Discerning boozehounds have long since perfected the art of snaking into this legitimately industrial hideaway, but Backbar’s drink artistry also extends to its deceptively potent non-alcoholic offerings. The unexpected-in-one-glass flavors are what pack a punch. An "avocado piña colada" is at once hot and cold, with familiar coconut milk and pineapple spiked with throat-warming curry and unctuous avocado. A fennel-saffron " absinthe lemonade without any absinthe" is a brighter, more brilliant spin on Death in the Afternoonwithout, you know, the impending death. 7 Sanborn Ct., Somerville, MA 2143, backbarunion.com.
For any Bostonian in search of beauty during a year of social isolation, the PEM’s fresh, eclectic slate of programming was well worth the trip up north. A survey of women who revolutionized fashion stood beside documentarian Peter Hutton’s film of a globetrotting container ship’s journey from construction to junkyard. Meanwhile, painter Jacob Lawrence’s landmark series The American Struggle shared a building with Indian street art, Zarah Hussain’s sound-and-animation exhibit detailing human breath, and Alexis Rockman’s collection of hyperreal paintings of famous shipwrecks. 161 Essex St., Salem, MA 01970, pem.org.
When the pandemic sidelined her pastry gig at the Back Bay’s iconic Uni, Betty Petrova didn’t sit on her couch eating bonbons; instead, she took to the kitchen to start making them. Handpainted with colorful, glossy brushstrokes of cocoa butter, the bite-size works of art quickly caught the eye of fans — so much so that now she’s focused full time on crafting delicate Valrhona chocolate shells generously filled with exquisite, inventive flavors like honey elderflower, rose pistachio, and rosemary caramel, many using ingredients plucked from local gardens. petrovachocolates.com.
What makes a great chef? Great food, of course, such as Mida’s bowls of lovingly crafted carbonara, soft bricks of super-buttery, garlicky focaccia, and other Italian comforts. More than that, though, Williams has mastered every little detail in the holistic art of hospitality: Setting the scene with soothing (and flattering!) soft lighting, he shares unforced charm with guests at Mida’s original South End enoteca and a new, twice-sized sibling in Newton, which adds New Haven–style pizza — a preview of Williams’s soon-to-launch pie project, Apizza — to this Renaissance man’s repertoire. 782 Tremont St., South End, MA 02118, midarestaurant.com.
No matter what project they've got in mind, people with the gumption to make something themselves all need to start from the same place: that is, surrounded by the best materials. A Good Yarn stuffs quality supplies into every nook and cranny of its tiny Brookline Village store, enticing knit-wits with yarns in a wide spectrum of colors and weights (from baby to bulky to super bulky and beyond) by brands like Art Yarns and Colinette. The experts behind the counter can explain a tough pattern or point out the right needles or hooks for the job, and the store schedules classes for knitters at every level. 4 Station St., Brookline, MA 2445, agoodyarn.biz.
Galina Rabkin can't stand a smudged lens any more than she can abide a crooked frame. The petite Russian-born optometrist is a perfectionist through and through, and she's arranged her spare Brookline Village boutique accordingly: Polished specs by Chanel, Prada, Face à Face, and the cleverly kooky XIT decorate the backlit walls and fill the neat wood-and-glass cases. Behind the scenes, her spotless exam room and state-of-the-art vision equipment are organized and unintimidating. And should Vizio not have your preferred pair, Rabkin will go to great lengths to order or import them. 11 Harvard St., Brookline, MA 2445, viziooptic.com.
Proprietor Jeff Diamond is an unabashed Francophile who even acquired his sheep dog, Aramis, in the Pyrenees. Although a few provincial antiques find their way into the five or six jumbo containers he ships each year from France, most pieces look as if Diamond had plucked them from a Paris drawing room. The Charles Street store emphasizes art deco classics, popular these days on Beacon Hill. The Brookline branch has both deco and more formal items with marquetry and intricate decoration—and a huge assortment of antique beds, most of them cleverly altered to king or queen size. 200 Washington St., Brookline, MA aroomwithavieux.com/.
Considered influential by everyone from Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill to Richard Gere, and known as nothing less than the birthplace of American drama, Provincetown has given its heady thespian spirit a high-voltage jolt with this new, year-round playhouse. The classic black box setup has flexible seating, state-of-the-art lighting, and a killer sound system so it can accommodate its two resident companies (the Provincetown Repertory Theatre and Provincetown Theatre Company) as easily as its high-profile productions by writers such as Eve Ensler, Douglas Carter Beane, and Terrence McNally. 238 Bradford St., Provincetown, MA provincetowntheater.org/.
There are some places where you feel cooler just by walking in. Such is the case with this funky pool hall, which sets the right mood with red-felt tables, an alternative-music soundtrack and Roy Lichtenstein-esque mural on one wall. The crowd seems to consist of Cambridge's hipper denizens who have taken time off from the art studio or recording hall to rack a few. It's a fresh change from the meat-market pool halls downtown. The only downside: Pool tables here are a bit close for comfort—though depending on who's at the next table, that's not necessarily a bad thing. One Kendall Square, Building 200, Cambridge, MA flattopjohnnys.com/.
This Hanover workout center is less a gym and more a lifestyle dojo. Named for Japan’s "Twelve Lakes" and cofounded by jujitsu world champ Daniel Gracie, Juniko takes a fitness-academy approach to wellness, offering adult- and child-level formats to suburbanites investing in their whole family’s health. Held in a sleek studio, the classes—including Brazilian jujitsu and aerial yoga—feel more like performance art than exercise. But you’ll still want to reward yourself with a visit to the on-site juice bar for kale smoothies, avocado toast, and take-home cleanses. 1376 Washington St., Hanover, MA 02339, juniko.com.
An eyewear shop needs two things to be successful: an ample selection of designer brands and a sales staff that’s willing to tell it to you straight. In the case of the fine folks at Lunette Optic, that meant stopping one tester from splurging on a pair of Chanel frames that made him look like an art-school dropout. Instead, they pointed the way toward face-flattering specs from a diverse lineup that includes hard-to-find international labels such as Anne et Valentin, from France, and Eyevan, from Japan. Perfect vision, indeed. Multiple locations. 121 High St., Boston, MA 02110, lunetteoptic.com.
Take a stroll underneath the I-93 overpass between the South End and Southie, and you’ll discover the city’s most exhilarating art exhibit. Sprawled over 8 acres, the once-desolate zone now features 18 murals, nine of which were added last summer. Highlighting local artists such as Silvia López Chavez, national ones like Def Jam’s founding creative director Cey Adams, and international ones including Spain’s Muro, the concrete, metal, and asphalt burst with color and forward-thinking vision 90 Traveler St., Boston, MA 02118, undergroundinkblock.com.
Shopping at NETA’s Brookline outpost is as far from buying pot off your cousin’s dog walker in a 7-Eleven parking lot as you can get. The vast selection of buds, pre-rolled joints, vape pens, and gummies is housed behind wood-trimmed glass cases in a historical bank complete with a well-styled mini lounge to wait in. And unlike in dubious parking-lot rendezvous, you can be sure that whatever you buy, the product will be top-tier, thanks to NETA’s state-of-the-art indoor cultivation center in Franklin. 160 Washington St., Brookline, MA netacare.org.
You can catch an Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu flick at any multiplex nowadays, but you won't see Boston Underground Film Festival highlights or a repertory series of World War II movies—or, for that matter, a weeklong Muppets marathon—anywhere else but the Brattle. The Harvard Square institution has been screening foreign, art house, and classic films for over 50 years, but it's much more than a sleepy civic treasure: It's holy ground for Boston's cineastes, budding film auteurs, and anyone who just likes to watch Casablanca on the big screen. 40 Brattle St., Cambridge, MA brattlefilm.org.
Once in a blue moon, you get a Blue Bunny. Cofounded by children's author-illustrator Peter H. Reynolds (The Dot, The North Star) five years ago, the magical little bookshop has grown into an area hub of reading and imagination. In scarcely more than 1,000 square feet it offers classic kids' books, young-adult novels (some for grownups, too), and lots of low-tech, high-fun games. But more than that, it provides a genuine springboard for creativity. There's always an art or writing workshop planned, and this spring the store launched a magazine created by and for youngsters called The Hutch—underscoring how rare this Bunny truly is. 577 High St., Dedham, MA 2026, .