From the patriotic past to the trendy present

From the March 26, 2001 Issue of New York

Boston, cradle of my cluelessness: I lived there for six feckless years during my salad days (listen, it's a college town-lots of people lived there for six feckless years during their salad days). On my rare return trips, I've struggled to update and refine an experience that, in misty hindsight, seems to have revolved primarily around grinders, gin, and late sets by Talking Heads at the Paradise Club. But it's amazing what a couple of days in a spacious, elegant room overlooking the Boston Athenaeum can do to make you feel like a grown-up. That room was, and is, at Fifteen Beacon, a small, chic new hotel just off the Common. The place is unstuffy but first-rate. Fifteen Beacon's French-American restaurant, the Federalist (which has a superb wine list), served us a delicious tasting menu late one night that could have gone on agreeably for many more hours than it actually did. And the meticulously designed rooms want for nothing. We tore ourselves away from our push-button fireplace long enough to stroll Newbury Street; take in the Gardner Museum; dine messily with friends at the Summer Shack, an enormous new lobster hall in Cambridge; and revisit old haunts like the bookstores Brattle and Victor Hugo. Of course, the history Boston is steeped in transcends the personal, and a snowy walk through nearby Beacon Hill worked its customary eighteenth-century magic ("Seriously, why can't I open a smithy?"). In fact, only the obligations represented by a return ticket on Amtrak prevented me from spending the rest of the weekend trying on breeches and pricing muskets.

Fifteen Beacon, 617-670-1500 or (doubles start at $395); the Federalist, 617-670-2515; Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 617-566-1401; Summer Shack, 617-520-9500.