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Why Does Everyone Pick on the Seaport?

Just came across this piece by Frank McClelland (L'Espalier): http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/blo.... The point is essentially that the Seaport has sucked the wind out of Boston dining--that the scene is churn-and-burn, pack 'em in and ship 'em out, with less focus on the "Experience." I've seen other writers decry the Seaport because it's mainly chains or big glitzy spots without that indie feel.

I'm not trying to be pointlessly contrarian here, but I have had some very excellent meals at the Seaport. I could give a hoot if they're chains. I just want good food and service, and a nice view doesn't hurt. I had an excellent breakfast at Rosa Mexicano the other week. Strega Waterfront -- which I scoffed at initially, thinking it'd be the epitome of High Cheese--was exceptional (and a gorgeous room to boot). Loved the lobster fra diavlo. Mr. Swank recently did business over sushi on the third floor of Legal Harborside. He reported that the service, atmosphere, and most of all food were top-notch. If Batali moves in, I'll be happy too. I don't care that he has an empire and that he's a friend of Gwyneth. No, I just like the guy's pizza.

I'm unclear as to why and how any trouble within the Boston dining scene can be pinned on Seaport restaurants, which certainly serve their purpose, and often quite well. Anyone who's followed me on this board knows that I enjoy independent spots, down-and-dirty dives, and I'm certainly not a shill for any big-box chain. All I care about is good food and service, and I don't much care where I get it. Is that so wrong?

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  1. I don't think anyone is going to gainsay you liking what you like. But the only Seaport restaurants I've had really impress me are Menton (a maybe-once-a-year kind of place for me), Sportello (good, but odd for parties of more than two or three), Drink (one of the best craft cocktail bars in town), and the new Tavern Road (of which I have limited experience).

    Most of the places on Seaport Boulevard have severely underwhelmed me, bored me, or not impressed me as good values. Don't like the sports pubs, the faux-Mex joints, the steakhouses, Schtrega, the hotel restaurants, or Empire much at all. I need to give Sam's another try and 75 on Wharf a first try.

    I like the roof bar of the Legal Harborside, but the second-floor prices are shocking. I have yet to try Blue Dragon, but I expect it to be too crowded most of the time to be enjoyable. I'm looking forward to the Batali joint, if it's like his Otto concept (which it sounds like -- I think he changed the name as a goodwill gesture to the Portland pizza chain that got here first), a very good value and good wine bar.

    I've heard many a restaurateur complain that the Seaport is sucking away suburban weekend trade that they used to get, and I believe them. Cheap parking and easy highway access are tough to compete with. The Seaport is clearly giving a lot of customers what they want; it's mostly just not what I want.


    8 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      It's not what I want either.

      Despite being in Southie 4 or 5 times a week, I hardly ever head there.

      Something about the Disneyworldish vibe of Seaport Blvd. sort of repels me.

      Admittedly, I haven't been to that many spots there, but havent had any enjoyable experiences in the Seaport.

      I'm hoping to hit a spot there that changes my mind. But first I have to save up.

      1. re: C. Hamster

        I agree -- the food choices here in the Seaport remind me of a nice mall. Like the Prudential Center. You can have decent food, and it's in a nice setting, but it's kind of bland.

        I do like Larry's Q in the middle of the park across from the Renaissance Hotel, though, if it's still there.

        1. re: Pia

          The mall and disneyworldish comments here strike a chord with me, the development of Seaport doesn't seem organic, it seems forced.

          1. re: xerxes_xerxes

            It's funny, something about the newness of the Seaport appeals to me for a non-Bostonish-night-out. I love Boston's history and charm, but I think the Seaport provides a more futuristic big-city contrast without being soulless. After all, some old-school places are also sandwiched among the newer spots, like Yankee Lobster, JJ Pace, and yep, even Anthony's, which I hope they preserve somehow (with a food upgrade). And the parking doesn't hurt.

            1. re: Swankalicious

              The current Anthony's Pier 4 site is scheduled to be razed and developed into a new mixed-use behemoth: http://boston.curbed.com/archives/201... Anthony's claims it will relocate somewhere TBD in the Waterfront, maybe in the new Pier 4 hotel, but I don't believe that will happen. I think if you like it, you should go before it disappears.


              1. re: Swankalicious

                as development continues, those sprawling parking lots will disappear. the one behind the seaport hotel is now being built up as condos. the anthony's lot is all but gone and the one closest to the seaport hotel, on seaport blvd., just was signed on for a building deal.

                one of the things i have always appreciated about boston is that the density of the buildings and population didn't allow for national chains to build. the necessary real estate footprint was nearly impossible to find, so it was ripe pickings for local chefs and independent thinkers.

                now the seaport has how many chains all in spitting distance? but for the view that location could be anywhere, usa.

                1. re: Swankalicious

                  Great review
                  Anthony's is still open btw.

          2. re: MC Slim JB

            The sports bars drive me crazy. It shouldn't be so hard to find a high quality sports bar in downtown boston. The cocktails at Remy's are tiny and poorly made, but the space is fairly well set up for a sports bar. Such a waste (and yeah, it is packed on a Saturday or Sunday but I expect that in a sports bar and frankly that's part of the fun if you are in the right mood)

            But Remy's is better than Atlantic Beer Garden, which isn't run like a sports bar, but like some weird southie version of cask n flagon. The food might be a touch better than Remy's though that isn't saying much. TVs are not good and there is a ton of wasted wall space.

          3. I sometimes like the roof bar of Legal for sushi, drinks and water view on a nice summer day. Otherwise, the area to me seems like a strip of mega restaurants arbitrarily plunked down on an available slice of waterfront real estate. There's no neighborhood feel and the area is really not conducive to a pleasant after dinner stroll.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Kat

              Agree with your comments about the restaurants, however the harbor walk can be a nice stroll in the area.

            2. It is what it is, IMO. The restaurants along the waterfront are obviously big hits with a lot of people, and that's fine, but there are too few lower-priced independent spots over there, and the crowds can be overwhelming. I won't knock the restaurants over there, but personally, I'd rather go to a quiet, cozy little place in the South End, JP, or Inman Square. It's all a matter of preference, really.

              1. It is possible that the Seaport District will make other parts of Boston better Chow destinations. If you take the people who choose restaurants for reasons other than food– harbor views, parking, being seen, heavy drinking, and getting on the highway fast out of the mix, we could see more restaurants on the city side of the Fort Point channel that are about the food.

                Plus, it already looks like the Fort Point district is setting itself apart from the Seaport with the start of a community and some independent restaurants. That can be a buffer zone of sorts.

                I don't think the Seaport is hurting the restaurants I care most about. The article says L'Espalier is growing. Quality still counts.

                I think it's hurting the chains and the something for everyone places. A shake out in that sector, and the possibility of some local chefs moving into slightly bigger spaces could be a good thing.


                1. Why does everyone pick on the Seaport? Because it's low hanging fruit.

                  1. Sam's is actually pretty rare for Boston: really great view and food that is cared about.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: lergnom

                      + 1 on sam's. the food is quite good, the wine list is priced commensurately for the food and esti can really run a staff and a room.

                      i also like 75 wharf, since it's mostly locals and not tourists.

                      as for the BIG spots? meh. abg and whiskey priests are like roofie-central on the weekends with lots of obliterated 20-somethings spilling out of them with liquid for legs and mixing for fights.

                      the service and food at remy's are just horrible, yet the place has lines out the door.

                      as for tezmacal, mexicano, strega, et al, they definitely are hoovering up lots of suburban diners on weekends, so some of the local spots in hoods off 93 might indeed be suffering.

                      i worked in that neighb for 3 years and eventually wound up never going for drinks after work because so many of the places are utterly soul-less.

                      i like the mention of the "buffer zone" and hope more places like tavern road can find homes over there.

                    2. Not sure who "everyone" is, unless you are talking about people who would rather try slightly funky food in Watertown...

                      1. Nothing wrong with wanting good food and service. Truthfully..when I go to the Seaport area it is for the view more than for the food. I tend to enjoy the more casual spots. I'm sure the more chowish people will laugh at this..but I love the breakfast at J Pace..a breakfast sandwich and a fruit cup will fill you up easily until lunch. I like that the coffee is served only in takeout cups so that I can take it with me and enjoy it along the fish pier in the morning.
                        I am also a great fan of Salvatore's...although prefer the one in Lawrence to the one in Boston.

                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              haha. Seriously though Famous Nick Schtick aside, Strega is pretty good. I happen to not be a fan of Erbaluce.

                          1. What I'm not getting from these discussions is the understanding that the Seaport restaurants really are not being built for us, the Boston residents- they are being built for convention goers. A very large percentage of those people do NOT want anything but sanitized food and they have very fat wallets to pay for their dinners. Woe to the convention attendee who would like to have something a little different- you're pretty stuck out there and very little way to get anywhere more interesting in the city. Walking seems sketchy and cabs are difficult, creepy, and expensive. Sometimes (frequently?) one is traveling with a co-worker who does not want to go on an adventure or you are too exhausted from manning your booth all day to want to figure out where to go to eat. Going someplace safe and easy is not despicable- it's what we do when we're tired and disoriented from being in a new town that we might not want to be in and having worked all day.

                            The downside of all this is that most convention-goers leave Boston thinking that's all we have because the district is so isolated. It would be wonderful if there were better transportation options to Fort Point or the South End or even Cambridge so people felt like they WERE able to get out there and try something else. But hey, if I was visiting Boston, I wouldn't want to deal with our cabs either. (My kids took a cab home from PAX East last week. Driver saw that he had 3 teens in the car and took advantage of their inexperience and took them the long way to the Pike. With those kinds of shenanigans is it any wonder people don't want to explore our neighborhood restaurants?)

                            19 Replies
                            1. re: Scruffy The Cat

                              personal feelings aside, there are cab stands in front of the seaport hotel, the renaissance, the westin and del frisco's. cabs are not hard to get down there, except maybe after a concert.

                              the silver line drops you at south station but i do agree most out-of-towners are too afraid to use public transit.

                              i also agree that the whole area is perfectly designed to corral conventioneers. it's novel for many of the to not "need" cars from point a to point b, and few of them see the ocean. ever.

                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                Actually..I think you are exactly right with your last sentence. Even I..who enjoys several different areas of Boston tend to park myself in the Seaport area whenever I have reason to be there..which usually involve either participation at an event at the Seaport...or if it is the pick of one of our monthly dinner group. When you think of it..there is the sense that the Seaport area is designed to keep those conventioneers in that general area.

                                I do find the parking there to be one of the best bargains in the city..but I think that cheap and plentiful parking is going to quickly become a thing of the past with all the construction going on.

                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                  The walk from the seaport hotel to the greenway is only 15 minutes.

                                  1. re: libertywharf

                                    For people in most areas of the country, a 15 min walk is like the bataan death march

                                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                                        Haha..there's definitely that too :-)

                                      2. re: jgg13

                                        Funny, yes I think that's the case here as well. Some think the walk from the seaport to the greenway is torture, but the mile from Arlington up to mass on Newbury, a piece of cake.

                                        1. re: libertywharf

                                          Newbury Street has something to divert the pedestrian -- a cafe, shop, gallery, restaurant, boutique, salon, retail store -- every 50 feet for its entire length. People live there.

                                          Seaport Boulevard still feels like an industrial wasteland of parking lots and lifeless building frontage for large stretches, with cars and trucks flying by on a divided four-lane road, and can feel desolate at night.


                                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                                            There are no trucks on Newbury? The view of Boston is quite nice as one walks out of the seaport. The best view of the Boston harbor is from the commonwealth pier. The area is not for everyone, thankfully. Anyone who enjoys walking, usually makes it to this area.

                                            1. re: libertywharf

                                              It is true that there are trucks on Newbury Street. And I quite agree: the Seaport is not for everyone, thankfully.


                                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                This is a good thing slim. Too bad you cannot see the beauty in the area. Grab a coffee some day and go sit on the commonwealth pier. It may just change your mind.

                                                1. re: libertywharf

                                                  Between the BCEC, World Trade Center, and client meetings in its hotels and restaurants, I'm obligated to spend a fair amount of time in the Seaport. I've also reviewed several of its restaurants. The neighborhood's charms are not some unexplored mystery to me.

                                                  I do occasionally enjoy the ICA and Bank of America Pavilion.


                                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                    There you go, I knew with some help you'd realize there is some beauty there. The ICA is a great spot. The harbor walk from there in back of the court house is very nice too, hopefully you think so.

                                                    1. re: libertywharf

                                                      I think you're confusing the notion of "help" with "familiarity breeds contempt". The more time I spend in the Seaport, the less I like it. It's not the ICA's or the Pavilion's fault that so much mediocrity sprung up around them.

                                                      The outlook is not entirely grim. I'm hopeful that the Summer / Congress / A Street cluster will continue to attract worthwhile independents. I see Mark Goldberg is attached to the forthcoming Bastille Kitchen on Melcher (though Seth Greenberg's involvement makes me worry about the prices). I don't see how Row 34 can be anything but smashing. With luck, Batali's Babbo Pizzeria will land there instead of on the Waterfront; his Otto, on which I believe this will be based, is nicely affordable among his concepts.


                                      3. re: libertywharf

                                        ....and the walk from the Seaport to the North End is very pleasant ..but Hotoynoodle's point is still a valid one..especially when it comes to out of towners who are attending conventions or events and may have limited free time. The area seems to be designed to be self containing and I would suspect that it's not by accident.

                                        1. re: BlueMagic

                                          It is not unusual for people attending conventions to stay put. Many, especially the event marketing people, sometimes never venture outside the hotel.
                                          With the habor views, some of those attending conventions are happy not to leave the area.

                                          1. re: BlueMagic

                                            while i was working down there, convincing people to take the pedestrian bridge from the seaport hotel side over to the westin hotel was akin to forcing them to set out upon the trail of tears. people NOT from older urban areas simply DO NOT walk. anyplace. ever. these are the people who drive form their garage to their mailbox.

                                            when i would tell them that south station was a 15-20 minute walk or 5 minutes on the silver line, they would look like a deer in the headlights.

                                            so i'm not sure which they fear more: walking, an activity we evolved to do many thousands of years ago, or using mass transit, an urban convenience that is well over 100 years old at this point.

                                      4. re: Scruffy The Cat

                                        I always got the idea the places like the Seaport were built with the idea of keeping people there. There is no reason for the developers to encourage ways to get their customers out of the area. A captive audience translates to top line sales.

                                        Once of the big selling features for convention organizers is being able to tell their clients that there is easy access from major transportation hubs and that once their clients get there they have everything they need right there. If they have to take cabs, the T or (gasp!) walk to get something to eat, drink or to find entertainment it makes it a much harder sell.

                                        1. re: foodieX2

                                          a few years back, my b/f's company held a massive convention/show in boston. 30,000+ international attendees.

                                          this was before the westin, renaissance and intercontinental were complete, so people had to book rooms as far out as burlington. while that's only about 15 miles, and looks pretty straight-forward on a map, it took some of those people over 2 hours to get the bcec. it was a logistical nightmare.

                                          the current state of affairs, and those on the drawing board, now make the seaport a very attractive destination for meeting planners. at least for 8-9 months of the year. it was economic brilliance to not put a football stadium down there.

                                      5. I see it as too slick, soulless and intended for people passing through but not anyone who lives nearby -- basically hotel food, which is very rarely worth eating but served in comfortable, benign surroundings, so it feels safe and easy to the out of towners. Again, just like a hotel.

                                        1. Given the cost of obtaining a liquor license in the city of Boston, a business model that stipulates a 300+ seat turn & burn is quite rational. I agree with MC Slim that local independent restaurants are more interesting and have more soul - I'd love them to be the vast majority and in fact I'd love to open a wine bar with a good, weird, concept - but the dollars and cents are really tough as it stands now. In other places where liquor (or even beer/wine) licenses are easier and less expensive to come by, it makes more sense to take a "risk" on a smaller property with an interesting and unique concept.