I had a great time at last year’s INTA conference in Seattle, mixing and mingling with IP lawyers from all over the world. (INTA = International Trademark Association.) This year’s conference will be held in Boston, a city where I recently spent three years attending law school (Boston University School of Law).
So for my out of town friends, especially those from other countries, I thought I’d post some information to help get people oriented. Feel free to add more information or post questions to the comments; since I don’t currently live there now I included only what I was most familiar with or could readily remember, but other people have since added more notes in the comments.
(updated 2/9/10 and 5/13/10)
Boston is one of the United States’ oldest cities. Established in the 17th century as part of Britain’s Massachusetts Bay Colony, by the time the American War of Independence (known locally as “The Revolutionary War” or “The Revolution”)) happened (1775-1783) the city was home to many a rabble-rousing revolutionary.
Today the city continues to pay homage to that period of colonial history as well as other periods in its past. Surrounded by an expansive waterfront on one hand and numerous colleges and universities on the other, this seafaring center of learning has been home to both blue-blooded American nobility and countless immigrants new to its shores, all of whom have left their mark.
Boston is in many ways as American a city as you can get, but it’s still its own unique community with its own quirks, accents, and fervor for its local sports teams… It is a modern city full of art, culture, and history in a compact and walkable package.
Much of downtown Boston is clustered in “the hub,” or the original island(s) later expanded and connected to other communities via landfill and bridges. In addition to most of the city’s modern skyscrapers, this central area contains many of the city’s most historic sites and famous neighborhoods, including the North End (which replaced its Irish heritage with an Italian flavor), Chinatown (which still retains its Chinese character), and Beacon Hill (one of Boston’s oldest and ritziest). The expansive Boston Common and adjacent Public Garden, with its famous Swan Boats, sits roughly in the middle, connecting with the Downtown Crossing shopping district just to the south of it and Boyleston theater district to the southwest.
Jutting out to the west is the Back Bay area, full of well-preserved old brownstones and shopping for the well-heeled. Continuing down Commonwealth Avenue (pronounced “Comm Ave”) one first comes upon comes across Copley and the Prudential Center (one of Boston’s tallest buildings), and then Kenmore Square, where Comm Ave intersects with Beacon Street. If one continues down Comm, one first passes Boston University, whose campus runs along the avenue between it and the Charles River just to the north, and then the neighborhoods, and nightlife, of Alston and Brighton.
Wedged into the triangle formed by Comm Ave and Beacon is the separate (and very pleasant) town of Brookline. (Years and years ago Boston had tried to annex it, but failed.) President Kennedy was born here, at a house not far from Coolidge Corner, the neighborhood of shops and restaurants at the back of the triangle where Beacon and Harvard Street intersect. (At the corner of Freeman and Pleasant Streets is the church where he was baptized, which has just been converted into condos.) American humorists Conan O’Brien and John Hodgman both come from this town. Brookline also has a vibrant Jewish community, and near Coolidge Corner are several kosher and kosher-style restaurants and stores selling Judaica.
Along much of the north shore of the Charles River is Cambridge. The main part of Harvard’s campus is towards the west, near Harvard Square, while MIT’s is generally towards the east and Kendall Square. Cambridge is linked to Boston via several bridges spanning the Charles, whose north and south shores are parks with pedestrian and bike trails running alongside the river. (The Charles used to be famously polluted but in recent years it has been substantially cleaned up.)
Meanwhile, the convention itself will be in the South Boston area. (Note: it is NOT at the older Hynes Convention Center, which is near Copley.) South Boston is to the southeast of the downtown center, and across the canal. This part of Boston has seen a lot of recent redevelopment and the new facilities are very nice. However, the area is more spread out and with less to see than other neighborhoods have. (It does have a nice waterfront, however.)
Getting there and getting around
In case you were tempted, do not rent a car for the conference. Not only is parking very expensive, but driving itself is frustrating. (There’s too much traffic, streets are poorly marked (even GoogleMaps is generally useless), and you need to be as aggressive as the other drivers.) Even after having lived there for three years I still get frustrated when I have to drive there.
Fortunately, the mass transit is very good. Like London has its Underground and Paris its Metro, Boston has its “T”. (If you ask for the subway, people may ignore you. But for best results, ask for the nearest “T” stop.) The T is comprised of several lines of subways, streetcars, buses, or some combination of them all… But the routes are pretty simple. (Note, though, that the T stops running around midnight.)
The Red Lines and Orange Lines generally run North-South. There are few locations tourists would want to visit that would require taking the Orange Line, but the Red Line handily links South Station (where Amtrak and many regional trains and buses depart), with Downtown Crossing and Park Street (key transfer points) just to the north, and MIT and Harvard to the north across the river. Visitors will rarely need to take the Blue Line, but it does stop near the Aquarium and provides one of the transportation links to the airport, as well as easy access to Revere beach.
More important to the average visitor’s travels is the Green Line and its various permutations. Within the city center the Green Line functions as a subway. However, upon reaching Kenmore Square (or, in the case of the “E,” Copley), the line splits into the “B,” “C,” or “D” lines and continues to the west or southwest as a streetcar. The B line follows Comm Ave out past Boston University towards Alston and Brighton until eventually reaching Boston College, while the C line runs along Beacon Street past Coolidge Corner. Tourists are unlikely to need to take the D except within the city center where it runs underground along the same route as the B, C, and E. The E offers access to the major museums and the Longwood Medical Area, but doesn’t stop at Fenway Park (Kenmore).
There are also the new(ish) Silver Lines, which begin at South Station. In particular look for the S1 and the S2, which go past the convention center. The S1 also goes to the airport. So does the Blue Line, although it’s necessary to take a (free) shuttle bus between the airport and the Blue Line’s T stop. (Watch the signs, as there are different shuttles to different terminals.) In theory the Silver Line may be a more direct connection to the airport because it doesn’t require a shuttle, but it depends where you are starting from. If your lodging is on the Green Line you may have fewer transfers overall if you take the Blue Line to and from the airport. (Due to the configuration of the Blue Line’s T station I generally prefer to take the Blue Line to the airport, and the Silver Line from it.)
Exact fares can be paid in cash the buses or trolleys at street level. The underground turnstiles require tickets, which can be purchased in the stations. But it may be more convenient to instead purchase a “Charlie Card” for your visit. This card gets its name from an old song about a guy named Charlie who didn’t have enough money to pay his fare and so got stuck riding the T indefinitely. With a Charlie Card, however, you will not have to worry about such a fate. You can either load the card with any amount of money on the card, which gets deducted upon every ride at a discount, or buy a T-Pass. For $15 a 7-day pass is a bargain. You can buy these Charlie Cards at any subway station fare machine and in some stores.
The preceding all presumes you have gotten to Boston somehow. Boston’s Logan Airport (BOS) is an international airport, but not all carriers fly there directly. You may likely be routed through Dulles (IAD, outside of Washington DC), one of the New York airports (JFK most likely, but possibly LaGuardia (LGA) or Newark, NJ (EWR)), or even, conceivably, Chicago O’Hare (ORD). Now that JetBlue, Southwest, and Virgin America have entered the Boston market and driven down the price on some domestic tickets, you may find it cheaper to fly into one airport from abroad and then buy a separate ticket for the flight into Boston.
Or you could fly into a New York airport and take ground transportation the rest of the way. The trip by train or bus takes 4+ hours. Amtrak runs trains throughout the day from Washington, DC, up through New Jersey and New York City to Boston. There are also affordable buses connecting NYC and Boston, which, traffic permitting, run between the two cities in about four hours and for about $20 (they even have free WiFi!). I’ve had good luck with BoltBus and heard decent things about MegaBus, although there are others (I’d avoid the so-called “Chinatown buses,” however. These are the ones where the pickup spot is in Chinatown. While an interesting concept culturally, as they were the initial businesses who decided to serve the NYC-Boston routes cheaply in order to connect the cities’ Chinatown residents, they are not known for having well-maintained bus fleets.)
Where to stay and what to eat
The hotels by the convention center will be close to the convention but not very close to most other things. Because of the compactness of the city and the usefulness of the T, however, it is not necessary to stay quite so close. Any hotel in downtown Boston will suffice. As will those surrounding Copley. Even further out towards Kenmore (e.g., Hotel Commonwealth) and Brookline (Brookline Holiday Inn or Courtyard by Marriott) the commute will be manageable. Plus don’t forget about Cambridge… As long as the hotel is near a T stop (as are many clustered around Harvard Square) a simple hop on the Red Line will get you close to where you need to go. (You can either walk the rest of the way from South Station, or switch to the Silver Line.)
There’s lots of good places to eat in Boston, and lots of good, local food you should eat…
For Italian there’s the North End, which was at one time a community of Italian immigrants. Today most have moved on, but some restaurants remain. They are a little more formal and a little less “of the neighborhood,” but many are still good. Expect a long outdoor wait for pizza at Pizzaria Regina. For Italian pastries people like to go to Mike’s or Modern Pastry. But what I like about the Boston area generally is that you can often get good pizza and good cold-cut sandwiches at nearly any hole-in-the-wall Italian place. (These sandwiches are known as “grinders” locally, or sometimes “heroes” or “hoagies” or “sub(marine)s” and are common to Italian-American communities throughout the Northeast US. They are basically what the Subway chain sells, but on proper bread with proper meat and done up properly.)
I find ordering Chinese food in Boston to be a risky undertaking (e.g., sweet and sour chicken involves huge strips of breaded chicken, with a red dipping sauce on the side), but certain restaurants can do certain things really well. Out by Boston University (and not too far from Kenmore Square) I like Quan’s on Comm Ave (especially its crispy noodle dishes) and there’s another decent place on Beacon at St. Mary’s. I’ve also had good, cheap dim sum in Chinatown but the specific restaurant name eludes me. (I do remember it was on the second floor.) Also out by BU is the Noodle Street restaurant, which I liked, but none of these places are worth a special trip.
Then there are foods local to the region. As you will notice, Boston has a large waterfront. Thus it is a seafood town. Therefore you must try New England clam chowder at least once. Other shellfish like oysters, scallops, and lobsters are also popular local specialties. Many people like the restaurant Legal Seafood, which is a chain, but a locally-based one. It’s also a slightly upscale sit-down restaurant. The Daily Catch is good, especially if you like calamari. Out towards the convention center are other seafood restaurants that are a little overpriced and touristy, but they are probably worth experiencing, especially on a nice day when you can sit outside. Boston is also known for its baked beans, and certain restaurants, like Durgin Park near Faneuil Hall, are known for them. Again, these restaurants are a little touristy and overpriced, but they are also very local in their cuisine.
Meanwhile out by Brookline is kosher-style Zaftigs Delicatessen (with huge waits, overpriced portions, and only so-so food), but down the street Ruben’s is the real, actually-kosher thing, and I believe ice cream shop JP Licks does kosher ice cream as well. (There may also be kosher Chinese somewhere in the neighborhood too.)
Overall, though, one of my favorite restaurants in the Boston area is the Elephant Walk, which serves Cambodian and French cuisine. There are two, but the nearest one is on Beacon Street near Kenmore and Fenway Park. It’s slightly pricey, but worth it.
And then, as long as you are in America, you might as well enjoy our proliferation of chains, since that’s the way we do business. Chain restaurants can still be local to certain parts of the country though, as we saw with Legal Seafood. Personally one of my favorites, which I always like to go to when I’m in the area, is Friendly’s, which serves diner-type food and great ice cream sundaes (a Friendly’s Express just opened in Coolidge Corner). Bertucci’s is an Italian restaurant that even my authentically Italian contracts professor enjoyed. Kelly’s is popular for roast beef sandwiches. And then there’s Dunkin’ Donuts, whose offerings are as obvious as they are ubiquitous. Unfortunately the Boston-area DD shops don’t generally seem to sell my favorite of their donuts, the chocolate creme-filled, but all of their donuts are good. And if you want to try drinking coffee like an American, theirs is quite popular.
I am not a big drinker, but in my time I’ve been to a few bars and pubs. Avoid any bar calling itself “Cheers.” Cheers was an American TV show set in a Boston bar, which was roughly modeled on the Bull and Finch tavern. Just skip anything connected to that show. For best results, go to a neighborhood hole-in-the-wall. Boston has a large Irish immigrant presence (granted, mostly immigrants from 150 years ago…), so Irish pubs abound (although it’s not clear how authentic they may be). I know of one on Beacon at St. Mary’s, but there are surely many others. If you were going to get out that way, though, the Dugout on Comm at St. Mary’s has much more local flavor. But closer into the city center and Faneuil Hall area are several more ancient bars, like the Bell in Hand.
Things to see and do
When you are not preoccupied with the conference, there’s plenty to see or do. First and foremost, avail yourself of the Freedom Trail, a pedestrian route connecting many of the city’s most historic sites, from Fanueil Hall (pronounced “Fan-Well”) to Paul Revere’s house, and beyond. Most of these sites date from the American War of Independence. Although little of the war took place in the city, it was ground zero for many of Britain’s efforts to clamp down on its colonies and America’s rebellion against them. Today Boston’s rebels are lauded as patriots and their history is preserved accordingly.
Along the waterfront are opportunities for boat and ferry tours (you can even take commuter ferries). If you have a lot of time you can even take a ferry out across Massachusetts Bay to Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, a picturesque seaside village. Nearby the convention center is the Federal Courthouse, a new building with a sweeping vista of the harbor. The courthouse (and most court hearings) are open to the public. Be prepared for x-rays and metal detectors at the entrance and bring some ID, but in addition to admiring the building its proximity offers a chance to see some American justice in action.
In addition to the theater district, which hosts traveling Broadway productions, with so many colleges and universities and art departments in the area there’s also plenty of smaller theaters around as well. There’s also at least two improv comedy establishments: ImprovAsylum in the North End and ImprovBoston near Central Square in Cambridge.
The colleges and universities are something to visit too: Northeastern and Suffolk both have law schools near downtown (Suffolk’s is across from Boston Common). Boston University is just down Comm Ave (the law school is a 17-story tower, you can’t miss it… and it is hosting an event and reception on the 25th). Boston College is even further down Comm Ave, although its law school is located elsewhere. The Berklee School of Music is around the Copley area, and MIT is across the river in Cambridge. Harvard is also over in Cambridge and especially worth seeing for its architecture, given that it’s one of the oldest universities in America. (There’s also the more recent Polaroid building, built to look like a Polaroid camera.) Tuft’s University is also on that side of the river, up past the Porter Square T stop. Many of these schools may offer tours of their campuses.
There’s also plenty of museums to see. One of the most famous is the Isabella Gardner museum, and the MFA is also world renowned, but there’s plenty of others, especially near the Copley area.
Boston is a big sports town and takes its sports teams *very* seriously. Though I am no fan of them, the Red Sox play in Fenway Park, which is one of the oldest ballparks in the country. I believe there are no home games though during the convention, and even if there were it would be very difficult to get tickets. But if you’d like to pay a visit to the venerable old park, it is just a short walk south from Kenmore Square.
If you stay a few extra days there’s more to see beyond Boston. To the north along the coast you will reach Maine and its rocky, lobster-rich coastline. Due north is New Hampshire and its White Mountains, and northwest there’s Vermont and its Green Mountains. (Both places are known for their maple sugaring and produce excellent maple syrup and candy. Vermont is also known for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.) To the east is Cape Cod and its sandy Atlantic beaches (plus the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard), and due south is the nautical Rhode Island. (Picturesque Newport was a summer retreat for America’s most wealthy a century ago, who have left behind enormous mansions now open for touring.). Due west are the Berkshires and Tanglewood, which puts on classical music concerts all summer.
I am inevitably missing things, but one way or another I’m sure you’ll have a great trip. See you there!