When the Liberty opened last winter in the old Charles Street jail, following a $150 million building renovation, it was met with the requisite jokes about white-collar inmates and doing time in the Clink (one of the hotel restaurants). Penitentiary puns aside, the 298-room hotel has raised the bar for Boston accommodations: Its 24/7 fitness center, dining, and concierge services are all first-rate, and the rooms—exposed brick walls, Molton Brown toiletries, VoIP phones—are eminently comfortable. The magnificent vaulted lobby is worth a visit in itself. 215 Charles St., Boston, MA 2114, libertyhotel.com.
Call it spadenfreude: The hedonistic pampering you receive here is made that much more delicious by knowing people all around you are putting their bodies through the wringer. Opened in 2004, this spa sits on the second floor of fitness megaclub Bosse Sports, and yet a world away. Exotic touches like orchids and carved masks are a nod to Soma's exclusive Wisdom of Africa products, used in everything from body wraps to decadent manicures. Wrap yourself in one of the microterry-lined silk robes, inhale the scent of baobab oil and Kalahari melon, and remember: no pain, all gain. Bosse Sports, 141 Boston Post Rd. (Rte. 20), Sudbury, MA 1776, .
Twenty-something sommelier Christian Vassilev has built Fed owner Paul Roiff's cellar into a veritable wine museum. You'd be hard-pressed to find so many Cheateau Latour, Margaux, and Monton-Rothschild wines in one place in the country. And that's just Bordeaux! The wine list spans the globe, and includes both boutique bottles from small producers and well-known crowd pleasers alike. In keeping with the restaurant's luxe ambiance, the list isn't value-minded; it is an education for wine lovers in every other respect. Fifteen Beacon, 15 Beacon Street, Boston, MA .
Friendly Toast is coming!' "OMG! Friendly Toast!" Judging by the way local foodies were whipping themselves into a frenzy online, you'd think it was the second coming. But unless one finds salvation in pumpkin pancakes, pecan-caramelized banana waffles, and assorted scrambles, Benedicts, and omelets, the new outpost of this beloved Portsmouth, New Hampshire, institution is merely a really, really, really good place to have breakfast. The décor is retro and funky—all fifties dinette sets and Esso ads—and the food is a fresher, slightly fancier variation on diner classics, with homemade breads and sauces. The rapture? Maybe not. Divine? You bet. One Kendall Sq., Cambridge, MA 2138, thefriendlytoast.com.
Great Vietnamese should be the way it is in Vietnam: simple, brimming with sharp flavors, and built with ingredients that shout their freshness. Enter Pho Lemongrass, where a diverse (and bilingual) menu overflows with anise-and-ginger-laced dishes. Pho, the beloved noodle soup of Hanoi, comes steaming in huge bowls and filled with the protein of your choice (the shredded chicken breast is the savory standout; less so, the tripe), and packed with crunchy bean sprouts, lime juice, and chiles. One of the best entrées is vegetarian—the lemongrass tofu, which is heartily textured, spicy, and scattered with peanuts and vegetables so fresh, they might as well have just been plucked from the Mekong Delta. 239 Harvard St., Brookline, MA pholemongrass.com/.
There's plenty of tasty Indian food around town—witness the lines of hungry grad students at Cambridge's Punjabi Dhaba, for one. But Harvard Square's Tamarind Bay Bistro (along with its newer sibling, the seafood-oriented Coastal Indian Kitchen in Brookline) is in a class of its own because it treats Indian cuisine as, well, an actual cuisine. Here you'll find regional distinctions more precise than 'northern' and 'southern,' and taste the kinds of dishes, like butter chicken curry and the exceptional vegetable biryani, in which individual flavors sing out clearly, instead of fading into a haze of spice. 75 Winthrop St., Cambridge, MA 2138, tamarind-bay.com.
For a town that prides itself on being a seafood lover's Valhalla, Boston has surprisingly few exemplary restaurants in the category. And after subtracting the ones that'll set you back more than a few clams (B&G, Oceanaire, even Legal), the outlook is bleak indeed. A lovely exception is Pescatore, serving up Italian-style seafood entres that never venture past the mid-teens. Highlights include generous pasta specials like the fusilli Amalfi: Tossed with sweet lobster claw meat, scallops, and shrimp in a garlic-wine sauce, it makes for an unbelievable bargain. 158 Boston Ave., Somerville, MA 2144, .
Even overcast days at Chatham Bars Inn feel sunny. First, there's the setting: a graceful, 1914 building overlooking the Atlantic, surrounded by quiet, individually decorated (and kitsch-free) cottages. Second, there are the activities: croquet, tennis, biking, rides in the property's antique cars, or, for kids, shoreline critter hunts, pirate visits, and karaoke. The nightly candelit dinners of local seafood at the water's edge are almost absurdly romantic. Few properties on Cape Cod manage to balance kid-friendliness with that kind of genuine excellence. This one does—even when it rains. 297 Shore Rd., Chatham, MA chathambarsinn.com/.
Nicholas Penna's cuts are like Zac Posen's best dresses: sharp but with great movement, clasically shaped, flattering, and tinged with modern touches. And like Posen, Penna is full of promise. The 30-year-old has already won the Guillaume Award in Berlin for his styling (putting him in the company of such names as Vidal Sassoon and Anna Sui), and he snips, razors, clevates, and layers like a rock star. Even so, Penna is one of the most laid-back personalities in the Boston style world, so you can count on a refreshing lack of attitude, and a heartening plenitude of talent. 31 Lincoln St., Newton, MA saloncapri.com.
The vintage craze has brought piles of must-have clothes out of the closet, thanks in large part to discriminating boutiques like this one. A treasure trove of pre-owned pieces, the Finer Consigner showcases rack after rack of Michael Kors flapper skirts, silk Gucci blousons, and Ralph Lauren Purple Label dresses. More up-to-the-minute confections by Ann Demeulemeester, Balenciaga, Dolce & Gabbana, and Chloé make it into the selection, too, along with well-treated Prada bags, Louis Vuitton shoes, and YSL belts—all the very definition of recherché. 53 Langley Rd., Newton, MA thefinerconsignershop.com/.
Darling details make the difference at Petit Patapon. Whatever best becomes your little one—frilly ruffles, rugged stitching, whimsical embroidery—this organized shop has a stylish stock of it. The daisy-flecked T-shirts come with extra protection from harmful UV-rays. Bright capri pants shine in patterns that veer from funky to frilly. There's plenty of handsome headwear, embroidered denim jumpers, and little linen pants sized to fit everyone from infants to grade-schoolers. Can you blame us for wishing the collection came in bigger sizes? 27 Central St., Wellesley, MA .
Natale Agostino reminds his customers that clothes off the rack are a curiously American phenomenon. And he should know. Natale spent 11 years as a tailor's apprentice in Reggio Calabria, learning to meticulously cut the garment to the man. These days, although he sells some ready-made clothing along with the suits he custom-tailors, he still wanders the floor of his Hanover store seven days a week, on the prowl for slacks that are just a bit too long on one customer, or the jacket that could hug the shoulders of another just a little less. 2001 Washington St., Hanover, MA natalesclothing.com/.
Somewhere between a band's first roadie and their first rider, they play T.T.'s, a beer-soaked cranny in Central Square now in its third decade. For about 10 bucks a night, the club gets music geek nation on its feet with both established and rising acts from the East Coast (the Damnwells), the West Coast (the Thermals), and beyond (Denmark's Efterklang), along with local favorites like the Motion Sick and Faces on Film. Although it's true that Allston's Great Scott is increasingly booking tomorrow's Middle East and Paradise headliners today, for that pure ear-pounding, sweat-drenched, punch-drunk rock-club experience, the Bear remains the one to beat. 10 Brookline St., Cambridge, MA 2139, ttthebears.com.
Want a table for Valentine's Day? Reserve it now. This intimate American restaurant is so much in demand that North Shore residents eagerly sign up months in advance to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, and engagements at one of the five tables, sometimes making their next reservation before the bill is even paid. White linens, candle lamps, and refined daily specials lend an elegance that supplements the food, and the two-person waitstaff lavishes attention on each guest, listing every last ingredient. Seafood and meat dishes are consistently rich without being too heavy, and pasta entrées dominate the seasonal main menu. Zero Central St., Ipswich, MA ipswichstonesoup.com/.
With album titles like Valentine Heartache, you wouldn't think Boston lesbian cult singer Melissa Ferrick was the gushy romantic type. But her powerful acoustic melodies and seductive, throaty voice regularly whip concert audiences—at venues from Avalon to Club Passim—into frenzies of agitated estrogen. You can bet that more than one swooning girl has taken her up on the offer when she's sung: "Grab the hand of the person standing right next to you and show them we are not afraid of who we are...." MA