Boston theater is humming on high thanks to its two biggest companies, both of which send shows to Broadway and garner Tony nominations and awards. But while the American Repertory Theater had another star-studded year of notable spectacles, we preferred the Huntington’s eclectic drama. With Chekhov’s The Seagull, a sex romp, comedies and romances, and even its own extravaganza in The Jungle Book, the Huntington had everything for everyone this year. Even better, we love seeing its dedication to fostering playwriting stars, such as recent fellow Lydia Diamond, whose work has been produced on Broadway by Alicia Keys and who world-premiered Smart People here this season. 264 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 2115, huntingtontheatre.org.
The downside of an hour of someone expertly kneading every ounce of stress and tension out of your body? Knowing that as soon as it’s over, you’ll have to check your Zenlike state at the door, only to hop on the T (or, worse, contend with Boston drivers). But here, after one of nearly a dozen massage options (for straight-up relaxation, we like the signature "Flow" style), you can stave off the inevitable in the complimentary Turkish bath, stacked with sleek surfaces, cool washcloths, and mood lighting to keep the post-treatment buzz going. 2 Battery Wharf, Boston, MA 2109, boston.exhalespa.com.
Normally, we don't pay much attention to celebrity endorsements, but this time we'll take Madonna, J.Lo, and Donatella Versace's word for it. They, like all self-respecting fragrance freaks, adore Diptyque's intensely scented candles (rarefied variations like black currant and Bulgarian rose, quince, saffron, and leather), room sprays, and perfumes (wisteria and narcissus). But forget the celebrities: This year, Boston became the first and only American city to boast a freestanding boutique from the Parisian parfumerie, which means that even the unfamous among us can now wax poetic. 123 Newbury St., Boston, MA diptyqueparis.com/.
For a city with an Irish bar on every block, Boston is decidedly short on palatable Irish fare. The exception is this enclave of green cuisine in Brookline Village, which serves up traditional Gaelic dishes with a modern twist. Rabbit pie comes tender in a soda bread crust; fish and chips are wrapped in newspaper to seal in the steam. Meals go down even easier with the help of a hefty board of farmers' cheeses and some chunky, well-spiced homemade ketchup (not to mention the obligatory pints of Guinness). Service and consistency here have fallen off of late, but Murphy's is still a shillelagh above the competition. 14 Harvard St., Brookline, MA mattmurphyspub.com.
Boston chef Ed Gannon maintains Aujourd'Hui's reputation as one of the finest hotel dining rooms in the city. No, we're not swayed by the view. Okay, maybe a little. The unpretentious menu is flawlessly presented and prepared, and despite the formal china it succeeds in bridging the gap between over-the-top fine dining and the kind of food that people prefer to eat these days. Chef Gannon's creatively presented dishes are simultaneously hearty and light and they reach the table in a timely fashion. The chef gets extra credit for his friendly way of coming around to the tables, and for so willingly sharing his kitchen with visiting chefs for themed dinners. Four Seasons Hotel, 200 Boylston St., Boston, MA .
A little over a year ago, Avalon, the once white-hot star of the Lyons' Group club holdings, had dimmed to white-dwarf status. Except for Sundays, its perpetually successful gay night, the cavernous club was lame. And pretty empty. Enter promoter Steve Adelman, the man behind New York City's Tunnel and, before that, Limelight. Within weeks, Adelman was booking the biggest names in dance music at Avaland, the club's Friday night reincarnation. Superstar DJs like Frankie Knuckles, Little Louie Vega, and Junior Vasquez have all taken turns behind the decks, bringing Avalon to a boil and putting Boston on the dance-club map. 15 Landsdowne St., Boston, MA .
This mammoth Fenway space is more than just a place for catching concerts. Come midnight most nights of the week, the venue transforms into the dance club of choice for Boston collegians and techno lovers alike. With an outstanding lineup of big-name DJs from Junior Vasquez to Sasha, John Digweed, and Grandmaster Flash, an impressive sound system, and a newly redesigned VIP lounge called the Nu Room, the line behind Avalon's velvet rope is consistently one of the longest in town. Not to worry: The high-energy, anything-goes atmosphere attracts a hip but diverse crowd, making the people-watching alone well worth the wait. 15 Lansdowne St., Boston, MA .
The Boston literary culture may actually exist on the opposite side of the Charles, but that hasn't kept the folks in Coolidge Corner from thinking big. Writers like Dave Barry, Isabelle Allende, Frank McCourt, and Barbara Kingsolver have been featured in the "Writers and Readers Series" since it was founded six years ago. The readings, which take place either in the store or across the street at the larger Coolidge Corner Theatre, are frequent and usually free, and feature up-and-coming local scribes. Plus, the Booksmith is an independent, dog-friendly store with a smart and helpful staff. 279 Harvard Street, Brookline, MA brooklinebooksmith.com.
"Bloodless surgery" isn't a phrase typically associated with spa treatments. Then again, there's nothing typical about the way that Quincy native Moore—who coined the term to describe his massages—operates. His Stuart Street office is just that: an office, with no cucumber water or silk robes in sight. In place of such frippery, you get what is simply the best deep-tissue, Swedish, and therapeutic massages in Boston, for half the price of most rubdowns elsewhere. This year Moore's list of clients (which includes several local politicians, athletes, and news anchors) grew so lengthy that he opened a second location in Brookline. 441 Stuart St; 1678 Beacon St., Boston, Brookline, MA 02116, 02446, .
A stalwart in Boston since 1959, the gallery managed to not just survive but thrive this past year thanks to live and online shows that brought legends and locals together. See: works from modern-art icon Josef Albers, contemporary star Jenny Holzer, and Mike Glier, whose paintings are inspired by birdsong in the Public Garden. The gallery even hosted its annual AIDS Benefit Auction around the holidays virtually, with all proceeds going to the Dimock Center’s pediatric and family programs 10 Newbury St., Back Bay, MA 02116, krakowwitkingallery.com.
Get your sea legs ready: Reaching this hidden-gem hike requires two boat rides, first on the Georges Island ferry, then on a tiny boat that runs (for free) to Lovells. What a payoff you’ll get, though: a glimpse of Boston Light and the city skyline, a chance to explore the ruins of a deactivated military fort, and solitude in the fresh ocean air. You can trace the outer edges of the quiet island in just over an hour, but you’ll likely find yourself lingering for much, much longer. Boston, MA bostonharborislands.org.
If the thought of contorting your body into yoga sleep pose or sitting still for extended periods of time seems anything but relaxing, do yourself a favor and download Ten Percent Happier, the Boston-based spinoff of journalist Dan Harris’s self-help book. Dubbed a “meditation app for fidgety skeptics,” the program helps newbies and Zen masters alike regularly practice mindfulness with 500-plus guided sessions. And with plenty of shorter clips, it ensures you can get in the right headspace just about anywhere (really). tenpercent.com.
Roxbury natives Muyi Fre$co and Noma Nomz live by the mantra “get your vibes right” — and that’s exactly what the DJ/producer duo have accomplished with their latest project, which celebrates the diversity of the city with feel-good rhythms and soulful Caribbean melodies infused with mesmeric Afrobeats. Cameos from other Boston artists are the proverbial cherry on top. supersmashbroz.com.
You get a CSA box from your local farm and you’re on a first-name basis with your butcher, but what about the plates and bowls you set the table with every day? A worthy addition to any Boston cabinet, potter Jeremy Ogusky’s durable, unpretentious pieces can be purchased on Etsy; biannual open-studio days at his J.P. workspace, meanwhile, welcome all to come learn the art of pottery. claycrocks.com.
This locally owned studio leads the pack with top-notch amenities, including free shoe rental and impeccably clean locker rooms stocked with Aesop products. The various options—from super-sweaty hot rides to all-levels community classes—offer the perfect blend of cardio, core work, and conditioning. 101 Federal St., Boston, 617-951-9900; 50 Central St., Wellesley, 781-772-1920; bspokestudios.com. 101 Federal St., Boston, MA 02110, bspokestudios.com.