When I was in my early 20s, I worked in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. Back then, in the mid-1990s, the section of Charles Street closest to the Longfellow Bridge was still a bit rough around the edges. The Charles Street Jail—not yet transformed into the swank Liberty Hotel—stood abandoned and windowless beside the Storrow Drive overpass, its yard choked with weeds. The nearby Charles Street T station, not yet enclosed by its modern steel-and-glass structure, radiated the gritty urban ambiance commonly found in the city in those days. Between the jail and the T stop stood the shacklike, open-all-night Buzzy’s Roast Beef, once a mainstay of college-age partiers and hungry bar patrons after last call.
Half of the lot where The Whitney Hotel—a 65-room boutique property that opened in 2019—now stands, on the corner of Charles and Cambridge streets, was a trash-strewn parking lot. The other half had once been a no-nonsense redbrick dormitory for nurses working at the neighboring Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
Imagine my surprise, then, when my husband, Rob, and I pulled up in front of The Whitney on a sunny Tuesday afternoon this April, our 25th wedding anniversary. I hadn’t been to the neighborhood in ages, and if I hadn’t known where I was, I might have guessed that I was in New York’s Brooklyn Heights or Montreal’s Quartier Latin.
I liked The Whitney right away, partly because it offers fuss-free valet parking; but the building also impressed me. The new part of the structure, built on the former parking lot, blends almost seamlessly with the early 20th century dormitory building that comprises its other half. The hotel looks like it has always been part of the neighborhood.
Named for Henry Melville Whitney, a wealthy industrialist born in the mid-19th century, the founder of Boston’s West End Street Railway Co., and a former owner of the site, the hotel has a historic sensibility.
The Whitney’s decor is Boston-centric, with a selection of books behind the front desk that were written by authors who once lived in the neighborhood. Painted scenes of the Charles River and Boston Public Garden adorn the hotel’s corridors. The minibar in our room—a comfortable, light-filled space that was remarkably quiet considering its proximity to Charles Street—included a selection of spirits made by Boston’s Bully Boy Distillers.
After checking in, Rob and I took a stroll down Charles Street to Boston Common and the Public Garden, where swathes of tulips and daffodils were just beginning to bloom. The swan boats weren’t yet open, but it was nice to know they were only a 15-minute walk from The Whitney’s front door, perhaps something to look forward to in the future.
We celebrated our anniversary with dinner at Peregrine, The Whitney’s in-house restaurant. The warm evening made it possible for us to enjoy craft cocktails in the hotel’s courtyard—a cozy, blossom-filled space that reminded us of New Orleans, where we spent our honeymoon.
With only a handful of indoor tables, an unpretentious decor and a limited seasonal menu, Peregrine has the feel of an upscale bistro. Its menu is based on the traditional cuisine of the Italian islands of Sardinia, Corsica and Sicily, but its fare is created solely from ingredients grown on family-owned farms, made by local producers, or harvested by independent foragers. Its short but excellent wine list consists of unique finds from small vineyards around the world.
I ordered the spring vegetable risotto, which featured fiddleheads as one of the ingredients—a rare seasonal treat I’ve only seen on restaurant menus a handful of times. Rob said that his confit lamb dish was delicious, as well, but the antipasti and marinated olives we had before dinner left me too full to try it.
Tipping at Peregrine, similar to restaurants in Europe, isn’t necessary. A message on your bill reveals the restaurant’s policy of paying its staff a living wage. Not only do I think this is the right thing to do, I have no doubt that the evenhanded professionalism of Peregrine’s servers is a result of this practice.
At the time of this writing, only guests at The Whitney are able to dine indoors at Peregrine due to COVID-19, but outdoor tables are available. Reservations for the restaurant can be made on the hotel’s website.
As luxury hotels go—and I’ve been to several—The Whitney gets big points for its friendly and efficient, but mostly hands-off, service. (There are few things I dislike more than being asked if I need anything 15 times in an hour.) I also loved the Continental feel of the place. COVID-19 may have dashed our plan to spend our 25th anniversary in Europe, but The Whitney Hotel almost made us feel like we were there.
The Whitney Hotel