Heading West from downtown on Commonwealth Avenue, you pass the tired and warm brick buildings of Back Bay. With its uneven, root-skewed sidewalks and the oaks and elms that shade them, you feel peaceful, eased into reverie, swallowed by one of the stately entrance ways, or turned to ash by the fire that burns beneath the ornate marble moulding of a wealthy Bostonian’s mantel. You cross Massachusetts Avenue and enter Kenmore Square, alive with the spectres of a century’s worth of crowds at Fenway Park, Boston’s most famous building. The Citgo sign, a sacred monument, beckons you with its 218,000 gaudy neon bulbs. You pass out of Kenmore, traipsing alongside the Green Line, when things begin to lose their hand-worn luster. While peppered with the monoliths that are some of Boston University’s historic buildings, the route becomes much more tedious, significantly more modern and lacking in character. Eventually, after approximately a mile of sub-par pizza joints, chain pharmacies, restaurants, and ugly Boston University undergraduates, you enter Allston.
Allston is an island, connected to the rest of Boston only by the thin stretch of Commonwealth Avenue between Kenmore Square and Packard’s Corner. On the south, you have the quiet and shady town of Brookline. On the north, the Charles River. While there are other neighborhoods in Boston that contain many students, none is quite as defined by its college population as Allston is. For some, this is what gives the neighborhood its unique character. To others, this is what keeps the neighborhood run down and lacking in decent entertainment and food options. It seems that many business owners, landlords, and even civil employees don’t take the tastes and concerns of students as seriously as other people’s.
People perpetuate this idea of Allston as an arts and cultural hub, but when it is closely examined, the scene is extremely stunted and undeveloped. Perhaps, in the nineties, when there was a distinctive Boston music scene and sound to speak of, Allston was considered one of its birthplaces and homes. Now, however, despite a small contingent of holdouts from this era, (take a look at some of the grisly characters sitting at the bar at Silhouette) Allston seems to have lost its character. While diversity often contributes to a neighborhood’s ability to captivate its residents, the diversity in Allston seems to prevent the place from developing any sort of distinct, positive identity. The neighborhood, while diverse, is almost completely segregated. It seems that there are two kinds of housing. Student housing, which is mostly triple deckers and the row houses on Commonwealth Avenue, and small communities of first or second generation Central Americans. Apparently, there is a large Russian population, but I have only noticed that in the form of one small grocery store on Cambridge Street. There is also a large Asian population, many of whom are also college students, and they seem to have centered their businesses, mostly restaurants, on the North side of Brighton Avenue.
When you enter the section of streets between Brighton Avenue, Cambridge Street, Harvard Avenue and Malvern Street, it feels as though you are in some kind of magical, lawless forest. Large bands of unruly twentysomethings motor by on makeshift gas powered scooters. You can hear them from blocks away due to their inadequate or nonexistent mufflers. Tumbleweeds of trash blow along the curb, left over by indifferent garbage men. “It’s Allston, they won’t give a shit.” On weekend evenings, herds of young women, 18-22, clomp by in high heels and tight dresses, cackling in the ugly manner of oblivious drunks. They are often accompanied by smaller groups of young men of all varieties. They prowl for unattached sex and free alcohol, both of which can often be obtained at house parties within the forest. You might even dangle a nip of Seagram’s by a fishing line off of the porch in front of these girls, and convince one to have sex with you, but beware, she will be sloppy and inexperienced, and you may be accused of rape when she wakes up in the morning and realizes that her life has spiraled out of control. Or if you’re lucky, you will snare one of the aforementioned oblivious ones, who doesn’t even have the presence of mind or moral framework to be capable of regret.
If you manage to escape the clutches of the forest, you will be greeted by Allston’s half-assed downtown, the strip of Harvard Avenue from Cambridge Street to Commonwealth Avenue. On this, you will find all varieties of shitty, half-assed take out restaurants that feel no compulsion to be creative because of their demographics.
However, in this sea of useless, bed bug infested thrift stores, sketchy Dentists’ offices, and rat nests, there are a few gems.
Azama Grill serves outstanding Middle Eastern fare. They have an interesting take on french fries: thick cut with “Azama spices” and a mysterious, white, mayonnaise-based sauce. Delicious. The chicken shawarma plate, with sides of Egyptian salad (a mixture of cucumbers, tomatoes, and some other kind of pickled vegetable), rice pilaf, and fresh Syrian bread, is one of the largest meals you will find for under eight dollars in the whole neighborhood. The staff is also super friendly. They have been known to forgive people for drunkenly passing out after ordering elaborate feasts and never picking them up, and are a good group of guys to bullshit with if you show up a little early for your takeout.
A few doors down Harvard Avenue at The Draft, one of the biggest shitholes in town, complete with sticky floors and a truly cretinous cast of regulars, you can get killer deals on wings and other classic bar fare. It’s a great place to catch a game, if you don’t mind skanks with Milan Lucic jerseys on, wordlessly exclaiming in high pitched voices, marvelling at how much fun they appear to be having. But seriously, there are a lot of televisions and a great, laid back patio area out back, with furniture straight out of your parents’ backyard and an outdoor fireplace. You can even smoke cigarettes out there. Twenty five cent wings on Sundays and Mondays after 6:00 PM. Also, ladies - for some reason everyone who works there is fucking insanely jacked, so if you’re into meatballs, this is your new spot. You can probably find these guys at Tavern in the Square, too, but I don’t go in there without full haz-mat gear on, and my full face respirator is broken right now, so I can’t confirm that.
But perhaps after all of this feasting you are eager to relieve your stomach with a nice stroll or some other physical activity. Straddling the Allston-Brighton-Brookline border, the park at the summit of Summit Avenue offers pretty okay views of Allston, Brookline, and depending on the season, the downtown skyline. The park consists of a vast forty degree angle hill that is impractical for any use but sitting down. About halfway down the hill is a beautiful oak tree that must be hundreds of years old. It is a wonderful place to spend about forty five minutes to an hour. Well, maybe like half an hour. You might feel obligated to hang out for a while, because the uphill walk is a bitch. I guess it’s worth it.
If you walk down Allston Street towards Commonwealth Avenue, you will find Ringer Park, a legendary spot. Located directly behind an elementary school, you can toss a football and get heckled from the windows by children who are exploiting their underpaid teachers’ indifference. If you wander up the hill to the basketball courts, you better make sure you left your cell phone and wallet at home, because they are definitely not safe nestled under a sweatshirt at the base of the hoop. Replete with asphalt warped by the roots of old trees, these courts are great if you like being called a faggot by urban high school kids every time you take a shot. Amongst clouds of blunt smoke, they also like to yell “brick” and “pussy” at every opportunity. They really know how to take advantage of those laws that prohibit adults from assaulting minors.
If you can get by the crowd of boring shitheads standing in line outside of Tavern, you will find the two decent bars in Allston further down Brighton Avenue. First, on the corner of Allston Street is Silhouette Lounge, a serial recipient of Boston Magazine’s “Best Dive Bar” award. It features cheap pitchers, free popcorn, and a room dedicated to darts. You’re probably not going to find a venereal-disease-free member of the opposite sex here, but it’s a good place to listen to Thin Lizzy and rabble rouse with the fellas. Also - a good place to take a date to find out if she’s high maintenance or stuck up. Beware, however, if you have ever experienced incontinence. It is extremely difficult for a man to take a shit here. There is no door on the stall in the bathroom, presumably to prevent people from doing the shitty coke that you can acquire from one of the regulars off of the bacteria-infested toilet seat. Keep that in mind, when you’re drinking your fifth pint of Miller High Life, stuffing popcorn down your throat, and chain smoking butts.
Further down Brighton Avenue, where it intersects with Cambridge Street lies Deep Ellum. Deep Ellum, named after some shitty hipster neighborhood in Dallas or something, is actually a pretty great bar. Adorned with old-fashioned, belt-driven ceiling fans, dark wood, and a buffalo skull, the atmosphere is perfect for an early evening cocktail or a casual meal. Although they charge four dollars for a fucking Hebrew National hot dog, their menu offers a lot of solid, interesting options. The Reuben is spectacular, although it has been spelled “Rueben” on the menu for at least a year, the error surviving other changes to the menu. What the fuck is that all about? I guess it’s hard to fuck up a Reuben, though, so I’m not sure how commendable their performance is in this area. The Pork Belly appetizer is also excellent, accompanied by some sweet, mashed up corn type of shit. The skin on top is perfectly braised, and the meat is fatty and literally becomes liquid in your mouth. They also have a charcuterie plate that is pretty damn expensive, but if you are into pate and weird cured sausage and shit like that, it just might change your life. If you’re thirsty, they make an excellent Old Fashioned, which consists of rye, maraschino cherry, orange zest, and bitters. In addition to their impressive cocktail list, the bar boasts an array of hard to find microbrews, and at least three quarters of the staff is likable.
When you walk down Cambridge Street towards the Pike, you come to a foot bridge. If you look East at a certain time of evening, past the freight yards and the river, you can see the sun reflecting off the John Hancock Building. You can see the fading sunlight hit the gold dome of the state house and illuminate the brownstones of Back Bay. Beyond that, the Financial District, and beyond that, the islands of the harbor. Airplanes depart in all directions from Logan Airport. Lights switch on in the buildings downtown. Wealthy women straighten their hair in marble bathrooms and boring fat guys ask their female coworkers to get a quick cocktail after work and are rejected. Somewhere, a teenager is arrested for shoplifting. A homeless man pats a child on the head and coughs up blood. But you are oblivious to it all, lost somewhere in Allston.
54 Harvard Avenue
Allston, MA 02134
34 Harvard Avenue
Allston, MA 02134
200 Brighton Avenue
Allston, MA 02134
477 Cambridge Street
Allston, MA 02135