Nothing says “Boston” like Freedom Trail, the swan boats, those bronze duckling statues, even the Citgo sign — the iconic elements of the city we know and love. There are also some surprises out there, cool spots that manage to slip under the radar. Some of these are well-known by a specific segment of the local population (we’re looking at you, Bodega!) but virtually undiscovered by many Bostonians. We’ve rounded up a few intriguing examples.
A speakeasy tucked beneath a pastry shop
Modern Pastry is a North End landmark. Then there’s Modern Underground, its semi-secret basement lair. Enter the pastry shop, hustle past all the patrons waiting in line, and take the stairway to the right. You’ll descend to a 40-seat lounge with multiple TVs (tuned to local sports, naturally), a speakeasy vibe, and killer martinis. It’s a cozy little nook, with full bar and a good selection of pub grub — wings, sliders, steak tips, and the like. But the real reason to seek this one out is for their sweet, strong espresso martinis, which happen to pair perfectly with cannoli (yep, they serve those, too!) Sorry, Mike’s Pastry, but Modern wins this round. 263 Hanover St.; www.modernpastry.com.
The bodega that hides a sneaker store
Ho-hum, it’s just another convenience store, with dusty candy bars, random foodstuffs of uncertain vintage, and household items. Or is it? This “store” has a secret portal (we won’t reveal it here) that leads to the real store, a super-sleek sneaker and streetwear boutique. All the coveted cool kid brands are here: think Nike, Bode, Engineered Garments, Houseplant, Human Made, Jordan, and their own brand, Bodega. Ratcheting up the excitement are “quick strike” releases (shoes that mark a certain occasion and are released in limited quantities) plus hidden code and golden ticket promotions and giveaways. 6 Clearway St. (at Mass. Ave.); www.bdgastore.com.
The bear dens at Franklin Park
Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1890s, 527-acre Franklin Park is the city’s geographical center and its largest open space. The park is home to playing fields, a golf course, and the Franklin Park Zoo. Surprise: there are also vestiges of zoo inhabitants long-gone, like a bear house that was one of the zoo’s first exhibits. All that stands now are ghostly dens and cages, along with a piece of artwork from 1912 featuring two bears holding the Boston city seal. The site is located within Long Crouch Woods, a 26-acre woodland that sits above Seaver Street in Roxbury. An unmarked trail leads to a broad staircase, a pavilion, and the dens that housed bears until 1971. A frieze displays the city seal and the Boston skyline circa 1921. There’s also an old badger cage and (bonus!) great views of Boston’s skyline. To access, enter Franklin Park from the corner of Seaver Street and Walnut Avenue and head south toward the zoo along the path that runs parallel to Playstead Road and Seaver Street. The bear dens will be on your left. Or park at the rear lot of the zoo and walk north along Playstead Road, entering the woods on one of the trails to the right. www.franklinparkcoalition.org.
Fab city views and a cheap ferry
For the best views of Boston bar none, head to Charlestown’s Pier 6 restaurant, jutting over the harbor at the end of 8th Street in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors and windows offer expansive vistas of the city skyline; you’ll spot the Pru, the Custom House Tower, and the gold dome of the State House as you dig into your lobster roll. But the best seats in the house are on the roof deck and the outdoor patio. The menu leans toward fresh seafood and tropical drinks, a good match for this setting. To enhance the vacay vibe, skip the driving — an MBTA ferry ($3.70 one way) operates between Long Wharf and Charlestown several times a day. Better make it a day trip; on weekends, service ends around 6 p.m. (weekdays till 8 p.m.). The ferry ride is only about 10 minutes, but it offers cool views of its own, including New England Aquarium, the US Coast Guard Station, and of course, Old Ironsides as it passes the Navy Yard. The Pier 6 folks operate a free ferry between this place and sister restaurant Reel House in East Boston. Open for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch; 1 8th St., Charlestown; www.pier6boston.com.
The sweetest-smelling spot in the city
Public rose gardens were all the rage in the early 1900s. Boston has a blooming beauty of its own in the Back Bay Fens, the James P. Kelleher Rose Garden. Part of the Emerald Necklace, the garden consists of 200 different varieties of roses with almost 1,500 roses in total. This English-style garden was commissioned by Mayor James Curley in 1931, and designed by landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff, who had worked under Frederick Law Olmsted. Known to rose lovers but largely ignored by tourists and the general public, the gardens are laced with stone pathways. Benches and a reflecting pool flanked by four cherubs add to the peaceful, stop-and-smell-the-roses ambience. This is one of the most pastoral pockets of the city. Hard to believe that Fenway Park is nearby. Opens in mid-April; 70 Park Drive; www.emeraldnecklace.org.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com