Drawing people in with its grit and nightlife, Allston is a divey neighborhood full of bars, student houses, bicycle shops, tattoo parlors, liquor stores and the occasional warehouse party. This neighborhood begins where the beautiful campus of Boston University comes to an end at the Packard’s Corner intersection. The Massachusetts Turnpike divides Allston into a busier commercial area and a more residential area on the other side known as Lower Allston, which butts up against the Charles River and the Harvard Stadium.
Lower Allston tends to be quieter, though you’ll still find some college house parties. The farther you go into Brighton (which stretches to Chestnut Hill Reservoir), the college kids become slightly older, the bars more sophisticated and the streets a tad more residential until it reverses back again at Boston College with a more youthful bar scene.
Erik Rieth, owner and artist at Ghost in the Machine Tattoo, set up shop in the Oak Square neighborhood of Brighton in October 2017. Though a new kid to the block of established businesses in the area, Erik has felt right at home and quickly fell in love with the local cuisine and slightly slower pace that Brighton offers.
“To me, Brighton feels just urban enough to retain a certain energy that the suburbs can’t, but still has a close-knit feeling of community. It’s clean and mellow, with a good combination of multigenerational natives, college kids and young professional post-grads. Tattoos aren’t for everyone, but I got nothing but support and encouragement in opening my shop from almost all of my neighbors, both residential and business,” says Erik.
The streetcar industry’s roots run deep in this Boston neighborhood. Originally settled as an agrarian community, Brighton – once called Little Cambridge – used to be a part of the city of Cambridge, home to Harvard University. The region fought to become its own municipality in 1807 and won, naming itself after Brighton, England.
In 1847, Brighton was incorporated into Boston to benefit from the city’s public services and booming resources, and a few years later, it got a new post office and a second neighborhood – Allston. The two areas were then designated to receive one of the earliest streetcar lines, which is today the Green Line of the ‘T’ subway system, allowing the neighborhood to become one of the nation’s first streetcar suburbs. The Green Line throughout the neighborhood branches into the B, C, D, and E lines (while the old A line was replaced by the faster 57 bus in 1969).
After getting the streetcars, the neighborhood boomed. Commercial and residential buildings in the area skyrocketed as the population increased and big businesses moved in. Wealthy Bostonians moved out to the far west of Brighton, building mansions and residences to rival those in the summertime escape of Cape Cod to the south, and the working class migrated to Allston to set up shop in this new marketplace for locals, workers and travelers alike.
As you stroll down either colorful Brighton Avenue or its neighboring Harvard Avenue, you’ll pass all types of restaurants: Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Brazilian, Mexican, Irish and many others. The Super 88 at Packard’s Corner has many busy stalls selling grab-and-go foods and an Asian grocery store in the back. From a renowned hidden sushi spot, Oppa, in the basement of a building on Harvard Ave to the tapas and wine spot of Barcelona Wine Bar in Washington Square to Lone Star Taco Bar on Cambridge Street, the number of eateries to explore could take up an entire Boston trip.
Erik is a fan of the eclectic food scene that Allston-Brighton offers. With so many places and types of cuisine to choose from, he shares just a few of his favorite neighborhood eateries. “We’re fortunate enough to be right next door to Teresa Market – a taqueria as good as any I’ve found on the West Coast,” he says. “Its grilled fish tacos are amazing. I also love the Corrib Pub up the road a click in Brighton Center – as good of an Irish pub as you’ll find in Boston, which is saying a lot. To balance out our regular menu, we often order fantastic pizza from La Befana in Allston and get our Asian food fix from Twelve Hours and Thai North back in the Oak Square neck of the woods.”
There’s also no shortage of vegetarian and vegan-friendly eateries in Allston-Brighton. Where Allston ends and Brighton begins, Whole Heart Provisions allows you to create your favorite veggie-based bowls with local ingredients and home-made falafel or miso barbecue tofu. Grasshopper at the intersection of Packard’s Corner is an Asian restaurant specializing in vegan and vegetarian dishes made with meat and seafood substitutes. For a sweet treat, try FoMu’s plant-based, kosher, made-from-scratch desserts, including ice cream and pastries.
A range of eclectic shops and quirky storefronts line the main streets of Allston-Brighton. Down Harvard Ave is Ritual Arts, a local shop of whimsical treasures and stone-cut jewelry. Here, stock up on incense or try your hand at reading tarot cards. Also, try to spot one of the many residential cats – which tend (unsurprisingly, perhaps) to have black fur – that live in the shop.
Across the street, Orchard is a skateboard shop featuring local art shows alongside its cool clothing and skateboard brands. For new shoes or a screen-printed T-shirt, AWOL on Harvard Ave is a boutique footwear and apparel store featuring up-and-coming designers alongside reputable brands. If you miss rummaging through mom’s or dad’s closets for their best old-school fashion pieces, Buffalo Exchange is a neighborhood favorite. It buys and sells both trendy and vintage second-hand clothing to spice up any wardrobe on a budget. Explore the racks to find your favorite staples circa 1970.
Tayla Fredrickson, Buffalo Exchange’s store manager, explains, “One great thing about the Allston-Brighton area is the neighborhood-wide focus on artistic expression. Allston is one of the best places in the Greater Boston Area to find public art – it’s well known for its murals and interesting music venues. On any given weekend, there are musical acts performing in concert halls, bars, residential basements and everywhere in between. Some great go-to music venues include the famous Brighton Music Hall and Great Scott.”
For alternative-rock and indie performances from stellar local bands seven nights a week, visit the sister music venues Paradise Rock Club and Brighton Music Hall. Lines form out the door at both small-space locations, and though it’s fairly easy to plan spontaneously with a glance at upcoming shows and scalped tickets, save money and time by checking online in advance.
Also prominent in the Allston neighborhood, hookah lounges are a fun way to relax and socialize with friends, residents and fellow travelers. Habibi’s Lounge offers an exotic, Middle Eastern flair with snacks and teas to sample with the flavored tobacco. Happy hour happens daily between 2pm and 5pm when visitors get $10 off each hookah. The cozy Sheesha Lounge features premium hookah and sheesha. Open until 2am, it’s a great spot to either begin or end your evening.
The college bars in the area include Tavern in the Square, White Horse Tavern, The Draft, Cityside Bar, and Mary Ann’s. The local people tend to haunt dives such as Silhouette Lounge, Model Café, The Avenue Bar & Grille, and Harry’s Bar & Grill. Dance at Wonder Bar or Common Ground, or sip an artisanal cocktail at Deep Ellum or Article 24. If you’re still not ready to call it a night, the Allston-Brighton area is also home to the bar with the latest last call around – the aptly named The Last Drop.
A low-key vegan and vegetarian favorite in Boston’s Allston neighborhood is Grasshopper – the perfect spot for a girls’ night out or date night. As it specializes in tasty and nontraditional Asian cuisine (in massive portions), this is the local hotspot for veggie lovers.
Located in the basement of an Allston apartment building, Oppa is one of Boston’s best-kept sushi secrets, serving up Japanese and Korean classics.
Fast, casual and delicious, Whole Heart Provisions serves up creative and flavorful grain bowls with various vegetables and delectable sauces – you can even opt to build your own bowl. This café focuses on making high-quality veggies the centerpiece of a meal.
An Allston neighborhood staple, Twin Donuts has been serving up classic, wickedly sweet donuts and savory breakfasts since 1955. It’s a must-visit for breakfast lovers.
This hole in the wall in Oak Square is a cornerstone spot in Brighton for comfort Thai cuisine. Thai North uses fresh ingredients for modern interpretations of classic dishes.
A casual American eatery in Boston’s Brighton neighborhood, Article 24 serves up creative cuisine and craft cocktails.
The Aeronaut Allston pop-up (summers only), located at the Zone 3 venue in Allston, is the perfect spot for a summer night. Grab a craft-brewed Aeronaut beer with friends, and enjoy the low-key atmosphere, complete with live music and games. Plus, it’s pooch-friendly.
With outdoor seating and multiple floors, Cityside is the go-to spot to celebrate friends, summer, sports and life in general. Located on the edge of Chestnut Hill Reservoir, it’s the perfect place for lounging around with a meal and beer. Come at night for a vibrant and young crowd.
Opening in 1969, Corrib Pub is an Irish-style bar that makes visitors feel like family. With a cozy wooden interior and intimate booths, the pub also hosts live-music acts every Tuesday night. As they like to say, “There are no strangers, just friends you haven’t met yet.”
As a top spot in Boston’s college scene, Wonder Bar in Allston is nothing short of a good time. Live music, legendary DJs and a jam-packed dance floor make this college club the best place to party in Boston’s western neighborhoods.
A Boston sports bar with multiple locations around the city, Tavern in the Square on Brighton Avenue in Allston is the perfect spot for a night on the town. The vibe is lively, youthful and fun thanks to the college kids in the surrounding area. So, put on your dancing shoes on the weekends, or check out trivia on Tuesdays for a more low-key night with a local brew in hand.
A local favorite for over 20 years, White Horse Tavern is Allston’s original tavern, serving up classic pub grub and craft brews in a relaxed bar scene. Pool tables, trivia nights and dueling pop-a-shot machines entertain residents and travelers alike, and on weekends, hit the dance floor with beats from the bar’s house DJ.
As its name implies, Garage Boston sits inside a former garage that’s been converted into a luxury nightclub. The automobile-themed decor and high-end cars in the parking lot play into the industrial atmosphere, enticing a young yet upscale clientele.
This local neighborhood music hall offers nightly concerts featuring many up-and-coming local indie and alternative bands.
This sister venue of Brighton Music Hall offers performances every night, including visiting indie rock bands, local alternative artists and much more. Make sure to show up early to take your place in line before it disappears down the block. This iconic music venue is sure to be packed.
Great Scott is a no-frills, low-key live music venue featuring underground indie artists. It’s been a local favorite since 1975.
A Brighton-based tattoo parlor, Ghost in the Machine boasts some of the finest talent and artists in New England specializing in large, custom body art.
An eclectic new-age shop in Boston’s Allston neighborhood, Ritual Arts sells everything from incense and tarot cards to beautiful stone-cut jewelry. No, the kittens aren’t for sale, but you’ll see plenty of them roaming around the store’s shelves as you shop.
Orchard is an edgy Boston skateboard shop selling all the essentials from sneakers to helmets and featuring events, skate lessons and even art shows by local artists.
This boutique offers sneakers plus athletic and outdoor clothing from new and experienced designers. AWOL also offers silkscreen printing for you to create your new favorite graphic T-shirt. Whether you design your own style or find a fresh new look, AWOL can help you look your best as you explore the streets of Boston.
As a second-hand store featuring trendy staples and vintage classics, Buffalo Exchange is full of surprises. Buy, sell or trade to upgrade your wardrobe, and clean out those clothes in your closet that you haven’t seen in a few years for a little extra pocket change.