Boston’s Back Bay has developed a refreshingly fun atmosphere this season

Summer marks a return to activity for city’s busy shopping and residential district

Despite the recent oppressive heat, people waited to park at the Capital Grille at 359 Newbury St. Photo by Thomas Brennan

The picket fence of the neighborhood’s streets with Boylston, Newbury and Commonwealth Avenue and the alphabet of cross streets that run from the Boston Common to Mass Avenue are back to bustling with activity of all sorts this summer. It’s a hum that hasn’t been stifled even by heat or slow economic recovery.

City residents are eager and ready to leave their homes and enjoy the community as it thrives while visitors from all over are excitedly exploring the city’s many attractions and landmarks. Markeety Tate, a longtime resident, said the Back Bay has a feeling of exuberance that was missing for so much of the last 18 months. “People all over are finding their joy around here,” she said. “There’s a great deal to behold for anyone looking for a good meal, a bit of shopping, or just hoping to pass the time in a city with those you hold dear.”

With the hottest time of year comes the heaviest foot traffic. A rise in restaurant-goers brings more bookings and tighter lines. Melissa Flamburis, a Boston real estate agent, spoke about highlights of the area’s activities. “Boston is doing great as far as ramping up. It’s all turning around.” Massachusetts locals and tourists from all over are coming in at all times of the week, she said, but the weekends seem to be the busiest. “I see many more tourists in the city, frequenting the area compared to last year. On the weekends, Newbury Street in particular is so busy, I see the retail shops are busy, people coming out for ice cream, food, frequenting the coffee shops.”

Diners enjoyed the outdoors and the shade at Joe's on Newbury. Photo by Thomas Brennan

Thanks to all that foot traffic there’s been a great boost to businesses all over the Back Bay, “The bartenders and waiters there and at Abe & Louie’s on Boylston say they’re slammed with business. If you are going out on a weekend you definitely need to have a reservation,” Flamburis added. Many restaurants have exterior areas for meeting higher demands of seating, though in city venues maximizing the use of every available millimeter is a necessity.

Boston has in the last few years introduced street dining as a means of expanding business for restaurants and that was expanded during the pandemic in 2020. On Newbury Street, cordoned off exterior dining areas lines the sidewalks, especially in the area Clarendon to Gloucester streets. There are some with mixed feelings on less parking space among Bostonians, but most find this change more of an amenity than an inconvenience. “There definitely needs to be a balance so people have places to park,” Flamburis said, “but I do feel the outdoor seating is bringing more people to the area which brings more people out shopping and supporting all the local businesses.”

The parking lot at Dartmouth and Newbury streets has remained rather closed and empty over the course of the last year. For neighborhood residents the lot has been a rather off-putting fixture of the neighborhood’s view and for visitors it has been a rather baffling irritation of unutilized parking space in a rather packed area. Sources told styleboston that it appears that construction on the site, believed to be a mixed us of office and retail, could begin this Fall.

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Food and fashion are not the only choices with Posman bookstore at 127 Newbury St. Photo by Thomas Brennan

Newbury has welcomed as well as bid farewell to a few entries in Boston’s storefront lineup. Posman bookstore on Newbury has made for an excellent option for purchasing novels of all sorts. The Capital Burger has also opened just a few months ago and already picked up a strong base of lunch and dinner goers. This past year has unfortunately also come with some closings alongside its openings. Several Boston fixtures have sealed their doors for one reason or another and now leave only a bare window front with a “for lease” taped to the glass.

Sarah Whitlock, an experienced Boston party and event planner opened up about some of the most unfortunate closings, “I was a loyal Lord & Taylor shopper for over 20 years and really enjoyed having a reasonably priced department store in the neighborhood. The loss of the store also leaves a very prominent and very large Boylston Street storefront empty.

Retail is not the only one to close doors. Icons of Boston’s bar scene such as Whiskey’s and The Pour House are closed up permanently. These places carried fond memories for many who have lived in Boston for decades. “Two of my favorite restaurants, Stella and Eastern Standard, closed during the pandemic. Stella was a great neighborhood meeting spot in the South End where you could always get a great meal and run into some neighbors,” said Whitlock. “Eastern Standard, in Kenmore Square, was the place everyone would gather before Red Sox games or concerts at Fenway Park. It always had a happy and festive atmosphere due to the fans and concert goers.” 

As time goes on, storefronts and diners might come and replace those spaces, bringing fresh thrills for many. Though that doesn’t diminish the impact and warm memories of these businesses had for those who came and went to the Back Bay.

The Back Bay is still the best place in the city to walk dogs, people watch, and catch up with friends. Photo by Thomas Brennan

Despite all the losses, this year holds so many things to look forward to. The Back Bay has never lacked for spirit, but this summer it feels revitalized. People are out in the sun with sanguine smiles as they go about our little metropolis; free to meet with friends and participate in the public community. As Flamburis put it quite aptly: “We were all so cooped up for so long with Covid, we are all dying to get back to ‘normal’.” Everyone seems ready and willing to step outside into a new start. After all that’s happened in recent times, a bright summer day with the freedom to feel ordinary isn’t just important, it’s deserved.

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