Boston has a long-held reputation as a traditional city-in a good way-with historical landmarks and a panoply of architectural styles dating back to Colonial times. In recent years, though, modern spires have mixed into the city’s skyline and in the last few months, three of the city’s most famous hotels have emerged from major refreshes that more than bring them in line with contemporary times.
The Langham, Boston located in the city’s Financial District in the stately landmark 1922 building that formerly housed the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston emerged from a two year renovation in June with a fresh modern design by Richmond International which also spearheaded the design of the brand’s Chicago and London hotels. The furniture is sleek, in color schemes of sky blue and beige with rich brown accents in tufted leather headboards and seat cushions; green (as in banknotes) makes an appearance in the curved chairs in the lobby and light fixtures reminiscent of those used by bank tellers, a subtle reference to the building’s history. The overall effect is sharp but homey aided by soft, knubby, extremely touchable fabrics.
Art is very important here, starting with the monumental murals by N.C. Wyeth of Abraham Lincoln and his Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase facing off against George Washington, Robert Morris and Alexander Hamilton on an opposite wall in an event space named for the artist. But the 268 works, including 60 commissioned from local artists, spread throughout range from ceramic wall fixtures to a 7 foot tall hanging wire sculpture of the Lady Liberty coin head and eight classic oil portraits of past Federal Reserve of Boston presidents. The latter two hang in the hotel’s signature Italian restaurant Grana opening September 1st in the opulent former main hall of the bank.
Over in Back Bay, the Mandarin Oriental, Boston utilized the hotel’s closure during the onset of the COVID pandemic to commission a redo of the guest rooms and event spaces by Champalimaud Design. The result is residential and refined, a fusion of classic Chinoiserie, early New England design and European interpretations of East Asian artistic traditions. Curved velvet couches, subtle, patterned, Asian inspired wallpaper, custom carpets, black lacquered bedframes and tables and midcentury leather chairs are some of the elements that combine for the effect.
In the Royal Suite, at 2600 square feet the largest in Boston, designs include a custom carpet replicating the lattice patterns on Chinese window panels and screens, an art installation inspired by plum blossom petals, gold metal clusters on the ceiling that reflect light and wallpaper featuring blossom branches, butterflies and birds. Perhaps the most novel introduction, though, is MOBI, the hotel’s robot who can show you to your room and deliver amenities, the ultimate in contactless service and one with perfect manners: he asks you how you’re enjoying your stay and says goodbye before turning to go back to the lobby.
Bordering the Boston Public Garden, The Newbury Boston opened in May with a new name and entrance on the famous shopping street after a two-year transformation from its previous lives as The Ritz Carlton and Taj Boston. The new look is beautiful and dramatically different courtesy of its three world class designers. Jeffrey Beers of Jeffrey Beers International created the public spaces including the gray walled lobby with Nero Dorato dark marble floors, circular chandelier and bright modern art, the guests only library with vivid orange, forest green and royal blue contemporary couches and chairs and The Street Bar, evoking a speakeasy from the 1920s with leather barstools, dark wood paneling and jewel toned couches and chairs. Champalimaud Design also was tasked with transforming the guest rooms here which the company achieved utilizing a neutral color palette of beige, pale blue and gray, contemporary furnishings and fanciful chandeliers.
The third designer, Ken Fulk, really went into overdrive creating the look for the rooftop restaurant Contessa, the first Boston outpost of the Major Food Group known for its popular restaurants Carbone and Sadelle’s and currently the hottest restaurant opening in the city. The décor is theatrical from the moment guests enter the separate entrance next door on Newbury Street, winding through a hallway marked by large mosaic tiles, a mural of a whimsical banquet and images of starlets eating spaghetti. Up on the roof, the setting seems to be the bygone era garden of an Italian countryside resort or estate achieved through velvet banquettes, fringed overhanging lampshades, vintage Art Deco lanterns, marble floors and a multitude of shrubs. Only the panoramic Boston views through floor to ceiling windows bring you back to the city. The menu covers several regions (but not the south of Carbone) including classic Tuscan dishes such as Bistecca Fiorentina and tortellini en brodo, Genoese fusilli and Veal Milanese. Tables book up a month ahead.
Elsewhere, in the Seaport District, Nautilus Pier 4 is another new, popular restaurant that’s probably familiar to anyone who knows the Nantucket dining scene. This offshoot of the original opened in Boston in April sharing the same menu philosophy—mostly small plates with Latin and Asian overtones—along with some dishes; others have been designed specifically for this location. Everything is really vibrant and exciting, even dishes that you think you’ve tasted before such as Vietnamese beef tataki salad and two Hawaiian tuna poke or dishes that don’t necessarily sound irresistible but are such as the sweet and tangy crusted Indonesian chicken drumettes. The restaurant isn’t easy to find—it’s tucked around a corner of a nondescript building –but it’s worth seeking out.
How to get there: Amtrak has run into a delay with its updated Acela service moving it into 2022 but its smooth, reserved seat trains are still the fastest way to get to the city on the ground. A new entry in the air is the seaplane service introduced August 3rd by Tailwind Air between Boston Harbor and New York Skyport on E. 23rd Street in Manhattan; the flight itself is approximately 75 minutes.