Connoisseur: February 2010: Neighborhoods: On Location: Inman Square

By Alyssa Giacobbe | Boston Magazine |

While most of cambridge has changed dramatically-Harvard Square these days is more American Apparel than university radical-Inman Square has retained the bohemian feel that’s drawn hippie kids to places like Ryles jazz club since the ’70s. Now it’s gaining popularity among artsy young South Enders exiled by steep rents and doublewide strollers. With $14 martinis as easy to come by as $3.50 cans of Pabst, Inman does have a certain high-low appeal that’s gone missing in Boston. "Inman’s always been a little gritty," says chef-restaurateur Chris Schlesinger, whose East Coast Grill marks its 25th anniversary this year. "Thirty years ago, it was about the music; now it’s about the food." But as with any hot spot in the making, rents here are rising (a two-bedroom apartment might go for about $1,700, compared with just over a grand a decade ago), and by 2014 the Green Line extension will make the neighborhood even more accessible. If history means anything, however, Inman will keep its cool.

CHOW DOWN The Schaefer-guzzling crowd skews upscale hipster at Trina’s Starlite Lounge (3 Beacon St., trinastarlitelounge.com), where the decor has a kitschy, grandma’s-hand-me-down vibe: vintage barware, bathrooms Inman Squaredecoupaged with pages from old Life magazines. Year-old eatery Tupelo (1193 Cambridge St., tupelo02139.com) draws a steady stream of families with such southern comfort food as fried grits, fried oysters, and fried catfish (note: the chicken is roasted). Irish brunch at the Druid (1357 Cambridge St., druidpub.com) lets barflies fuel up on black and white pudding, beans, and sausage, while the All Star Sandwich Bar (1245 -Cambridge St., allstarsandwichbar.com) offers up supersized sandwiches and a random but welcome poutine. Which brings us to the pain-erasing margaritas at Ole (11 Springfield St., olegrill.com). Bellyache? What bellyache?

HANG OUT Most afternoons, students and other free agents gather for Mexican hot chocolate at the 1369 Coffee House (1369 Cambridge St., 1369coffeehouse.com). Others prefer the divey Bukowski Tavern (1281 Cambridge St., 617-497-7077), where the beer lineup includes those beloved cans of $3.50 PBR and the half-pound burger comes topped with chunky peanut butter. The triannual Hell Night at East Coast Grill (1271 Cambridge St., eastcoastgrill.net) gets patrons fired up with "wicked hot" food, like the justly named Pasta from Hell (which requires a release form). This month the restaurant holds its annual Bob Marley birthday bash, featuring Jamaican beef patties, Red Stripe beer, and, inevitably, "Stir It Up" on repeat.

SHOP Two of the most noteworthy Inman retailers are for kids: Bird by Bird (1361 Cambridge St., mybirdbybird.com),which deals in urban-cute shoes and clothing, and Stellabella Toys (1360 Cambridge St., stellabellatoys.com), which sells "educational" items including a line of microbe-inspired plush toys like "Giardia" and "Swine Flu." Buy the kids a cone at Christina’s (1255 Cambridge St., christinasicecream.com) and pop next door to browse the 250 exotic seasonings at the Christina’s spice shop. Also worth a visit is gift specialist Boutique Fabulous (1309 Cambridge St., boutiquefabulous.com), stocked with home accessories and vintage clothing and furs. Save some time-and cash-for 20th Century Provenance (348 Broad-way, provenance20.com), a Mad Men set designer’s dream filled with Danish modern, art deco, and other retro furniture and housewares.

INDULGE Near Trina’s, Inman Oasis (243 Hampshire St., inmanoasis.com) gives a reasonably priced back rub, and has public and private "hydrotherapy tubs" (a.k.a. hot tubs). It’s not the Spa at the Mandarin, but it’s clean and welcoming, and, in the dead of winter, not a bad way to spend an afternoon-or 10 bucks.

Photographs by Christian Kozowyk

Inman Square by the Numbers
As in the rest of Cambridge, housing costs in Inman have crept up over the past 10 years. Who’s moving in? More young professionals, says Lorna Hayward of ABG Residential in Inman Square.

Average 1-family home sale price: $564,000
Average condo sale price: $392,484
Average price per S.F. (condo): $395
Average rent for 2-bed: $1,650
Figures from fourth-quarter 2009, provided by ABG Residential, 307 Cambridge St., Cambridge, abgresidential.com.