers to choices! Belly
One Kendall Square www.bellywinebar.com
Meadhall 4 Cambridge Center www.themeadhall.com
Pamper: A comprehensive approach to wellness defines Bosse City Club & Spa, a decade-old fitness center that offers way more than workouts: the full-service spa offers everything from massage to relaxing rooftop yoga, a calming Zen garden gets guests centered, and those that spring for a “premium club” membership access perks like laundry service and infrared saunas. (Fancy!) That takes care of your body. Your head? It needs MK the Hair Studio, a beloved little local gem with a reputation for particularly friendly, familiar service.
Bosse City Club & Spa 356 Third St. www.bossecityclub.com
MK the Hair Studio One Kendall Square
Play: You can see a Hollywood blockbuster at any generic multiplex, but Kendall Square Cinema offers nine screens focused on indie films, restored classics and acclaimed art house treats you can’t find anywhere else. If you’re craving live entertainment, join the studio audience at Red Star Union, a jumping joint of live music that packs state-of-the-art, arena-quality light and sound into an intimate, cabaret-style hideaway. The coolest part: each show is professionally produced, edited and simulcast online.
Kendall Square Cinema One Kendall Square http://www.landmarktheatres.com/market/boston/kendallsquarecinema.htm
Red Star Union One Kendall Square www.redstarunion.com
Eat: Simple but delicious, the pub fare at Porter Square’s Christopher’s is elevated in every way but the prices. It’s also renowned for boasting a generous gluten-free menu, and having one of the best “veggie burgahs” around. A relatively new addition to the neighborhood is Giulia, an upscale Italian place where groups can reserve the communal “pasta table,” the 12-seat space where, during the day, Giulia’s chef rolls out his handmade pastas.
Drink: Locals worship the handcrafted cocktails at Temple Bar, including the limited barrel aged varieties that are steeped in 50 days’ worth of robust flavor. But the spot’s extensive whiskey, bourbon, Scotch and cognac selections ensure you’ll find something equally excellent to enjoy on the rocks. And West Side Lounge is no slouch in the drinking department, which takes exceptional care of every cocktail, like its signature martini with hand-stuffed blue cheese olives.
Temple Bar 1688 Massachusetts Ave. www.templebarcambridge.com
West Side Lounge 1680 Massachusetts Ave. www.westsidelounge.com
Pamper: Here’s some irrefutable evidence of expertise. Salon Luna carries Living Proof hair care products, a Cambridge-born, MIT-bred brand that has made huge waves (and curls) in the industry; Jennifer Aniston recently became an investor and spokesperson. For an edgier style, check out Judy Jetson, a kitschy salon that is especially adept at punky cuts that push the envelope toward a more fashionable future.
Salon Luna 1878 Massachusetts Ave. www.salonluna.com
Play: Hop over to Toad, a neighborhood favorite that offers live music seven nights a week: from blues to rock, jazz to folk. (It sounds even better when you’re clinking bottles of craft beer from the impressive bar.) Variety is also the spice of life at Lizard Lounge, where when cool local bands aren’t taking the stage, you can; every Monday guests compete for cash prizes during an “open mic challenge,” so put your mouth where your money might be.