Tucked between the bustle of Back Bay and the lively streets of Southie, Boston’s South End is sometimes overlooked by travelers in favor of more touristic spots. But this neighborhood has its own draws, with the area home to stunning brick row houses and an array of boutique shops, art galleries and restaurants.
Friends gather on the many restaurant patios sprinkled on Tremont Street, the main drag of Boston’s South End neighborhod, chatting over wine and cheese. Young families skip down the brick sidewalks, toting coffees and perhaps pastries from the South End Buttery. Culture vultures peruse the over 200 artists’ studios and galleries at the SoWa Open Market, collecting vintage and modern treasures from various vendors’ stalls. Residents meander through independent shops and boutiques – likely with a furry friend in tow – and are greeted by name by store owners.
The South End is proud of its tight-knit community. “My favorite part about the South End is that it truly feels like a neighborhood,” says chef Colin Lynch, whose South End restaurant empire includes the acclaimed Bar Mezzana and tropical paradise Shore Leave. “You have everything you need here. The community is diverse and supportive. There is art, culture and food all within a short walk.” Lynch also notes the range in the neighborhood’s restaurant scene. “Some of my favorites are Coppa Enoteca and Toro for small plates and al fresco dining, JJ Foley’s Café for an authentic Irish neighborhood bar with tons of Boston political history and Anchovies and Delux for a local dive/industry hang.”
Along with numerous events such as the South End Stroll, which celebrates the plethora of small businesses in the area, there is always a warm welcome waiting for newcomers and plenty of ways to get involved and get to know the neighborhood store owners. Explorers would be hard-pressed to find any chain stores or eateries – making the South End the perfect place to eat, shop and live like a Bostonian. “I love the South End because it has such a warm neighborhood feel to it,” says Dani McDonald, owner of Flock, a boutique selling clothes that run the gamut from boho to classic. “The little shops sprinkled among the brownstones means that, as a shop owner, I get to see part of our neighbors’ everyday routine: walking kids home from school, taking their dogs for a walk, sitting on their steps in the summertime. It’s those sort of things that make me feel part of this neighborhood.”
The South End is the best place in Boston to get a taste of stores unique to the city. Fashion-conscious women should head to Flock, while stylish gents should swing by Sault for classic New England wardrobe staples. M Flynn is a sister-owned spot showcasing high-end and bespoke fine jewelry, while PATCH NYC delivers unique homewares. For treasures of the edible variety, Formaggio Kitchen is every South Ender’s go-to for gourmet cheeses and groceries from local purveyors.
Perhaps the South End’s most notable event, the SoWa Open Market showcases work from artists and artisans across Boston and New England every Sunday from May to October. Along with goods to peruse from nearly 200 makers, the market has a lively beer garden (complete with cornhole and live music) and a slew of food trucks delivering scrumptious food options. SoWa also hosts open-studio events, where you can get a voyeuristic view into the creative processes of the area’s resident artists, as well as the indoor Winter Festival. Even if there isn’t an event going on, this creative haven is still a must-see – with plenty of artisan shops and galleries to browse and a year-round subterranean vintage market filled with wearable treasures and quirky furnishings.
History buffs visiting the South End should check out the Cyclorama, a historic building that dates back to the 19th century. The spot’s unique rounded shape was originally furnished to accommodate a wraparound mural of the Battle of Gettysburg. But the locale now serves as the Boston Center for the Arts’ headquarters and houses multiple performance spaces – where local troupes like the Huntington Theatre Company strut their stuff – and the Mills Gallery, which displays six exhibits per season that highlight new and established artists.
Notable relics to visit
Wally’s is a can’t-miss spot for the musically inclined or any self-respecting history buff. This old-school jazz and blues joint has been touting tunes since 1947 and played an integral role in getting the city’s population acquainted with jazz music. Opened by Joseph L Walcott, who immigrated to Boston from Barbados, Wally’s was the first nightclub in New England to be owned by an African American. Along with hosting industry bigwigs, the venue is also credited with giving a platform to young musicians from nearby Berklee College of Music and still honors this tradition today through its Student Music Project, making Wally’s the perfect spot to catch some tunes from the next big names in the industry.
Another landmark to see in the neighborhood is the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Though Boston is filled with churches, this South End cathedral is the city’s most special one, serving as the seat of the Archdiocese of Boston. The Gothic Revival stunner was designed by architect Patrick Keely in 1875 and is currently the largest Roman Catholic church in New England. Admire the grand structure’s stone facade or step inside to appreciate the vaulted ceilings and intricate stained-glass windows.
A shifting and diverse history
The South End first rose to prominence in the mid-1800s, when the once marshy area was filled with land to accommodate high-society members moving from overcrowded Downtown and Beacon Hill. As Boston’s well-to-do continued to flock to the neighborhood, the city commissioned renowned architect Charles Bulfinch (who also designed the Massachusetts State House) to craft a plan for the area in the 1850s. Inspired by the manicured green spaces and architecture of London, Bulfinch fashioned blocks of brick, bow-front row homes, decked out with ornate iron railings and pint-size gardens, situated around five major communal squares.
Some 20 years later, wealthy inhabitants left the South End because of a financial crisis, causing property values in the area to plummet. However, this made room for more diverse groups of residents to move in. A growing African American population brought jazz music to the area, while many gay individuals were able to live safely in the neighborhood’s single-sex lodging houses. A wide variety of immigrant groups populated the blocks as well, all contributing to the rich and varied culture that still distinguishes the South End today, with 45 percent of the neighborhood’s residents identifying as people of color in 2015.
Eventually, an influx of young professionals, enticed by the neighborhood’s urban location, came to the South End’s streets. With new money in the area, residents established the South End Historical Society and the Victorian row homes were restored to their former glory. Meticulously maintained through to the present day, the area continues to honor its colorful heritage through these preservation efforts as well as retaining a racially, economically and ethnically diverse population.
This intimate Mediterranean spot serves up serious Santorini vibes along with fresh cuisine. The restaurant is swathed in whites and blues with nautical touches, and the owners imported wood and stone directly from Greece to keep the interior true to the breezy eateries found in that country. That same authenticity extends to the menu. From a tailored list of small mezedakia plates to hearty entrées such as moussaka, KAVA has dishes that will please any palate.If you’re struggling to pick what to order, try the zucchini chips, which are battered and fried until crispy and served with creamy, tangy tzatziki sauce.
A neighborhood mainstay for elevated Italian fare, Coppa is a cozy enoteca(a restaurant specializing in wine) nestled on sleepy Shawmut Avenue, run by dynamic culinary duo Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette. Patrons gather in the eatery’s dining room – adorned with brick touches and dark, glossy wood – or on the sky-blue chairs on the street-side patio during the summer months, enjoying house-made pasta and wood-fired pizza. Along with classics like its award-winning meatballs, Coppa also slings unique preparations such as a celery caesar salad and uni carbonara.
Owned and operated by the legendary Barbara Lynch, B and G Oysters is a quaint spot that’s been serving up seafood since 2003. The chic-as-can-be oyster joint is embellished with glossy blue-grey tiles and a substantial bar where guests can sample bivalves from both coasts, along with a delectable selection of New England-leaning dishes such as a generous lobster roll. If you have time to spare, opt for a shucking lesson from one of B and G’s oyster aficionados, or at least enjoy a glass of wine on the restaurant’s sunken patio lit with fairy lights.
A romantic locale in the SoWa district, Lion’s Tail beckons patrons inside with its moody lighting, crystal chandeliers, industrial accents and, of course, slew of classic and craft cocktails. The bar’s extensive drinks list is adorned with whimsical illustrations reflecting the creatively named cocktails, which are carefully categorized into sections such as Adventurous and Fancy as F*#k. Sip on the tropical-tasting Plant Lady Is the New Cat Lady Coppa Enoteca, made with rum, banana, pineapple, lime and bitters, while noshing on elevated bar snacks.
Shore Leave is the perfect escape for Boston visitors looking to step into a tropical paradise. A modest sign above the entrance on Harrison Avenue is the only marker of the subterranean hideaway, which gives a modern update to the immersive decor that characterizes tiki bars such as Don the Beachcomber. Muted tropical wallpaper, fish scale-patterned wood accents, woven light fixtures and booths large enough to accommodate your whole group are the perfect backdrop to enjoy new and classic tiki tipples. The eponymous Shore Leave cocktail combines Ipswich, MA-made rum with passion fruit, bitters, molasses and lime – giving imbibers a taste of both New England and the tropics.
A destination for those who like to enjoy their libations with some musical accompaniment, The Beehive is an eclectic spot that nods to the South End’s jazz heritage. Snag a table by the stage and enjoy live bands every night of the week – spanning genres such as jazz, blues, reggae and cabaret – in the spot’s bohemian interior, featuring brick walls and rich textiles. The Beehive’s wine list is just as extensive as the musical repertoire, with numerous options from around the world that slant toward accessible and affordable, meticulously categorized by soil.
This stylish Washington Street spot has been slinging Spanish tapas plates since 2005. The restaurant’s industrial-chic interior and pint-size patio are the perfect places to munch on Barcelona-inspired bites such as salt cod croquettes with fried lemon and aioli. For something extra special, order the eight-course chef’s tasting dinner.
An eclectic joint that’s been a long-time industry favorite, Anchovies serves up no-frills Italian fare and budget-friendly brews and cocktails. Try the Italian nachos – the spot’s signature snack – or enjoy any hearty main dish served with bread and salad for under $20. Either way, you’ll leave Anchovies with a full belly and full wallet.
Perpetually decorated for Christmas and adorned with vinyl records and other vintage paraphernalia, this quirky bar is a popular neighborhood watering hole. The dive has been supplying booze and bites to South Enders for decades, and is most famous for comfort foods such as a half roasted chicken and drinks like Schlitz beer, a house favorite.
This Shawmut Street shop has been outfitting the South End for 10 years now, but continues to stay on trend by bringing in new arrivals each week from both up-and-coming and well-known brands curated by the expert eye of owner/buyer Dani McDonald. Scoop up a summer dress from Free People and a pair of handmade statement earrings from Hingham, MA-based AD Jewelry to upgrade your wardrobe, or nab an ILLUME soy candle and sage bundle from Catherine Rising for a unique gift.
Founded in 2011, this stalwart shop is dedicated to celebrating the nuances in New England men’s fashion with vintage and modern finds. Pick up a lightweight poplin shirt and a baseball cap from the Ebbets x SAULT Field Flannel collaboration to rival any well-dressed local lad.
Tucked away on Waltham Street, this sparkling sister-owned jewelry boutique is a must-visit for all stylish South Enders. Stocking baubles from brands like Anna Sheffield and Atelier Paulin, the shop also sells personalized pieces designed by the owners themselves.
Owned and curated by designers John Ross and Don Carney, PATCH NYC is a wonderland of chic, bespoke home goods and accessories. From high-profile collaborations with the Parisian Monoprix to more approachable names like Target, PATCH NYC is renowned for its whimsical prints featuring flora and fauna illustrated by Carney.
This hole in the wall hosts live performances and jazz improv throughout the week. The first establishment owned by an African American in the whole of New England, Wally’s has been delighting South Enders since 1947.
Dedicated in 1875, this beautiful cathedral was crafted in the Gothic Revival style. Like many older buildings in Boston, the architect used local Roxbury puddingstone for the structure, which adds to its classically New England style.
Operated by the Boston Center for the Arts, this impressive space hosts plays and art exhibits on a regular basis. The building is a historic landmark that was built in 1884 and houses a 360-degree mural of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Named due to its location south of Washington Street, this open-air market hosts over 200 spaces that include art studios, galleries, boutiques, crafts, small local vendors, restaurants, food trucks and a beer garden. Taking place on Sundays between May and October, it’s a lively event to walk around, full of fun activities.