Best of Boston All-Stars: What’s New at the Liberty Hotel

In 2007, the Liberty renovated the Charles Street Jail into an award-winning hotel. Now, a new transformation is on the horizon. —By Vanessa Nason

Welcome to Best of Boston All-Stars, a series that takes a closer look at what’s new at longtime Best of Boston favorites.

Liberty Hotel

Liberty Hotel / Courtesy photo

About one week before the newly renovated Liberty Hotel was set to open, a team of Buddhist monks carefully covered the space—the former site of the Charles Street Jail—with blessings. A stone relic of a bygone era, now surrounded now by a stretch of highways and a sleek, modern wing of Massachusetts General, the old jail was not built on hospitality.

But by 2007, renovations had recast the gloomy ruin into luxury. And as a final step before reopening as a hotel, the Liberty Hotel invited the monks to walk through each area. “They covered the entire jail to rid it of any evil spirits,” says Rachel Moniz, the Liberty Hotel’s general manager.

Now the jail is long gone but hardly forgotten: On the same spot where Sacco and Vanzetti, Malcolm X, and the Boston Strangler were once incarcerated, guests sip award-winning craft cocktails and enjoy live music at the Liberty’s cheekily named hotel nightlife spots like Clink, Alibi, and Scampo (which derives its name from the Italian word for “escape”). The site’s history also lives on in its architecture.

“Despite its jailhouse origins, the hotel’s rooms are captivating (in a good way), with floor-to-ceiling windows,” we wrote after bestowing it the 2015 award for Best Hotel.

And in fact, quite a lot of painstaking work went into keeping those jailhouse origins intact. According to Moniz, as part of the $150 million renovations to the site (a national historic landmark), even the bricks—after being removed and stripped of their white paint—had to be replaced in the exact spot where they’d been removed from.

Completed in 1851, the Charles Street Jail was deemed one of the best examples of the mid-19th century’s “Boston Granite Style”—and the Liberty Hotel has kept some of its best features. For an example, look no further than the hotel’s “magnificent vaulted lobby,” an open space where you can see the jail’s original catwalks (now a site for fashion shows and awards ceremonies) and the distinctive “ocular” windows, originally designed to let in an abundance of natural light and fresh air. The building “was actually really unique and innovative for its time,” says Moniz, “because it was built for reformation as much as incarceration.”

Liberty Hotel entrance

Liberty Hotel entrance / Courtesy photo

The Liberty’s ability to mesh its reverence for Boston’s past with modern flair also extends to their bars and restaurants.

Housed in the jail’s old drunk tank, cocktail bar Alibi preserves the brick cell walls and iron doors that remind patrons of the spot’s original use—although live music and an adjacent outdoor patio keep it modern and vibrant.

After a night in the drunk tank, head to Clink, where chef Anthony Dawodu serves up handmade pastas (Moniz singles out their black pasta—a decadent dish with scallops, salami and sea urchin lobster butter) and opulent brunches.

At the Liberty’s restaurant Scampo, head chef (and Boston culinary icon) Lydia Shire treats diners her twist on modern Italian dining: “She’s got Indian and Mediterranean influences, so it’s definitely a little bit of a different take on Italian,” says Moniz. Shire’s famous and ever-popular lobster pizza shares menu space with “fresh-baked flatbreads, burrata BLTs, and other starchy, cheese-laden hangover preventives.”

And don’t be surprised if you see her walking through, straightening tablecloths and recommending dishes to guests. “Lydia is definitely a magical person,” says Moniz.

The hotel is still evolving: Eight years after its official grand opening, the Liberty’s overhauling its rooms. “We’re going through a huge room renovation and we’re going to have an unveiling in March, but the renovation will be completed at the end of February,” says Moniz. These include a redesigned floorplan and changes to the aesthetic, décor, furniture and artwork in the 298 guest rooms. The attempt is to create an atmosphere that is very New England in style, with herringbone wall coverings and library-style club chairs. To top it off, many of the rooms feature views of the Charles River.

Since its debut, the Liberty Hotel has managed to deft balance its top-notch hotel experience with nods to its jailhouse past. Its warmth and welcome, combined with great food and luxury, makes it a place you’ll want to do time in.