When people from this metropolis tell you where they're from, you're likely to hear people name the South End, Back Bay or any of the dozens of other enclaves as their home. This is a city of sharply defined neighborhoods. Others, not born here, come from all across America and the world, to live across the river in Cambridge, home to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; or to attend one of another 52 institutions of higher education in Metropolitan Boston.
If you're thinking people are proud of the city's almost 400-year history, you're right. Most visitors, even those here for just a day or two, fit into their itinerary at least one of the sights they heard about in history class, such as the Old North Church. (Remember the "one if by land, two if by sea" lanterns warning of the direction from which the British were coming?)
Sure, it's great to go shopping in historic Faneuil Hall or follow guides in powdered wigs around the Paul Revere House. But Boston is also a cutting-edge city, thanks in part to all those universities and the large student population. Look for clubs hosting the latest indie bands, restaurants with the trendiest fusion cuisine and boutique hotels that are so minimalist there's barely a place to sit down.
Like most places in Boston, Logan Airport is served by the oldest subway system in the US, the MBTA, known locally as the "T." There's also a water-ferry connecting the airport to the downtown harbor. If you prefer, a taxi ride to downtown will usually take just 10 minutes.
Trains and buses arrive at South Station, which is also on the T. See Amtrak for intercity train information. Major bus lines Greyhound and Peter Pan also operate from the South Station hub. Coach Run and Lucky Star also compete on the New York to Boston route, and beyond.
This is not a city where you'll want to drive around, so park the car and take public transportation. The T makes getting around town quick and easy with subway lines, rapid transit trams, and buses. Better yet, walk to your destination. The "Big Dig," which buried a highway that once ran through downtown, has reconnected many neighborhoods.
Hubway is a bike-sharing plan with unlimited rides of up to 30 minutes each (longer rides incur usage fees) from bike stations all around the downtown neighborhoods - over 1,800 bikes at 185 stations. Drop the bike at your destination and pick up another whenever you want to return. Join online for a day at $8, 72 hours at $15 or a full year for $99. For Cambridge rentals see CambridgeBicycle near Central Square, or the Bicycle Exchange in Porter Square.
Boston is the gateway for one of the country's top gay vacation destinations, Provincetown. The best way to get there is via one of the speedy vessels operated by the Bay State Cruise Company. Aboard WWII-style amphibious landing vehicles of Boston Duck Tours in Copley Place, you'll hit all the major sights on land, then splash into the Charles River for great skyline views.
Boston is very walkable, so put on some comfortable shoes and go out exploring.
The South End, the hub of the community, is a neighborhood of grand bow-front houses that had fallen into disrepair until catching the eyes of gays armed with hammers and paint brushes. There are plenty of restaurants along the major thoroughfares of Tremont Street and Columbus Avenue, and still a handful of popular gay and friendly bars. Jamaica Plain (called 'JP' locally) a bit further out the Orange Line, is a community of professionals, activists and artists, including many lesbians & gay men, mixed in with a large Latin population. Lots of small stores and restaurants line sections of Centre St. Nearby Jamaica Pond, a large and deep fresh water oasis, is surrounded by trees and parks, and the Arnold Arboretum has a 265-acre world-renowned plant collection maintained by Harvard University.
Back Bay is dominated by Victorian-era brownstones. Attractions include: Newbury Street shopping and dining, the Boston Public Library, the Prudential Center and Copley Place shopping malls, the Pru Tower Skywalk Observatory, and the Christian Science Mother Church grounds with a long reflecting pool near Symphony Hall. A footbridge over Storrow Drive brings you to the cruisy Esplanade, the Charles River-front park where people sun themselves, and where on Independence Day they come for Boston Pops concerts and fireworks. The Public Garden, between Back Bay and the Boston Common, has lawns, flower beds, and a small lake with swan boats.
Follow the red brick line of the Freedom Trail from Beacon Hill, above Boston Common, to the North End with its Italian caffes, groceries, and restaurants where the streets fill with people on the various days of the saints, and see Faneuil Hall/ Quincy Market, full of boutiques and food stalls, along the way. On the other side of the Common, the Theater District has a dozen or so restored stages offering plays, musicals, ballets and the opera. This is also where Hot Mess Sundays, one of the big weekly gay dance nights, takes place. Chinatown, bustling with stores and restaurants, is nearby.
Harvard Square has cafes, shops, restaurants, and people aplenty, plus Harvard Coop browsing, just a few subway stops from downtown Boston. The Harvard University campus buildings, some dating from the colonial era, and leafy quads all seem so far from the bustle of Mass Ave. The Charles River banks are a great place to picnic with provisions found in markets, delis and take-outs at this busy bike and pedestrian-friendly intersection. Central Square, one subway stop closer to MIT, also has lots of small ethnic restaurants, shops, and nightclubs with live music and dancing, popular with the many local students, along with the gay nightclub Paradise.
Neighborhoods of Boston where most people live, often have tight little business districts of small shops and mom & pop restaurants. Some cluster around T stations, so they're quick and easy to get to. Davis Square in Somerville, and Allston Village, along Harvard Avenue, are lively areas mixing both the old and the new. Coolidge Corner, the thriving commercial and cultural center of Brookline, is surrounded by ethnically diverse neighborhoods. In South Boston, although things are changing quickly, there are still Irish bars and restaurants, plus the L Street Beach and Castle Island Park on the Harborwalk. The now-departed L Street Bathhouse was once très gai in a down-low way, with nude swimming and sunning on the men's side of an old wooden fence.
Revere Beach, a long strip of sand at the end of the Blue Line on the T, is nice for promenade walks, eating fried clams, pizza or fries. There was once a wild Coney Island-style amusement park here, but condo-dwellers took over in the 1970s. Two pretty beach towns are each a short hop from North Station on an MBTA Purple Line commuter train: Singing Beach at Manchester has clean sands and good swimming but no public parking (so take the train); and the old fishing village of Gloucester has plenty of seafood restaurants to sample, and little shops to browse. For the gayest beach Provincetown is the best bet --an easy ferry ride from Boston Harbor.
Media and resources
Bay Windows is an informative gay weekly newspaper, with listings, news, reviews, and classifieds; in print and online. Boston Spirit is a 6 times-per-year gay lifestyle magazine freebie.
EDGE Boston has gay entertainment listings and event updates. Rainbow Times covers gay New England, and publishes annual Pride Guides for Boston, Connecticut and Northampton, MA. See ShuttaVac for Lesbian Takeovers and other special events for women.
The Boston Globe, one of two general public daily newspapers in the Hub, has a useful website for reviews and event listings all over New England. The Boston Phoenix, the local weekly general circulation alternative newspaper for arts, entertainment and local news, shut down in 2013, after 47 years in print.
Not For Tourists, the offbeat guide, has Boston area neighborhood pages too, with restaurants, shopping and nightlife tips.
The 200-voice Boston Gay Men's Chorus ensemble is one of New England’s largest and most successful community-based choruses, with concerts attended by over 10,000 people each season.
The Beantown Softball League, the largest athletic organization in New England open to LGBT people along with friends and allies, has 24 teams in four divisions of play.
For more LGBT & friends sports options see: The Boston Gay Basketball League; the Boston Strikers Soccer Club; Boston Pride Hockey; the CBVA (Cambridge Boston Volleyball Association); the FLAG (Friends, Lesbians, and Gays) flag football league; LANES (Liquid Assets New England Swimming); The Boston Ironsides Rugby Football Club; the OutRyders New England Gay Ski and Snowboard Club; and the Beantown Soft-Tip Dart League.
Although Massachusetts legalized recreational cannabis in November 2016, and recreational dispensaries are expected to open in 2018, the laws remain confusing. See the Potguide website for a guide to staying legal.
For locations and website links to businesses listed below, see our Boston gay map & listings pages.
Near the gay nightlife, the Chandler Inn (26 Chandler St; 617-482- 3450), boutique hotel in the South End, central to just about everywhere, either on foot or a short hop on the T. Three stations are nearby, including Back Bay with Amtrak service. The Trophy Room American Bisto & Bar is on their ground level, with bar snacks, small plates, dinner entrees and cocktails.
Chandler Studios (54 Berkeley St; 617-482-3450), 11 boutique efficiency studios and a one-bedroom suite, managed by Chandler Inn, steps from Tremont Street’s restaurant row, Copley Place and the Prudential Center.
For affordable lodgings close to everything 463 Beacon Street Guesthouse (463 Beacon St; 617- 536-1302) Back Bay brownstone is near Hynes Convention Center, Newbury Street shops, and all the nightlife. Guestroom kitchenettes have private bath, cable TV and wi-fi, and short-term apartments are available.
Renovated townhouses, Oasis Guesthouse and Adams B&B (22 Edgerly Rd; 617- 267- 2262), offer Back Bay lodging on a quiet street, with 31 guestrooms at reasonable rates in two neighboring properties. Comfort and amenities include breakfast, satellite TV, and Wi-Fi. Near Newbury Street shops and restaurants and Hynes Center.
Dyer Properties (10-18 Brainerd Rd, Allston/Brookline; 617-262-7342) has fully furnished studios, duplexes and suites in Boston for rentals by the month.
Boston has no shortage of hotels at the center. See our maps & listings section for over 30 options, from hostel beds and B&Bs, to 5-star luxury suites.
Bars & Clubs
The Alley (14 Pi Alley at 275 Washington), friendly neighborhood men's bar between Government Center and Downtown Crossing; bears, leather men, and regular guys play pool, meet friends, sing karoke, and make visitors feel comfortable. First Saturday Underbear parties and Mr Boston Bear contest in September.
The Boston Eagle (520 Tremont St), young professionals and regular guys, long the South End place to begin and/or end your night. Nothing spiffy, conversation and cruising; and Jack behind the bar.
Cathedral Station (1222 Washington St), South End gay sports bar, cockatails, pub fare menu, Saturday/Sunday and holiday Monday brunch, trivia game nights, patio seating
Club Cafe (209 Columbus), lunch and dinner bistro restaurant, Sunday brunch; music cabaret, video lounge, and dance club with Sunday Tea-Dance; 'Napoleon Room' piano bar, karaoke, drag bingo.
DBar (1236 Dorchester Ave), out from the center in residential Dorchester (take Red Line T or taxi). Full-service restaurant, comfort foods with a French twist, Sunday brunch; transforms into gay nightclub and lounge nightly, for dancing after 10pm.
The venerable Jacques (79 Broadway, Bay Village), has talented and sassy female impersonators galore and lots of spirited customers who aren't shy to show their appreciation. Twice monthly Fascination kink/fetish/gear nights take place at Jacques Underground live music concert venue.
Machine (1256 Boylston St), long-popular gay Friday and Sunday 18+ dances downstairs with live bands and go-go boys, plus upstairs Friday Gay Latin Nights; Saturday urban music dance nights with queer hip-hop, reggae, vogue and twerk beats. Second Saturdays feature Boston's largest 18+ dance party for women. Other night find dancing, karaoke, drag shows and sexy contests. Their lounge bar has pool tables and games. Downstairs early evening stage productions by the Gold Dust Orphans take place on weekends, when they're not in P'town.
The Middle East (472-74 Massachusetts Ave, Central Square, Cambridge) restaurant and nightclub complex of clubs and restaurants, serving falafel, humus, baba ghanooj, veggie or meat sandwiches and entrees, soups, burgers and wine; live entertainment and live music, party events, open mic comedy nights, food, belly dancers. ZuZu Bar breakfast, lunch and brunch, live music of many kinds 18+ (usually) dance parties. Midway between Harvard and MIT, a young and lively college crowd.
Paradise (180 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge), sexiest male strippers south of Montreal performing nightly on stage and mingling with the crowd. Downstairs the floor is packed for relaxed and cruisy weekend dancing, underwear Bulge Fridays.
Trophy Room (26 Chandler St), American bistro & bar, bar snacks and burgers, small plates, dinner, cocktails and weekend brunch, below Chandler Inn. Still popular with gay men from days when Fritz sports bar was here.
Besides Saga Saturdays, and Hot Mess Sundays the Chris Harris Group also produces gay mega events around town at holidays. Other regular weekly gay nights at The Estate, at Guilt, and at House of Blues have closed.
CLOSED: Rise (306 Stuart, Back Bay), 18+ after-hours membership weekend dance club; Randolph Country Club (44 Mazzeo Dr, Randolph), gay summer pool frolics, winter fireplace lounge; T.T. the Bear's (10 Brookline St, Cambridge), live bands, goth/fetish nights, 18+ Saturday Heroes.
Calamus Bookstore (92B South St, South Station), one of the world's best and last gay bookstores, CLOSED October 2016.
Boston City Hall hostility to bathhouses has made this a rare exception among large American cities. There are no tubs here or anywhere in New England, with the exception of Providence, Rhode Island -- an hour by road or train to the south.
Club Body Center (257 Weybossett St, Providence), 18+ gay bathhouse, exercise and games rooms, porn video lounge, fetish shows, College and Tranny Nights, steam and tanning. Cumunion on 4th Saturdays, free porn DVDs to the first 25 guests; and Gear/BDSM third Wednesdays. Day passes or regular memberships, and they never close.
For Italian food and coffee, head to Hanover Street and the surrounding area of the North End. For Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese food there are restaurants aplenty lining the streets of Chinatown. Back Bay's Newbury Street has cafes and restaurants of many varied cuisines and price range, and past the Pru Tower you'll find many more in the South End.
Quincy Market at Faneuil Hall is a cornucopia of taste treats, both inside the three main buildings and in streets around. During market days at nearby Haymarket the many open stalls overflow with fruits, vegetables, and fish, all fresh and cheap. This small block, home to the Union Oyster House, survived the wrecking ball and harks back to an older Boston.
The many Squares of Cambridge and Somerville across the Charles River are focal points for finding small cafes and a bounty of the cuisines of many ethnicities, European, Asian, and South American in particular.