This would be a night of opulence. This would be a night of sleeping on 400-thread-count sheets, of plush warm towels, and a minibar better stocked than my refrigerator at home. This would be a night at XV Beacon, one of Boston’s premier luxury hotels and my sweet reward after roughing it in a powerless, seaside inn during a nor’easter.
XV Beacon, in the shadow of the State House on Beacon Street, was recently voted the best hotel in Boston and one of the world’s top 500 hotels by Travel & Leisure magazine. But how many Bostonians have experienced Boston like a tourist — or, like the uber wealthy, stayed in the city’s cradle of luxury?
I snagged a last-minute special for $518 a night, scoured travel guides, created a makeshift itinerary, and persuaded a native Bostonian to serve as tour guide for this recent Midwestern transplant by way of Miami. And together we headed downtown.
. . .
After some brief confusion about the valet’s location, obscured by some construction, I pulled up to the hotel and the parking attendant was immediately helpful, reaching for my door the moment my car came to a stop. Inside, we stepped into a lobby awash in earth tones and dark wood. Maybe it was the low lights and ancient room that drew the tension out of my shoulders. It seemed a sacrilege to speak above museum volume.
Framed on the wall above the check-in desk hangs a handwritten “I owe you” from the early 19th century. A feathered quill hangs in front of the note uncovered years ago during hotel renovations.
XV Beacon, built in 1722 and originally the Bromfield Mansion, sits in a perfect location to experience much of Boston by foot and by T. We had only one afternoon, so we wouldn’t be going far.
. . .
We arrived about 20-minutes before check-in at 3 p.m., only to learn the room wouldn’t be ready for 30 to 45 minutes. I had called the day before, asking for an early check-in and was told a 2 p.m. arrival was doable. If not, they’d call. They never called.
Rather than inviting us to wait comfortably in the bar at the hotel’s restaurant, Moo, perhaps with a drink on the house, nobody offered us anything. The clerk didn’t even offer to hold our luggage.
But no matter. My annoyance would only be exacerbated by a waiting to-do list and growing hunger, so we took the initiative and asked the hotel to hold our bags and set off in search of the Hub of the Universe. A gold medallion rests somewhere in the pavers on Summer Street near Washington Street, smack-dab in Downtown Crossing. It commemorates Oliver Wendell Holmes christening the State House as “Hub of the Solar System,” a phrase eventually changing to Hub of the Universe, and we wanted to see it.
The Google Maps mobile app gave us roundabout directions, turning what should have been a three-minute walk into a slog through downtown. We walked the streets, too preoccupied with the hunt for gold to notice the jewelry stores, clothing boutiques, and bakeries around us. We searched for nearly an hour. Seeing nothing, we finally asked directions from the guy from Lambert’s selling fresh produce on Summer Street alongside the old Filene’s building.
Sure, he’d seen “the metal thing in the sidewalk,” then said it was boarded up behind the blue plywood ensconcing part of the building.
Sigh. First the hotel, and now Google had let us down. We needed something to pick up our spirits.
. . .
Sipping gin, pear juice, and sweet vermouth on West Street, my mood began to lift. Some of life’s sweetest moments, I thought, come from our journeys and not our destinations. We stumbled upon Old City Hall in search of the medallion, reading the name of each mayor who governed there, and we dined at Back Deck, indulging its namesake punch, by chance. Sitting there felt just like sitting on the back deck of a friend’s house.
Back Deck is wedged at the corner of one of downtown’s narrower streets, steps from the giant Loews Boston Common movie theater, the Common, and the Green Line’s Park Street and Boylston Street stations.
Walking back to the hotel, I couldn’t help but smile. My friend grumbled that I had made us look like tourists, “like easy targets.”
XV Beacon sits at the top of the hill with a view of the Prudential Building. We stepped into our third-floor room, where the radio was set to an easy-listening station and the ice bucket was filled. Roman numerals emblazoned just about everything, from the throw cover to the towels to the box of shoe polish.
Nooks and crannies were filled with delicious surprises. Vanilla lip balm and a mini bottle of hand sanitizer sat next to the shampoo and conditioner. A small card with the next day’s weather report rested on the bed. The bedside table held a chocolate-covered strawberry, chocolate-covered apricot, chocolate chip cookie, and oatmeal cookie.
And there was the fireplace. Looking at the logs, I couldn’t help but think about my time at a Scituate inn during the storm. I needed to get this fire going. But it would take a call to the front desk to figure out how to turn it on. Apparently it’s a common question because the woman who answered laughed before directing us to a switch hidden behind the canopy bed.
Surveying a room bigger than most Beacon Hill studio apartments, this, I thought, is how the other half lives. The minibar was stocked with $15 Patron nips and $200 bottles of Bordeaux. But that was not our style.
Complimentary car service shuttled us a few blocks away to Cheers for dinner, a tourist’s delight if ever there was one. Then we indulged in a good, old-fashioned New England pub crawl, hitting up The Place and Bar Room, before heading back to the hotel. The marvelous night manager ensured that we stayed hydrated after a night on the town. Three complimentary bottles of Acqua Panna, an imported mineral water, showed up at our door moments after we got back to our room.
I collapsed onto the bed and slept like a queen, relishing those sheets. The morning papers arrived in a totebag, but then it was back to reality. No chauffeur was waiting to take us home. I got behind the wheel of my own car and steered out into Boston traffic.Akilah Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.