Spending Valentine’s Day in Boston is a chance to kindle real romance, the special kind of romance borne from the shared agony of a grim New England winter. The elements are at their cruelest. Temperatures are at their lowest. Lovers clutch each other extra tightly to face down Arctic blasts, jagged snow mounds and black ice on every corner. Alleys become treacherous, shrieking wind tunnels. Drift-choked crosswalks become Olympic triathlons, some sinister combination of hurdles, balance beam and figure skating. A trip down the street for a slice of pizza is suddenly a matter of survival, of endless bundling. There are masked pools of salty slush everywhere, and everyone is wearing nice shoes. It’s a special time for this old city, one that encourages teamwork, perseverance and intense cuddling.
For those lovers who do brave it though, there’s no substitute for the reward — a chance to walk down those silent, snow-blanketed, colonial backstreets. To be alone together among the rows of brownstones, to share an embrace under the glow of the wrought iron street lamps. It’s a glimpse of a bygone world, an old seaport in hibernation, a rare urban tranquility. Here, when the wind is in between breaths, you will find that romance, shivering against each other while you wait for an Uber.
In honor of the upcoming holiday, my lovely partner Simone and I trekked to some of Boston’s cold weather hideouts to share with you. We hope they furnish a spark of inspiration for your date night, Valentine’s Day or otherwise. So comb your hair, put your parka on and get out there! Get that blood flowing to all of your romantic regions and share some warmth, in true Bostonian style.
Jackmauh’s Quintessential Spots for a Winter Date in Boston
Our first stop on a blustery Wednesday evening was L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates, on Clarendon and Newbury. Why save the candy for the end? Especially in this case — L.A. Burdick is one of a few elite chocolatiers in Boston, and a bit of a love story in itself. The company is run by Larry Burdick, who founded the brand with his wife, Paula, in 1987. They started with a single set of hand tools he collected on a culinary tour of Paris and Switzerland. Paula studied at The Fashion Institute of Technology and infused her passion for Parisian design into the brand. Thus the Burdick experience was born.
Sensitive attention to detail is apparent in every aspect, from the unique confections to the beautiful boxes they are packed in. Each of their three chocolate shops (in Boston, Cambridge and New York City) is also an elegant, French-inspired cafe, serving coffee, espresso, tea as well as all the handmade chocolates you could hope to eat. Every morsel is shaped by hand, without molds, including their signature chocolate ganache mice! That’s right. Adorable, delicious little mice with little sateen yarn tails.
We sat by the window, sipping impossibly rich dark chocolate mochas and shared a small velvet box of bonbons. The cozy wooden benches, the brass lamps and scent of raw cocoa helped induce a heady chocolate buzz. Hopped up on the aphrodisiac, we eventually headed into the cold to find a cocktail.
Outside the wind was getting fierce. A few stray raindrops came flying at us. We fought our way down Clarendon Street, huddling for a moment behind Trinity Church, the crown jewel of Copley Square. Up close, its presence is overwhelming. Trinity’s looming spires are captivating in the twilight. It looks like something out of Romeo and Juliet. In fact this is no coincidence; the Trinity Church is the singular archetype of the Richardsonian Romanesque movement, a building style based on late medieval architecture from Italy, France and Spain. The look is characterized by elaborate masonry using massive, roughly cut stone blocks, detailed arches and extravagant towers. How sexy. Among other noteworthy works of art, the church features gorgeous stained glass windows designed on commission by the American painter John La Farge. It is the only structure in Boston counted among the “Ten most significant buildings in the United States” by the American Institute of Architecture. If you have time on your way to dinner, take a moment to steal a kiss (and maybe snap a Valentine’s Day selfie) under one of its arches.
Luckily for us, one of the most impressive bars in Boston is right across the square in the Copley Plaza Hotel. OAK Long Bar + Kitchen is the central achievement of a twenty-million dollar renovation that was completed to celebrate the hotel’s 100th anniversary a few years ago. Two large dining rooms were joined to make one enormous, opulent hall. Why? So they could fit an eighty-three foot long bar of course! Behind it, for your viewing pleasure, lies a bustling open kitchen with a stone-hearth oven. Revelers enjoy the comfort of wide, cushioned leather chairs instead of barstools. Servers scurry up and down the aisles of assorted low and high candle-lit tables. The room feels more like a lounge than a restaurant. The renovation sought to modernize the space, making it brighter and more casual-feeling. That’s not to say it’s any less fancy.
The original two-story windows lead your eyes up to the gorgeous Beaux-arts era tin coffered ceiling, dripping with chandeliers. A trip to the bathroom requires a stroll through the magnificent lobby hallway, known as Peacock Alley, punctuated by Italian marble columns. Bottles upon bottles overlook the bar from high shelves. This space is a treat for the eyes, if nothing else. We conspired at a low table by the window and watched the rain pound Huntington Avenue. Comfy in our nook, we took our time sipping three drinks from the menu: a Pomegranate Paloma, a generous Ketel One martini with incredible blue cheese stuffed olives, and the “How Do You Do,” a house spin on a martini with St. Germain, Aperol and grapefruit. For a moment we were Gatsbys. If not for our dinner reservations we might have stayed all night. It is, after all, the oldest, and one of the most prestigious hotels in Boston. We could have gotten a room, and joined the ranks of stars like Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor.
By the way, when you visit OAK Long Bar, ask your server to point out where the rotating merry-go-round bar used to be. Yes, seriously.
We waited under the Copley Plaza’s big red awning for a car to dinner. Our destination: The South End Buttery, a relatively recent addition to one of Boston’s oldest neighborhoods. It was opened in 2005 by two South End residents with a passion for fine dining and gourmet food made from healthy, simple ingredients. I was a little disappointed to learn that a “buttery” is not actually a place where vast quantities of fine butter are prepared and served. The original term refers to the wine cellar of a castle, but its modern use connotes something more like an all-purpose pantry and canteen.
The South End Buttery dons its designation coyly. It describes itself as a “quaint neighborhood cafe.” That’s not wrong, but that’s not the whole picture. The Buttery is a cafe, a bakery, a celebrated brunch spot and a boutique prepared foods market… and a bar and a restaurant. Somehow, it is still cozy and quaint, neatly laid out a over a few small rooms. The market, cafe and bar sit on the ground floor of a charming brownstone on the corner of Shawmut and Union Park. The cozy dining room lies hidden in the basement, built into the old stone foundation itself.
Dinner started at the intimate six or seven seat bar, which was pleasingly well-stocked with bourbon and a nice collection of digestifs including a couple of ports, amaros and assorted Luxardo liqueurs. We shared a Winter Smash, a bourbon cocktail with muddled cranberries and rosemary. The result is a tangy aromatic concoction that flirts with all the tastebuds at the party. We’ll be back in the spring to try their Mezcalrita — a concoction of silver tequila, mezcal, grilled pineapple, jalapeno and lemon. When it was time to eat, our server led us from the peaceful bar down a little stairway to the basement.
It really does feel like dining in a wine cellar. A live fireplace sets the tone just a few feet from the tables. Exposed brick and granite are carefully illuminated. The Buttery’s seasonal menu is pleasantly simple and well-rounded. It would be hard for any diner to go hungry with choices like hanger steak frites, shrimp fra diavolo, The Buttery meatloaf, or the chickpea falafel burger. Incredibly, the price points did not suggest we were nestled in the heart of one of Boston’s ritziest neighborhoods.
I settled on marinated grilled pork tenderloin with roasted Brussels sprouts and fries with truffle aioli. Simone chose insanely rich wild mushroom ravioli with brown butter sage. This is comfort food at its best, designed to touch the heart as much as it fills the stomach. We took our time with each bite, enjoying the fire and a bottle of Cabernet. Later there would be a custody battle for the two leftover mushroom raviolis. A quick shot of Cardamaro Amaro for dessert and we were off again, into the night to catch some music.
A few blocks away at the edge of the South End lies Wally’s Cafe, the only place of its kind in Boston. Wally’s is a venerated jazz bar. It is not a cocktail bar or a restaurant that occasionally features live music as a bonus. It is a hole-in-the-wall venue with live performances 365 days a year!
It has been operating continuously since Joseph Walcott opened it in 1947, the first African-American-owned jazz club in New England. Wally’s longevity is probably due to Walcott’s tendency to pair renowned professional acts with aspiring local musicians from Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory and Boston Conservatory. This cafe is still a proving ground for talented students, but it is not a college bar by any stretch. A large bouncer greeted us at an unassuming door with a barred window. He checked our IDs and let us inside. When the door opened we were blasted by a blazing saxophone solo and hot, steamy air. Suddenly we found ourselves in a Kerouac novel. We took the only empty seat by the foggy front window and peered through the crowd at the band at the back of the room.
The place was jamming! Actually that’s normal. Wally’s has an open jam session from 6 to 9 every night of the week, then rotating acts ranging from funk to blues to Latin salsa. A funky, energetic jazz quartet was on the stage tonight. We sipped cold Brooklyn Lagers, surprisingly refreshing in the crowded room, and let the notes carry us away. We were swimming — happy, full, warm and content. The crowd was friendly. Some were neighborhood regulars, some were clearly students, some were curious first-timers from other parts of the city. The ages ranged from freshman to senior citizen. Everyone seemed united in understanding that this is something special, a miraculously preserved piece of the past that is still very much alive. The band played on, taking turns soloing, swooping and soaring between low and high tempos. It was too loud to talk but that was ok. We leaned back in our chairs shoulder to shoulder, no need to speak.
After one more beer and a couple of rowdy Michael Jackson covers, it was time to fly through the rain and city lights one more time, arm in arm in the backseat, and then off to bed. We squeezed the night to its last drop, in spite of the cold, the wind and the rain. No matter that we didn’t get to romp in the snow. We’ll just have to cross our fingers and hope for a blizzard.