Just over the Back Bay border of the South End, this joint is the city's gay answer to Cheers, a place where everybody knows your name—and probably has some good gossip on you. Unlike most gay clubs, Club Cafe really does offer something for everyone: You can bring your mother here for dinner, invite straight friends to meet you for drinks, or go by yourself and make eyes at attractive out-of-towners. The piano bar (in front) and video bar (in back) dutifully keep old and new gay-media traditions alive. 209 Columbus Ave., Boston, MA .
Whether you're training for the marathon or just trying to raise your heart rate, a jog along the Emerald Necklace is unrivaled. We tried them all—the Charles River Esplanade, the Minuteman Bikeway, the Commonwealth Avenue Mall—and still came away with the same answer as last year: Running through the gardens of the Back Bay Fens, along the Riverway and Jamaicaway, out to Jamaica Pond, and onto the Arnold Arboretum is literally a breath of fresh air. The serenity along the river, the dirt trails just before the pond, the water fountain at the boathouse, the hills and flowers of the arboretum—they combine to make for a perfect jog. Even if 26.2 isn't in your future. MA
After one look at our tired tresses, bubbly owner Kerry Zirpolo proposed an action plan (permanent dye, low-maintenance lob) that made us feel understood, not pushed. She even gave us a nook to peck away at our laptop while waiting for the color to kick in. We left refreshed, renewed, and feeling like we'd just met a new friend. Even better? Weeks later, our hair still held its style, and our chestnut-brown touchup looked bold, not brassy. 691 Belmont St., Belmont, MA 2478, moxiebelmont.com.
The adage "size doesn't matter" certainly applies here: Tiny Back Bay Bicycles can't match the sprawling selections of many competitors. But what the shop lacks in space it makes up for in service, and that's what counts for the average weekend bicyclist—not how many $1,000 bikes are in stock. The staff is incredibly friendly and helpful, consistently going above and beyond the call of retail by replacing your leaky tube on the spot or slipping different packs on your bike rack to see which fits best. As for variety, there's more than enough in the way of mountain bikes, hybrids, and road bikes for any avid cyclist—whether you're a daily commuter or a weekend roadster. 336 Newbury St., Boston, MA papa-wheelies.com/.
After a few years of aerobics and step classes, you realize there's just so much pounding the joints can take. Enter the Pilates method of exercise— a gentle-but-tough way to strengthen every inch of your abused bod. Professional dancers swear by this system, which involves a spring-loaded contraption called the Reformer to work every muscle you have, and some you didn't know you had. Clare Dunphy is certified by Pilates Studio in New York (not everyone who hangs out a Pilates shingle is certified), has all the right equipment, and will have you strong and flexible without the impact of most exercise classes. Progress at your own rate with an encouraging "Ahhh! Now doesn't that feel good?" from Clare. And it does. Dimensions in Fitness, 12 Station St., Brookline, MA .
The muscles on your face that give you the ability to smile—les zygomates, as the French call them—get a good workout at this Leather District restaurant of the same name, thanks to its wine list of more than 200 bottles. And it's not just the obvious effects of the wine that make you grin. It isn't even the good French food, live jazz, and laid-back downtown atmosphere. It's the way the accessible, affordable wine list makes it easy to indulge in a bottle or two of your favorites. The lusty and juicy reds, crisp whites, and bubbly sparkling wines are available by the glass or in two-ounce tasting flights, and it will cost you only 20 bucks a pop for full bottles of Helderberg, Steen from South Africa, Château de Lavernette, Beaujolais-Villages from Burgundy, and Colosi from Sicily. Which is worth smiling about. 129 South St., Boston, MA winebar.com/.
Unlike the now-ubiquitous Asian fusion restaurants it resembles, this Coolidge Corner newcomer serves food that is authentically exotic. Fortunately, the knowledgeable waitresses excel at coaching diners who might otherwise steer past the Northern Thai specialties and play it safe with spring rolls and pad Thai. The miang kum appetizer (roll-your-own packets of baby spinach leaves filled with bits of lime, coconut, peanuts, fresh ginger, onion, and dried shrimp) reveals a different texture and flavor combination with every bite. The haw moak (chicken or salmon seasoned with red curry and coconut milk and steamed in a banana leaf) brings a hint of heat, but not too much. Spicy dishes—and there are many here—are rated on a scale of one to three chile peppers, and the kitchen doesn't sacrifice subtlety when adding fire. If you still manage to torch your taste buds, you've got an excuse to order the soothing mango sticky rice for dessert. 250 Harvard St., Brookline, MA khaosarnboston.com/.
We brought our feet to Jeanne Lee's no-frills salon after a long winter of neglect. Without a drop of judgment, Lee whipped our rough nails into sandal shape and smoothed our calloused heels, leaving us with soft, polished tootsies too pretty to confine to boots. 125 Newbury St., Boston, MA 2116, jeannesalon.com.
There's skin care, and then there's skin-care shtick. Thankfully, lab coats and "cosmeceuticals" have no place at Fresh, which keeps our lips pucker-ready and our skin smooth and smelling divine. With products that get rave reviews and staffers who never resort to let-me-rub-this-on-you pushiness, this place fulfills all our pampering needs, beautifully. 121 Newbury St., Boston, MA 2116, fresh.com.
One of the best things about Boston is its walkability. The downside, however, is our oft-abused footwear. So when the insoles of our beloved boots begin to wear and the heel caps of our oxfords start to disintegrate, we lug them to this small shop in the Park Square building, where they're consistently refurbished to good as new—just in time to hit the pavement again. 31 St. James Ave., Boston, MA .
Muses nonwithstanding, the Art Store sells everything your magnum opus needs, and at prices that won't leave the artist in you starving. Forget rummaging through piles of 200 pre-stretched canvases to find the size you want; it's all neatly ordered against the wall. Every shade of paint—oil, acrylic, watercolor, you name it—is represented, and the paper selection runs from handmade, violet-embedded sheets to plain foam core. Like to sit while you sketch? There's furniture here too, plus easels and mesh file boxes. Come to think of it, the large, open, and neatly arranged space may just inspire you after all—to organize your studio. 401 Park Dr., Boston, MA .
Nowhere else in this town are you more apt to find pink Izods and gangsta colors in such proximity. This joint, nestled between the gentrified South End and Roxbury and opened in 1947 by Joseph "Wally" Walcott, is a classic treasure. And nowhere else in New England will you find finer jazz in a venue with more soul. Bands gather in the corner of the bar each night—from national acts to aspiring stars still studying at Berklee. The music is played loud enough that you can hear every seductive note, but not too loud for conversation. Don't like jazz? Check out an Afro-Cuban band. If you don't find yourself tapping your foot, it's time to check your pulse. 427 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, MA wallycafe.com.
To endorphin addicts, East Coast is the place to go for a dose of intensely spiced, pan-tropical dinners, but brunch fanatics know it offers something more: It's also home to a truly spectacular Sunday brunch. Be sure to eat light the night before: You'll want to save room for the soul-satisfying fresh fish tacos, avocado and black bean omelets, and (in case you need it) hangover hash. The bloody mary bar lets you make up your own glass, preferably loaded with fresh lime. Tabasco, fresh tomato juice, Absolut, and a zap of Worcestershire sauce. The rest is simple. Kick back to the room's low buzz in your spacious booth with a friend or two, and dig into plates of grilled fresh pineapple wedges and smooth-as-custard grits. It just doesn't get any better. 1271 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA eastcoastgrill.net/.
It was hard to find a bad massage—if indeed there is such a thing—in this year's bunch. Natalie at Unique Verve put us quite pleasantly to sleep. Samantha at the Mandarin Oriental soothed our muscles (if, at $200-plus, not so much our fiscal conscience). In the end, though, this previous Best Of champ prevailed—despite attempting to defer credit to his mentor, Keith Stiles, who joined Moore Massage this year. Stiles might have been, in Moore's words, "the man who taught me everything," but in this case, student knows best. Moore's consistently thorough handiwork reversed our laptop shoulder and boosted our energy for days. We're convinced he even cured us of cellulite. You heard us. 575 Boylston St., Boston, MA .