Bins of brushes, passels of paints, plus everything from buttons and beads to hand-printed papers and zinc plates for etching fill the two floors of this huge art-supply supermarket. And all art books are at least 20 percent off. 579 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA .
Does your windowsill already resemble a jungle, but you still need one more hedgehog aloe? Is your sun porch incomplete without twin philodendrons flanking the entrance? Then you just might be the kind of urban gardener Niche caters to. Its two retail locations are all-in-one stops for plants, pots, soil, fertilizer, tools, and, yes, more plants, letting you indulge your green thumb without sacrificing your prime city real estate. 619 Tremont St., Boston, MA nicheplantshop.com.
With floor-to-ceiling windows and a string-lit terrace showcasing Green Monster vistas, Hotel Commonwealth’s new event space hits it out of the park. Part of the hotel’s recent $50 million makeover, the just-built wing is now the perfect spot for both Sox fans and culinary-minded couples to celebrate their love: The catering menu features dishes inspired by on-site hot spots Eastern Standard and Island Creek Oyster Bar. 500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA hotelcommonwealth.com.
For many Bostonians, summer is a savored moment wedged between the brutal bookends of the New England winter. For skiers, it's an interruption. They're already dreaming of the first snowstorm. Bob Smith's Wilderness House caters to these people—novices and experts alike—because the staff feels their pain. Völkl, Salomon, Rossignol: The employees here know them all and can discuss at length the merits of each brand (and the best slopes to break them in). Custom boot fitting puts the icing on the cake. 1048 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA .
Anyone tired of cheesy, slick portraits on fake backgrounds will appreciate the simply, honest beauty of Unger's work. She prefers her subjects unposed in familiar surroundings with natural light. The result: refreshingly candid and artful shots. And she prints everything in classy black and white on high-quality paper, perfect for a long-lasting family heirloom.
Overnighting at a Lenox mansion is a thrill in its own right, so we recommend you combine a sumptuous meal at Blantyre with an equally luxurious stay. Striking tapers, crystal glassware, and courtly waiters set the scene for an extravagant dinner of halibut bouillabaisse, Bordelaise beef tenderloin, and brandy-flavored foie gras. It's okay if it all stimulates another kind of appetite: You are sleeping over. 16 Blantyre Rd., Lenox, MA 1240, blantyre.com.
The décor is worn; the waiters, crusty. The low-priced seafood, on the other hand, couldn't be fresher, and the kitchen knows what to do with it, displaying considerable finesse with battered fried clams, seared scallops, and buttery chowder made with leftovers from the catches of the day. While some people may be put off by the No Name's unfussy shtick—the restaurant famously serves water by the pitcher in tiny paper cups—regulars know it's part of what amounts to one of the tastiest bargains in Boston. 15 1/2 Fish Pier, Boston, MA nonamerestaurant.com.
Texas smoke versus Memphis rub, vinegar tang versus peppery heat—barbecue debates will likely rage until kingdom come (and straight on into the sweet hereafter). This year our returning champion silenced at least one point of contention—which of its two outlets is better—by debuting a central, honking-big smoker (reportedly New England's largest) that turns out uniformly succulent sliced brisket, pulled pork, and an array of other regional specialties for both Blue Ribbon locations, as well as its booming catering business. 1375 Washington St., West Newton, MA blueribbonbbq.com.
First, Idaho russets are aged for at least a month before the peeling, cutting, and rinsing commences. Next comes a low-temperature dunk in the fryolator. Finally, the Belgian-style frites are flash-fried to order in a vegetable-oil blend, salted, and corralled into a stiff paper cone—and only then are they ready to be dunked into one of the 12 house-made sauces on offer (we're partial to the curry ketchup, cheddar Duvel, and "Saturday-night chive"). 33 Union St., Boston, MA eatfrites.com.
This off-the-beaten path spot in East Cambridge has been around for decades, yet somehow manages to make us feel like we're discovering something new every time we visit. Such are the wonders of the authentic Afghani cuisine—kaddo, or pan-fried baby pumpkin baked with ground beef, and aushak, or paper-thin ravioli skins with a bright leek filling. Don't pass up dessert—the homemade cardamom ice cream with pistachios is a knockout. 143 First St., Cambridge, MA helmandrestaurant.com.
This swanky spot in the Hotel Commonwealth combines the comforts of a hotel bar—plush chaise lounges, velvet armchairs—with the top-notch libations and luxurious snacks of a craft-cocktail den. Unwind with an Aperol-and-bourbon-laced "Paper Plane" and an order of the raclette-topped fingerling "potato skins," and you just might forget you're not sleeping upstairs. 500A Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA thehawthornebar.com.
Amid the vibeless businesses catering to tourists around the Common, Thinking Cup reminds us of the downtown that Bostonians deserve: grownup, urbane, and a little sexy. Outfitted with a sweeping marble counter and leather banquettes, this newcomer channels an old-school European café while crafting deeply flavorful espressos, lavish Valrhona-chocolate mochas, and mor—all using Oregon's legendary Stumptown roasts. But the apex of Thinking Cup's artisanry just might be its Pour Over: a single flawless cup, ground and brewed expressly for you. 165 Tremont St., Boston, MA 2111, thinkingcup.com.
Where to go when you're craving fantastic raw creations on a burned-out budget: Douzo, near Back Bay Station, which serves up little sushi treasures that are every bit as pristine (if a tad less transcendent) as those at the city's big-price bars. The loungey space is hopping on weekends, but don't let that distract from the kitchen's deft flavor-texture balancing act, as displayed in the torched toro maki wrapped with asparagus and paper-thin raw jalapeño. 131 Dartmouth St., Boston, MA 2116, douzosushi.com.
Gordon's is Waltham's answer to one-stop shopping for wine and spirits aficionados. The wine market has a solid foundation in Bordeaux in addition to an impressive international selection; in addition, Gordon's sells a wide range of single-malt scotches and imported tequilas. Added amenities: a gourmet catering service, a glassware department, and an e-mail newsletter listing daily specials. 892 Main Street, Waltham, MA gordonswine.com.
The Globe's assault on Herald reporter Beverly Ford, which claimed wrongly that she had made up an interview in the Reverend Accelyne Williams case. Globe reporter Tom Mashberg defended Ford, became persona non grata at his paper, and left shortly after the incident. Meanwhile, you can read Mike Barnicle regularly in the Globe.