Designs on a Boston Hot Spot
BACK in 2006, the inhabitants of Fort Point said to be home to New England’s largest concentration of visual artists, met the news of plans for luxury condos with predictable resistance. Goldman Properties, a national real estate development firm, intended to turn the onetime industrial hub on Boston’s Inner Harbor into the city’s newest hot spot — Boston’s SoHo or South Beach. But much to the relief of the many artists, schemes to convert the stout 19th-century masonry buildings that define the neighborhood’s architecture haven’t come to fruition, thanks to the economic downturn.
Yet despite the change in development plans, the district has evolved in the last few years, though at a slower, more manageable pace. As would be expected, design is the central retail focus. The Fort Point Arts Community (617-423-4299; fortpointarts.org), an organization that supports and promotes the local creative set, has been hosting an open-studios weekend every fall for three decades (this year, giving visitors access to the paint-splattered work spaces of about 150 neighborhood artists). Last winter it introduced a shop that sells wares made by local artists, ranging from scarves to prints.
Other artsy boutiques dot the neighborhood’s maze of streets. Front (25 Channel Center Street; 857-362-7289; bobsyouruncle.com), a quirky shop that opened in 2008, specializes in clever stationery and tableware. Birch and Willow (319 Rear A Street, third floor; 617-423-3437; birchandwillow.com) offers a selection of lighting made from plant materials like twigs and branches (a 20-inch-high “Thicket” sconce is $295).
Then there’s the waterfront Institute of Contemporary Art (100 Northern Avenue; 617-478-3100; icaboston.org), which last year hosted the first museum retrospective of Shepard Fairey, of Obama poster fame. Through March 28, ICA is exhibiting immersive video projections by the Polish artist Krzysztof Wodiczko; it also features a well-curated gift shop with items like pyramid-shaped mirrors ($80 for three).
New food and drink options have followed the art influx, most notably two space-sharing spots from Barbara Lynch, the restaurateur behind Boston gems like No. 9 Park. On the top floor is year-old Sportello (348 Congress Street; 617-737-1234; sportelloboston.com) — Italian for counter service — offering cozy, pasta-centric dishes like chestnut bigoli with lobster, sage and brown butter ($17). Downstairs is Drink (617-695-1806; drinkfortpoint.com), where impeccable cocktails (all $10) include a neighborhood namesake, which adds Benedictine to a conventional Manhattan.
There are plenty of tempting daytime options, like a branch of Flour (12 Farnsworth Street; 617-338-4333; flourbakery.com), a bakery and cafe serving cinnamon-cream brioche ($2.95) and roasted lamb sandwiches ($7.50), and Channel Café (300 Summer Street; 617-426-0695; channel-cafe.com), delivering a locavore fix.
A too-cool attempt at a mixed clothing-and-dining concept, Achilles Project, closed its doors in August, but perhaps that’s just a sign that the Fort Point growth is developing at a healthy pace. In February, the 55-acre area achieved Landmark District status, making it much tougher for developers to strip away the Boston Wharf Company-constructed buildings — news that definitely made residents happy.