For a change of scenery with not too terribly long of a drive, Boston could be just the thing. New England’s largest city is a walkable, manageable place with plenty of gay-friendly atmosphere to go around.
If you hop in your car, the scoot up the freeway is just under six hours (or you can fly from Philadelphia to Boston’s Logan Airport for around $250). Either way, it’s cool to watch through the window as the Mid-Atlantic gives way to New England.
For the gay and lesbian traveler, Boston is simply a fun place to be yourself. You can scope out the gay area in the South End or go for a stroll along the Charles River in Cambridge, taking in the skyline along the way.
If you have the desire to go window shopping or to plot your next shopping conquest, do it at the ultra high-end Copley Place mall, at 2 Copley Place in the Back Bay. This buyer’s paradise features a Barney’s New York, Louis Vuitton and Burberry, among others, all under one roof. But don’t forget the famous Newbury Street and the street corners of the North End.
Do your nerves (and wallet) a favor if you drive: Park somewhere safe and take public transportation, known as The T. Most tourists don’t know this, but you can get the plastic “Charlie Card” by asking the station attendant, as you won’t be able to get it from the automated machine. Rides without the card are normally $2, but when you’ve got Charlie in your pocket, the fare drops to $1.70, saving you 15 percent.
Be careful to leave enough time between each of your trips, as the trains are really just small streetcars that fill up fast. Oftentimes they are so overflowing with passengers that riders must wait for the next one.
To help your dollar travel even further, consider getting the MassValuePass before you leave Philadelphia. It’s a free savings card that offers dining discounts, buy-one-get-one-free deals at Boston hotels and reduced museum admissions. Check it out at www.massvacation.com.
The lobster roll is a delicious way to savor a taste of New England. A self-described “lobster roll fan” (OK, it’s my boyfriend) said it’s all right to treat yourself to a bit more of an expensive roll than the ones found at Boston food courts. The $25 version at B&G Oysters, 550 Tremont St., was “generously filled with large chunks of lobster” and was well complemented with lemon aioli and chives. The bun was slightly warmed and “perfectly buttery,” he reports. And for the daredevil lobster lover, try the B.L.T. with lobster. [www.bandgoysters.com]
For a break from seafood, the charming Mamma Maria in the North End offers regional Italian cuisine including pappardelle with rabbit and braised short ribs. It’s a good idea to call ahead for reservations and ask for the petite second-floor private room for two that overlooks a cobblestone square if you want something extra cozy and romantic. [3 North Square; (617) 523-0077; www.mammamaria.com]
After dinner, stay in the neighborhood and indulge in some genuine Italian flights of fancy at one of the most-packed bakeries you’ll ever see. Don’t let the big crowd scare you at Mike’s Pastry at 300 Hanover St. They have fast service as the clerks call out cheerily to help the next customer and tidily wrap up the goodies with string dangling from a contraption in the ceiling.
The regular cannolis are terrific. But for something slightly different, go for the light and delicate chocolate-mousse cannoli. You can gobble them down right there if you’re lucky enough to get one of the window tables. [www.mikespastry.com]
Although Philadelphia certainly has more than its fair share of universities, nothing compares to Boston and its neighbor, Cambridge. Two of the country’s biggest names in higher education — Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — are here. There are more IQ points per square block here than quite possibly anywhere else. You can soak in some of the brainy atmosphere starting at the Harvard Square Station. See the monument to the school’s namesake, John Harvard, in Harvard Yard. Go ahead, don’t be shy, pronounce it like a local while you’re waiting in line to get your picture taken in front of his seated statue: “Haahvahd Yaahd.”
For a place to rest your head at night, the winsome Encore Bed and Breakfast awaits your visit. This South End cozy inn is run by a real husband-and-husband team (same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts). Encore is located in a 19th-century townhouse and features highly personalized rooms and an intimate atmosphere. “I really like the mixture of the people we get,” Reinhold Mahler says. “Very, very seldom do we get boring people.”
Mahler says the one condition his partner had to agree to when he moved from his native Germany years ago was that they had to live in the South End. The two then proceeded to design their dream establishment that today comprises rooms inspired by such names as Bernstein, Robbins and Sondheim.
“I think the South End is a very tolerant neighborhood where you find everything. Gays and straight families ... I think that’s all part of the South End that it represents the country as a big melting pot. It has everything and it’s very open,” says Mahler. “A man can walk around the streets holding hands and nobody even cares — it’s great.” [Encore Bed and Breakfast, 116 W. Newton St.; www.encorebandb.com.]
Boston’s welcoming atmosphere is echoed by Bill Svetz, the general manager at Fritz, Boston’s only gay sports bar. He suggests stopping by the neighborhood pub on a warm night, when he opens the windows so customers can enjoy the breeze. Ask for Bill; he’ll show you around the place.
You might just catch a jock or two, as the bar sponsors two gay softball teams. “Everyone’s looking for new faces,” he says with a chuckle. [Fritz, 26 Chandler St.; (617) 482-4428]