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20 places to discover in downtown Boston

Downtown Boston is one of the city’s most exciting neighborhoods right now. The area is enjoying a bit of a renaissance lately, thanks to an influx of developments, from cloud-scraping residential towers to cool new wine-and-dine destinations.

GEM. Credit: Derek Kouyoumjian GEM, which serves Italian food during the day, transforms into a club at night.
Credit: Derek Kouyoumjian

Downtown Boston is one of the city’s most exciting neighborhoods right now. The area is enjoying a bit of a renaissance lately, thanks to an influx of developments, from cloud-scraping residential towers to cool new wine-and-dine destinations. But plenty of important urban history is hidden among the modern amenities, whether in the stores operating for generations in the neighborhood or in the recently revived Paramount Theater. Read on for our list of the best of the old and the new in Boston's urban center.

Artists Crossing. This artist-run gallery functions as a co-op, with a wide variety of talented locals constantly exhibiting and refreshing the varied works on its walls. Paintings, photography, handmade jewelry and hand-blown glass coexist in a collaborative venture that not only beautifies Downtown, but could definitely spruce up that empty spot above your fireplace. (431 Washington St., www.artistscrossingboston.com)

Bonapita. Downtown is filled with quick-service lunch spots, so it’s hard to know which newcomers stand out. Here’s one: Bonapita, a Mediterranean eatery that fills fresh-baked pita with your choice of farm-raised fillings: mushrooms, lentils, beets and meats. Or opt to “toss it” to enjoy in salad form. However you slice it, this veggie-friendly joint is all about healthy offerings that rescue area office workers from the fast food grease trap. (49 Franklin St., www.bonapita.com)

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BOND. If you don’t have the dollars to splurge on a suite at the Langham Hotel, you can still party like a tycoon at this restaurant and nightspot. Housed inside the former Federal Reserve Bank of Boston (check out the inlaid seal on the marble floor!), BOND is where well-heeled young professionals party: dining on eclectic, international dishes, sipping bubbly in a “Dom Perignon Lounge,” and dancing to thumping house music amid crystal chandeliers and walls bearing framed oversized banknotes. (250 Franklin St., 617-956-8765, www.bondboston.com)

Bostonia Public House. What happens when HGTV personality and “Restaurant: Impossible” designer Taniya Nayak gets her hands on the historic Board of Trade building? She helps flip the space into a classy, two-floor New American restaurant that puts modern spins on New England cuisine. Diners dig into crab crusted cod and bourbon-glazed sweet potato donuts, sip from among 48 by-the-glass wine selections at a 100-foot walnut bar, and mingle amid the sounds of nightly live music. (131 State St., 617-948-9800, www.bostoniapublichouse.com)

Bromfield Pen Shop. Put down your iPhone, and pick up a pen. This third generation-owned vestige of Downtown family businesses, opened in 1948, is a charming boutique filled with glass cases holding elaborate, ornate writing tools. You can grab everything from an inexpensive ballpoint pen to a silver, chrome, or jewel-encrusted piece that makes a perfect gift to collectors – or to anyone who prefers a tangible letter to text messages. (5 Bromfield St., 617-482-9053, www.bromfieldpenshop.com)

GEM. By day, this glitzy eatery serves up an “Italian kitchen”-inspired selection of antipasti, specialty pizzas and more. At sundown, its Boston-goes-bordello interior – filled with copious crimson, fringe, and flock patterns – becomes a sexy nightspot where DJs spin electronic music for flirty crowds grooving on the unofficial dance floor or popping bottles in their booths. (42 Province St., 617-482-1213, www.gemboston.com)

Credit: Derek Kouyoumjian Try Good Life for an artsier dance party.
Credit: Derek Kouyoumjian

Good Life. If you solely associate EDM with fist pumping “Jersey Shore” castaways, this beloved bi-level spot offers an eye- and ear-opening experience. After-work crowds swing by for shareable small plates and creative cocktails, while the nightly dance parties draw an artsier clique than your typical club. Whether you want techno, trap, hip hop, or tropical, you’ll find some devoted DJ digging deep in a crate crammed with vinyl LPs, searching for tunes that go well beyond radio’s overplayed Top 40. (28 Kingston St., 617-451-2622, www.goodlifebar.com)

Greenway Mobile Eats. The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway is a great place to enjoy a picnic while the autumn weather still allows. But instead of packing your lunch, just pick one up from any of the dozen or so rotating food trucks dispensing curbside eats daily. From tacos to ice cream sandwiches, gourmet grilled cheese to Vietnamese street food, there’s something for every taste. (www.rosekennedygreenway.org/visit/food)

Highball Lounge. Tucked inside the Nine Zero Hotel is this cocktail den with a sense of humor but a serious approach to imbibing. The space looks like a swanky version of a retro rec room, bearing shelves lined with board games and vinyl records, and menus glimpsed by peering through View-Master toys. Star chef Ken Oringer devised the deceptively kitschy snacks, including a pineapple-topped “Aloha Dog,” and the inventive drinks are masterfully prepared with a sense of whimsy. Rubber duckies as garnishes? Why not. (90 Tremont St., 617-772-0202, www.highballboston.com)

jm Curley. The famous former Massachusetts-governor-slash-felon is the namesake of this Downtown gastropub. (That’s foodie-speak for “serves ambitious bar food.”) No jail slop here. The cocktails are considered topnotch, the burger is generally regarded among Boston’s best, and funky snacks (like “Cracka Jack” of caramel popcorn, roasted peanuts, and bacon) earn a cult-like following. Diners truly in the know book a seat at Bogie’s Place, an intimate, distinct and discreet steakhouse tucked at the rear of the restaurant. (21 Temple Place, 617-338-5333, www.jmcurley.com)

Legal Crossing. The Legal Sea Foods restaurant chain, which started as an Inman Square fish market in 1950, is now a locally born institution. But this year the brand entered new waters, launching Legal Crossing (dubbed “LX”) as a separate, specifically upscale eatery. Housed on the ground floor of hoity-toity Millennium Place tower, it boasts a fancier menu that puts “artisanal” rainbow trout and 49-day aged sirloin alongside the same signature Legal clam chowder that has been served at every presidential inauguration since 1981. (558 Washington St., 617-692-8888, www.legalseafoods.com)

Lot F Gallery. Downtown isn’t exactly crawling with art galleries. But this cool space highlights emerging talents through rotating month-long exhibitions of contemporary work. If you seek stolid oil portraits, go elsewhere. Lot F leans toward edgy installations, street art-inspired shows, avant-garde sculpture and a general alt-rock sensibility that brings a touch of Brooklyn funk to Boston. (145 Pearl St., 617-426-1021, www.lotfgallery.com)

Marliave. Though Downtown has definitely become a stronger dining destination recently, a few old favorites have been quietly humming along for years. Among them is Marliave, which bills itself as Boston’s fourth oldest restaurant. It owes its continued success to a standout, mostly-Italian menu, a romantic and timeless interior of dark woods and white subway tile, and locally famous “happy hours”: half-priced oysters and clams twice per day, every day. (10 Bosworth St., 617-422-0004, www.marliave.com)

Massage Therapy of Boston. Need a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of Downtown life? (Or just invite any excuse to pamper yourself?) This comfortable clinic offers deep tissue, sports, and Swedish styles of massage, among others, courtesy of practitioners who employ a serious knowledge of musculature and anatomy – not the aimless rubbing of scented oils found in more frou-frou settings. It even offers infant massage classes, where parents learn tactile ways to build bonds, develop communication skills, and soothe discomfort. (10 Milk St., Suite 337, 617-999-6071,www.massagetherapyofboston.com)

DD_RoundupHighball_1007 They take presentation very seriously at Highball Lounge.
Credit: Derek Kouyoumjian

The Merchant. Its name nods to the space’s former life as a leather-goods shop. (Note the framed, historic newspaper advertisements on the wall.) But today this American brasserie hawks modern, upscale tavern fare for enjoying in burgundy leather banquettes: think glazed pork, grilled lamb leg and plenty of fresh seafood. The Merchant’s 40-foot long bar has three dozen beers on draft, and is packed every evening with Financial District suits toasting another successful day of buying and selling. (60 Franklin St., 617-482-6060, www.themerchantboston.com)

Omni Parker House Hotel. Want to luxuriate in Boston history? Check in for a stay-cation at America’s oldest continuously operating hotel, longstanding host to iconic guests: from Charles Dickens, who wrote his now-legendary “A Christmas Carol” here, to famous former employees like Malcolm X. (Given the hotel’s notoriously haunted reputation, maybe some never left.) Or dine at its romantic Parker’s Restaurant. Request Table 40, where John F. Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier, then share a slice of Boston Cream Pie, invented here. (60 School St., 617-227-8600, www.omnihotels.com)

Paramount Center. In 2010 the bright, dazzling bulbs of the Paramount Theatre marquee awoke from a decades-long slumber, following a major renovation that restored the 1932-built Art Deco landmark to its original glory. Today the Center boasts a film screening room, intimate black box theatre, and grand main stage hosting productions from acclaimed ArtsEmerson. This month that includes “King Lear,” performed by London’s renowned company Shakespeare’s Globe. (559 Washington St., 617-824-8000, www.paramountboston.org)

Silvertone Bar & Grill. This subterranean Downtown stalwart has been a beloved hideaway for hipster crowds since well before “cocktail nerd” became a compliment. Its walls are festooned with colorful tin signs bearing vintage booze ads and pin-up gals; its menu is filled with canned craft brews and comfort food of the mac-n-cheese variety. And the vibe is cool and quirky. Exhibit A: “Happy Meal” combos that pair a Miller High Life with a stiff shot. (69 Bromfield St., 617-338-7887, www.silvertonedowntown.com)

Stoddard’s Fine Food & Ale. If these walls could talk, they’d have many stories to spill. Today, Stoddard’s serves boisterous after-work and night owl crowds plenty of craft beers, classic cocktails, and elevated pub grub. You’ll also find many signs of the space’s history. Built in 1868, the building is listed on the Temple Place National Historic Register and has housed everything from a cutlery manufacturer to a corset store. Original architectural elements coexist with repurposed relics, like mezzanine railings from Downtown Crossing’s former Filene’s. (48 Temple Place, 617-426-0048, www.stoddardsfoodandale.com)

9tailors. Any fashion magazine will tell you: custom clothes fit best. So splurge on a bespoke suit or dress shirt at 9tailors, a Boston-based custom clothier with a Downtown showroom. Reserve a consultation to choose between styles and fabrics, find your proper sizing, and strut away in perfectly tailored attire that would look equally appropriate on the cover of “Forbes” or “GQ.” (24 School St., Floor 5, 617-286-6135, www.9tailors.com)

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