To step into the stately, red-and-white-brick hotel at the corner of Arlington and Newbury streets in Boston is to take a step backward in time. The Ritz-Carlton, in fact, sets the style for the chain's other elegant Old World hotels, and it shows. There is an air of Imperial England, and the blue-blooded, Brahmin tone of Boston's Back Bay nearly whispers from the walls of the lobby.
The hotel also blends seamlessly into Boston's small-city persona. The cozy lobby has low ceilings. The bar is clubby with muted light that plays off the wood paneling. Spiral staircases swirl upward from the reception-desk floor, leading into long hallways toward grand ballrooms and private meeting rooms. Across the street, the Boston Public Gardens roll up, down and around a small lagoon, where on a warm, late-spring day or early-summer evening, small boats slowly float by, their wood-slat benches filled with tourists and lazy, off-the-clock locals.
Views of the park from rooms on the upper floors are spectacular; the steeple of the Old North Church, where lanterns were hung to alert Colonists to the British, peeks over the tops of the trees in the Public Gardens as the stunning skyline of downtown Boston rises behind the scene. The rooms are elegantly decorated in the Ritz-Carlton's standard French Provincial style: lots of elegant wood furniture, floral designs and warm colors. It is a hotel chain that always offers convenient amenities--bathrobes, hair dryer and fully stocked minibar. The hotel has 278 guest rooms, including 46 suites. There is a health club, and guests have complimentary access to the Li Pli Health Spa. Sauna and massage are also offered.
Few hotels anywhere are so closely imbued with American history. Within a 15-minute walk, you can meander through Beacon Hill, around the Old North Church and explore Faneuil Hall, the meeting place where the American Revolution was planned (now a shopping mall). A half-hour walk in the opposite direction and you reach one of the world's finest museums, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, with its renowned collection of works by John Singer Sargent and other American painters. Don't miss Harvard either, across the Charles River in Cambridge and 15 minutes by car. Founded in 1636, buildings from the seventeenth century dot the campus. The Fogg Museum of Art, one of the finest university museums in the world, is worth a visit.
If history bores you, check out the world-class shopping within walking distance of the hotel. Newbury Street is a veritable gallery of top producers of everything from shoes to smocks. The roster of shops includes Giorgio Armani, Louis Vuitton, Louis of Boston, Hermès and many, many others.
Yet, ultimately, a hotel performs its true duty when you return to your room after a day of traipsing around and you're ready for a quiet evening of relaxation. The dining-room kitchen is run by Philippe Reininger, who earned his Michelin star in 1986-87 when he was at the Grosvenor House in London. The menu includes a range of classic French dishes from vichyssoise and lobster bisque to Dover sole in lemon butter and lobster fixed any way you'd like. Meat dishes include sweetbreads, filet mignon served with foie gras and wild mushrooms and Chateaubriand for two. Prices are steep, but the setting is perfectly genteel.
The wine list is outstanding, if a bit overpriced. First-growth Bordeaux--Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux, Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion--are all available in major vintages from 1959 to 1986. The Latour listings even include rare vintages from 1934, 1937 and 1949. There are adequate selections of red and white Burgundies. California wines also are represented on the list, including Long and Grgich Hills Chardonnays, and there are some strong choices in the better Cabernet Sauvignons. The entire wine cellar is rounded out by bottlings from Italy, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile.
Cigars are not forgotten here. The Ritz-Carlton is the home of an annual smokers' dinner started eight years ago by general manager Henry Schielein and carried on admirably by successor Sigi Bauer. But that's one night a year. On any other evening, smokers are encouraged to retire to the lounge where they can enjoy a cigar with a glass of Cognac or Port--the hotel has a very strong selection of both. You'll feel as if you've slipped back into the Old World and there you'll enjoy a few moments of serenity.
-- Gordon Mott
15 Arlington Street
Phone: (617) 536-5700
Room Rates: double occupancy $220 to $320
one-bedroom suite $495 to $1,900
two-bedroom suite $735 to $2,100