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Mar 8

The Charms of Copley Square

History

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Posted by Max Grinnell, guest blogger of The Urbanologist

If you’ve been to Boston once, you’ve most likely set foot in Copley Square. Located at the heart of the city, it is dedicated to that most illustrious native son, that painter of portraits, the one and only John Singleton Copley. As a place dedicated to an artist, it is a place for all walks to gather and commune. Perhaps on a fall day, you will come and buy some apples from local farmers. On another day, you might stop by for a bit of outdoor entertainment. But why stop by for just another afternoon or a lunch break? The delights of Copley Square are best enjoyed as part of a long, luxurious weekend and here’s what you should do during those days and nights.

After 100 years, the glamor is still there

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Photo: Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel

With over 100 years of history, the Fairmont Copley Plaza is a veritable wellspring of collective memory from family gatherings, important civic moments, formal dances, and a cornucopia of other fetes. This cumulative texture, along with luxurious rooms, grand public spaces, and their famous & friendly canine hosts in the lobby (Catie & Carley Copley), presents all the necessary ingredients for a successful visit to the neighborhood.

The hotel recently went through a $20 million dollar renovation project and their exquisite attention to detail as part of this project shows in the grandeur of the Peacock Alley, which provides a grand flourish for guests entering from St. James Avenue.

It’s an absolute gem of a space and all are welcome to visit and peruse its thoughtful and sumptuous design. As you walk through the space, you’ll want to look up and then down to see the lovely hand-laid mosaic tile floor. The art on the walls is in the modern fashion, as they feature signed lithographs by Matisse, Picasso and Chagall.

Peacock

Photo: Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel’s Peacock Alley

Across the Street, a Public Palace

Photo: Boston Public Library Interior

To my mind, a city is only as strong and vibrant as its public library system. Boston is quite fortunate in this regard as it has a vast network of branch libraries and its well-known Copley Square headquarters. And what a set of treasures are contained within its walls for any visitor with an interest in architecture, art, and maps. One should plan on staying for a few hours and it’s safe to say this visit might get extended several times.

First up, the library offers a fine tour once a day (check here) that highlights the architecture of the building, along with insights into the works here by John Singer Sargent and other notables. If you don’t come during a scheduled tour, you can always use this rather lovely guide to the art and architecture of the building.

BPL Map Center

Photo: Boston Public Library Map Center

Beyond the objets d’arts and other trappings of these buildings, there is also the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, which is a delight for anyone with even a passing interest in the world of maps and cartography. There’s always something wonderful to see here, and with thousands of maps that date from the 15th century to the present day, the items here are a feast for the eyes. If you hurry, you can catch the splendid “Made in Boston” collection, which features the earliest city map of Boston and some gems by that celebrated North Ender, Paul Revere.

What’s that? You’re hungry? Ah, yes, it’s been quite a day. Wander over to the Map Room Café, which offers up light sandwiches, soups and more. And bonus: you’ll be dining amidst a range of historic map reproductions culled from the Library’s collections. Also, if you’re looking for something a bit more formal, there’s the Courtyard Restaurant, which provides fine views of the Italianate courtyard, naturally.

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Photo: Map Room Café

A Place for Worship and an Architectural Marvel

After your visit to the Boston Public Library, you would be wise to stop by the Trinity Church, on the other side of Copley Square. It is a marvelous masterwork by Henry Hobson Richardson and visitors from around the world come to examine its rough stones, heavy arches and the over 21,000 square feet of murals inside this ponderous building.

Free tours of the church are offered every Sunday after the 11:15 a.m. service and guided tours ($7) are offered on a regular basis throughout the week. A complete schedule of those tours can be found here and you can also learn more about the history of the building and its architecture via that link.

trinitychurch

Photo: Trinity Church

Step Inside, Feel the Warmth

You’ve had a long day and now it’s time to celebrate the violet hour in style. Walk across the street from Trinity Church and into the OAK Long Bar & Kitchen back inside the Fairmont Copley. This is my kind of place: decor that speaks of an era of lost elegance that has been rediscovered, along with the rich wood paneling, the cozy chairs, and a host of other details tell you “Attention must be paid.”

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Photo: OAK Long Bar & Kitchen

I could tell you about their wines, the lovely cocktail drinks blended and muddled just so, but let me recommend the martini service first and foremost. It’s the kind of proper offering that will encourage conversation with others and perhaps a moment of meditation on hospitality in our time. Grab a cocktail napkin and start scribbling, if you are so inclined.

During this service, you may get hungry. Actually, I’m sure you’ll get hungry, so browse on over to their menu and see what’s on offer. From my own evening time repast here, I can recommend any of the flatbreads (tip to the crispy porchetta); an ideal troika of the small plates would include the hearth roasted Spanish octopus, charred cauliflower, and the Kobe meatballs.

After such a day, you’ll be tired and probably wanting to go upstairs to contemplate all that you have seen in a day that has found you exploring the cultural delights of Copley Square. Go upstairs, your bed has been turned down. Time to sleep and prepare for the next day.

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