Establishment neighborhood
Barcelona Wine Bar
525 Tremont St., South End
Barcelona is a convivial, lively wine and tapas bar in trendy South End, an area that's also home to the long-established Toro. But clearly the neighborhood’s appetite for Spanish food has spiked—both spots are perpetually full. There are a few other Barcelonas, and all are good, but here, it’s the atmosphere as much as the food that keeps guests planted in the wooden seats well past bedtime. Given that Spanish food is designed to be shared, going with hungry friends—and therefore an excuse to order half the menu—is entirely sensible. A heavy, steaming pan of saffron-flecked paella is made for many spoons, while garlicky gambas (prawns) al ajillo, boquerones (anchovies) slick with oil, and a platter of jamón sit firmly in the dig-in-with-your fingers category. Linger at the table with a last glass of sweet sherry, and mop up every remaining morsel with hunks of crusty bread.
53 Dartmouth St., South End
In Irish, “follain” means wholesome, and this word is certainly an apt descriptor for Tara Foley’s beauty emporium. The legal professional turned clean-beauty entrepreneur has turned her frustrations—the dearth of nontoxic beauty products—into a brick-and-mortar business with two locations in Boston and seasonal pop-ups all over. The store itself, with its rustic farmhouse vibe, is the kind of place you instantly feel comfortable. Bright and beautifully merchandized with white subway-tile walls, deep sinks stacked with cotton towels for trying and washing off products, and shelves lined with plants and products by the likes of goop-approved Tata Harper, May Lindstrom, Pai, and True Botanicals to name a few of the over fifty lines Follain stocks. More often than not, Foley herself is on hand to offer advice and point you and your skin concerns in the right direction.
MiniLuxe Boston
31 Newbury St, Back Bay
Like MiniLuxe’s other locations around the country, this spot is known for its soothing, minimalist interiors, a selection of six-free polishes (meaning free from six toxic ingredients, like formaldehyde, found in conventional polish), excellent service, and waxing specialists cheekily called “editors.” Maximize your time and book brows, nail treatments, and waxing, since, as we mentioned, this spot has it all. Trust us and spring for the slightly more expensive performance polish manicure, a forty-five-minute treatment that uses the brand’s in-house polish line that dries in five minutes and wears like a gel (meaning it will last close to two weeks).
641A Tremont St, South End
Canadian couple Andrea and Chris Scott set out to create the anti-spa spa—a place with none of the soothing-to-no-one whale music or cloyingly feminine interiors. Instead, Skoah is a fairly no-frills, approachable, gender-neutral facial spa that’s affordable enough to make booking treatments a regular occurrence rather than a rare treat (the wallet-friendly membership options help). Treatment rooms resemble tiny Scandinavian cabins—white wood walls, silky-sheeted beds, and plenty of light. Facials are thought of as workouts for the skin, the goal being a clear, healthy, and hydrated complexion. We like the “xtreme,” which is accompanied by a foot facial and scalp massage (less headaches have to equal less forehead scrunching, right?), all performed using Skoah’s own plant-based line of products, made in Canada.
Bella Santé
38 Newbury St, Back Bay
Bella Santé is a convenient one-stop shop for beauty in Boston—facial treatments, massage, manicures, pedicures, and a full hair program. These are no run-of-the-mill facials, either. Expect medical-grade treatments, like dermaplaning (gently scraping off the top layer of dead skin cells to allow deeper penetration of products) and microneedling (tiny needles are run over the face to induce inflammation—the good kind—that kick-starts collagen production). Both may sound torturous, but they don’t hurt in the least. The nonmedical facials use Skinceuticals products. Moving from the face to the crown, the blowouts are speedy, and the color technicians know what they’re doing; the same goes for the manicures and pedicures. Book in for a full day of pampering with a girlfriend and allow for plenty of time between treatments to kick back in the relaxation rooms in your robes.
Balans Organic Spa
216 Newbury St, Back Bay
The only 100 percent organic spa in Boston (on pretty Newbury Street, no less), Balans specializes in plant-based treatments. This is a full-service outfit with an adjacent wellness center for nutrition, meditation, and exercise needs. The facials are customized entirely to your skin and accompanied by a complimentary nutrition and health consultation (if you like). Aside from the aesthetic treatments, Balans has a flotation tank to help fully relax the mind, the idea being to remove any kind of stimulant—unless you want to listen to music or a guided meditation. This water is Dead Sea–level salty by way of Epsom salts, to permeate the skin with essential minerals, so floating isn’t something you need to think about—it just happens. The massages can be boosted with body brushing, too.
Drybar Boston
234 Clarendon St, Back Bay
It is impossible to dislike Drybar—the concept just works. Forty-five dollars will get you a wash and blowout, done in a beautiful, calm, yellow-flecked setting in record time. Cough up an additional ten dollars for a scalp massage during your shampoo. What’s most convenient about Drybar is that founder Alli Webb and her team realize that for many, two blowouts a week can save precious hours in the morning. Drybar’s membership options address this need and make that sleek, bouncy crown of hair a weekly reality rather than a celebratory treat. Just ask your stylist to go easy on the products—they tend to have a strong, identifiable scent that some don’t like.
ICA Boston
25 Harbor Shore Drive, South Boston
Originally an incubator for MoMA, the establishment officially became the Institute of Contemporary Art in 1948. It’s dedicated to identifying new artists and showing contemporary works in all mediums—including performance, film, and literature. What’s little known yet fascinating about the ICA is that the museum has introduced many of the most influential twentieth century artists, like Georges Braque and Edvard Munch, to US audiences. Aside from the stellar permanent collection, what keeps locals coming back is provocative exhibits in line with the cultural and political landscape. Currently on show are Caitlin Keogh’s investigation into gender and representation through large-scale paintings and Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu’s A Promise to Communicate, an installation of the grey rescue blankets used in humanitarian relief efforts around the world.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
25 Evans Way, Fenway
The Gardner museum offers art with a side of scandal. In 1990, thirteen works, including a rare Vermeer and Rembrandts valued at $500 million, were stolen by thieves posing as police. They’ve never been recovered, and the empty frames still hang in their original spots in memory of the lost works. Heist aside, this is probably the most beautiful museum in New England. Modeled on the Venetian palazzi adored by nineteenth-century socialite and philanthropist Isabella Gardner, it’s an immersive experience, with pencils and sheaves of paper nestled into corners and stacked on surfaces to encourage sketching. Although she was a Boston resident, Gardner spent most of her time exploring Europe and the Far East with her husband, accruing a collection of paintings, books, sculptures, and textiles—nearly 16,000 items in all. Sketches by Manet, Michelangelo, and John Singer Sargent, gothic tapestries, paintings by Velázquez and Titian, as well as an extensive furniture and rare books collection fill the galleries. Wander through the rooms of the palazzo and wind up in the courtyard, a cloistered space filled with sculptures, trees, tiles, and a proper Roman-style pond, all of which adds up…
Craigie on Main
853 Main St., Cambridge
Craigie on Main is one of those old-world restaurants where you order a cocktail at the bar before dinner, where the the food is coursed (not a small plate to share in sight), and where you do not steal glances at your phone. A farm-to-table, sort of French but mostly New American interpretation of a bistro, this place leans into the trappings of an old-school classic: starched white tablecloths, redbrick walls, and wood-shuttered windows. The menu is packed with comforting mainstays. Sweet, licorice-y fennel cuts through the richness of Craigie’s olive-oil-poached salmon, and the slow-cooked, thoroughly indulgent Vermont pork belly is a meal made for cold Boston winters. Either way, a side of white corn grits infused with peppery Pecorino is essential.
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