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Boston: Back Bay to Beacon Hill
By Hideaway Report Editor
November 14, 2016
Boston is one of those cities that strikes a pleasing balance between size, manageability and richness of metropolitan pleasures. Founded by the Puritans in 1630, today it seems a relaxed place. Many people are being drawn back to the center by the town’s livability, which ranks very high; I particularly enjoy its walkability and easy-to-use public transportation. Boston is also a city of lovely neighborhoods — areas such as Beacon Hill, Back Bay, the gentrifying South End and the emerging Fenway — all of which have a wealth of enviable townhouses comparable to those in neighborhoods such as Georgetown and Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. or Greenwich Village and the Upper East Side in Manhattan.
The Eliot Hotel
My previously recommended Boston hotels are grouped close to the Public Garden and Boston Common. I used to recommend The Eliot Hotel in Back Bay, but after an unsatisfactory visit about five years ago, I decided to drop it. However, several complimentary reviews from subscribers recently persuaded me to take another look. Set on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue — one of the most beautiful urban thoroughfares in the country — and Massachusetts Avenue, The Eliot Hotel enjoys a location that puts it just steps from Newbury and Boylston streets, both alive with restaurants, shops and galleries. Back Bay’s top attractions are also within easy walking distance, including the beautiful Boston Public Library, Copley Plaza, with its high-end shopping, and the Hynes Convention Center.
The Eliot Hotel’s handsome 1925 neo-Georgian brick building with stone accents houses 95 rooms and suites. The small black-and-white marble lobby, which descends to the reception area, feels like that of a small European hotel. And elsewhere, hallways lined with fine woodwork help to sustain the impression.
Our suite was decorated with an understated color scheme of creams and browns, and I especially liked the mix of fabrics, with ikat blending well with the more pervasive toile in both the bedroom and sitting room. The latter proved a congenial place to relax after a day’s sightseeing, with a couch, armchairs and a desk for sorting out maps and planning activities. Well-placed lamps gave the room a nice, cozy glow. I also liked having a small, separate pantry area, which featured a bar and a coffee machine.
French doors with scrim curtains separated the bedroom from the sitting room. Recently redone in Italian marble, the bath was rather small, with a single pedestal sink, a walk-in shower and a mirrored dressing area.
The Eliot Hotel does not have extensive public areas, the lobby being quite small with limited seating, but what it does offer is a superb restaurant, UNI, which is under the direction of star chef Ken Oringer. Initially, UNI occupied an intimate space off the reception area and functioned as a sushi bar, while the larger restaurant area, accessed from Massachusetts Avenue, was inhabited by the popular restaurant Clio. Taking a risk, Oringer and the owners of the hotel melded the two spaces to create a lively and creative Japanese restaurant with a focus on seafood. With skillful lighting, coffered ceilings, patterned walls and well-spaced tables, the look of UNI matches the sophistication of its cuisine.
We ordered a series of exquisite small dishes that included the signature Smoked Uni Spoon, which is a generous dollop of sea urchin roe with quail egg yolk, chives and a zesty dash of yuzu sauce; grilled king crab served with black lime butter; a selection of sushi that included spicy salmon roll with red curry and uni from Hokkaido; and wagyu gyoza. The preparations could have appeared in a Tiffany & Co. window, the effect being enhanced by plates and bowls selected for each dish, in keeping with Japanese tradition. But this is not a strictly Japanese experience: You’ll also see creative innovations such as ruby slices of mackerel topped with a light peanut butter cream. Sounds odd; tasted great. Our server could not have been more informative and helpful in navigating us through the menu.
This time around, I thoroughly enjoyed The Eliot Hotel. Its facilities may be limited — those who want to exercise can obtain a free pass to the nearby Boston Sports Club — but given its fine Back Bay location and superb restaurant, I endorse it for your next Boston stay without hesitation.
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The homey atmosphere of our suite; the superlative restaurant.
Although the reception staff is well-informed, there is no concierge.
Good to Know
On each floor avoid the rooms ending in 03 due to elevator noise.
Rates: Premier Suite, $485; Two-bedroom Suite, $860
Address: 370 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA
Telephone: (617) 267-1607
Although I am continually in search of new properties, I try to spend a portion of each trip revisiting hotels that I have already recommended. XV Beacon has long been a favorite with readers, and it is the closest the city offers to a true hideaway. Beacon Street runs along the southern edge of the elegant Beacon Hill neighborhood, and the hotel’s location at 15 Beacon Street puts it within easy walking distance of the government center, Quincy Market and many other prominent sights. The 1903 iron, brick and limestone Beaux-Arts exterior would suggest a traditional interior décor, but in fact the hotel’s lobby has a distinctive style — black walls, white floors and zebra-patterned rugs — that successfully combines old with new. A birdcage elevator takes you up to your room.
The 63 rooms (including four suites) are decorated in a barista’s dream palette of creams, espressos and mochas. We loved our Boston Common Studio, a generous open space with a king-size bed, a spacious desk, a gas fireplace and a sitting area with a full couch. Large windows allowed light to wash through the room during the day. The bath was clad in Italian marble and came with a wide vanity, custom toiletries, a whirlpool tub and a rainfall shower. We made a selection from a menu of aromatic bathing salts, and our choice was hand-delivered promptly.
On the roof, XV Beacon offers a small workout space with an adjacent hot tub, as well as a terrace with chaises longues and sweeping views of the Boston skyline, most notably the gold dome of the nearby Massachusetts State House.
Just off the reception area, the clubby steakhouse Mooo.... — I find the name annoyingly twee — has fine woodwork and large, shaded lighting fixtures. The latter are set far too low, and along with many of our fellow diners, we resorted to using the light on our phones to read the menu. The restaurant missed none of the expected staples of a good steak place, but we particularly loved a starter of yellow tomato gazpacho with yellow watermelon and chunks of jumbo lump crab, all topped with a dollop of avocado sorbet. I opted for the 10-ounce Creekstone Farms Prime New York Sirloin, plus excellent creamed spinach, and potato tots elevated with bacon and Parmesan. Service throughout was both professional and congenial.
Elsewhere, the front desk staff and concierges were consistently helpful and unfailingly cheerful. Overall, it was a pleasure to return to XV Beacon. The hotel’s continuing popularity with Harper subscribers is certainly not hard to explain.
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The overall aesthetic, which is a pleasing balance between traditional and modern.
The controls for some of the room features are confusing; the dim lighting in the restaurant.
Good to Know
The hotel has chauffeured Lexus limousines that can take you about town.
Rates: Executive Classic Room, $620; Studio Room, $795
Address: 15 Beacon Street, Boston, MA
Telephone: (617) 670-1500
One to Miss — The Langham
In recent months I have stayed in Langham hotels in Sydney and Chicago, and I have been favorably impressed on both occasions. The original property, The Langham in London, opened in 1865 and was billed as Europe’s first Grand Hotel. Nowadays, the group is owned by a Hong Kong property company and has been expanding rapidly in China. On my recent trip to Boston, I decided to try The Langham there, which is housed within the former Federal Reserve Bank building in an ideal downtown location that overlooks Post Office Square and is close to Faneuil Hall. On arrival, the large and rather soulless lobby was full of flight crew. Having just driven from New York, I headed to the lobby restaurant, The Reserve, for a late lunch. There, the service was dilatory, and the clam chowder was cold. In the evening I decided to try BOND restaurant, but the noise was so cacophonous that I turned and fled. The next morning the breakfast buffet in the Café Fleuri was littered with crumbs, and the scrambled egg was elderly and congealed. Rooms have a staid traditional décor and tend to be on the small side; suites are much more desirable. The hotel’s indoor pool looks striking in photographs but is less impressive in reality; when I went for a dip it was full of unruly children. To be fair, the concierge was consistently friendly and helpful. Overall, however, a return visit is not high on my list of priorities.