Just A Few More Hours in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Let us re-examine.

One of my favorite views in Harvard Square

Have you heard of Cambridge? The Harvard one, not the England one. It has a lot of colleges in it because of Boston and it’s old. The New York Times wants to make sure you didn’t miss it in case you’ve never consumed any popular culture or somehow have never met a person from the suburbs of Massachusetts, which is frankly statistically impossible. So they did one of those “36 Hours in” features for the only time of year Cambridge is actually tolerable, weather-wise, except not people-wise, because it’s overrun with students coming back to class and pretending to care and managing impressions and actually going to class. And now for my disclosure: I was born in Boston, spent my early childhood in Watertown, and attended Harvard College. Most importantly, I lived in Cambridge during the cruel and perfect summers and got the hell off campus.

36 Hours in Cambridge, Mass.

Founded in 1630, the venerable college town of Cambridge has long been one of the nation’s intellectual centers. Anchored to the banks of the Charles River by both Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the city blends its storied past and erudite character with a rich serving of arts and culture. Today, the stamp of gentrification on Harvard Square and the gleaming biotech development flanking M.I.T., a.k.a. “Genetown,” make it harder to tune into Cambridge’s legendary countercultural vibe of used bookstores and punk rockers. Still, the outward-looking citizens, known as Cantabrigians, keep finding ways to express their funky, geeky flair, be it via political protests, copious bike lanes or science-driven cuisine and mixology.

Oh my God. What is this pamphlet language? Did you know people in Cambridge are geeks? Have you ever really wondered about why? Did you know that Harvard is a strange blend of rich old families and nerdy nerd nerds? But mostly money and bricks?

Many visitors tour Harvard Yard. But why not M.I.T.?

Because M.I.T. isn’t cool, it’s extremely dorky. Please don’t @ me.

What better way to taste the brainy shock waves of Harvard Square, Cambridge’s commercial and spiritual epicenter, than to sample its indie bookstores?

Help me. No one wants to taste brainy shock waves, which sound more like something they study at Caltech anyway (and I bet they’re salty). Cambridge’s commercial epicenter is a black hole called “The Garage,” a filthy and sort of sadly lit mall-cum-food court for punk teens who are never there. It can’t possibly do half as much business as one of the seventeen bank branches surrounding it.

Stroll the loop of Brattle, J.F.K, Church and Mount Auburn Streets and you’ll find the Grolier Poetry Book Shop (the country’s oldest continuous poetry-only store), the Curious George Store (for children), Raven Used Books (literary and academic), the Million Year Picnic (indie and alternative comics) and Harvard Book Store (best all-around selection). Pop into Black Ink for eclectic and hipsterish gifts; Leavitt & Peirce, a circa 1883 tobacco shop, to stock up on pipes, pocketknives and chess sets

Wow rude to adult Curious George appreciators. No one has ever been inside Leavitt & Peirce. Good snub of the Coop, though. [Ed. note: the formatting in this “interactive” article is killing me; any typos or weird things are their fault not mine.]

Grab a coffee and a snack like garlic knots ($6) with pecorino and a red dipping sauce at Area Four. Or head over to the Meadhall gastro pub and beer hall. Perch yourself at its giant oval bar beset with banker’s lamps, and your jaw might drop at the 100 beers on tap, with new brews rotating in each week.

Coffee does not go with garlic knots. Beset means to trouble persistently or enclose, like, attack from all sides. The lamps shouldn’t be besetting anything unless you’ve been eating shrooms.

Okay sorry just a few more:

Hungry for humble or highfalutin? For a lowbrow Harvard Square institution, dine at Mr. Bartley’s, whose walls, festooned with Ted Kennedy portraits and Red Sox ephemera, resemble those of a dorm room. Burgers are named for famous folk and political issues, like the Big Papi, a double burger with Cheddar and barbecue sauce ($18.25) or Fiscal Cliff ($14.25), with bacon, blue cheese and spinach. Wash it down with an ice-cream frappé ($6.99).

Show me a dorm room with Ted Kennedy portraits and Red Sox ephemera and I’ll show you that you are on a soundstage in LA where someone is being very literal. A burger that costs $18.25 is neither lowbrow nor humble (which, by the way, doesn’t have a taste). Please don’t drop the word “frappé” like anyone knows what that means.

Oh speaking of film-set versions of Harvard dorm rooms, remember the Dunkin’ Donuts from Good Will Hunting? “How do you like them apples,” etc.? Yeah it’s closed now, and it’s been replaced by a ramen shop.

The only lodging options given in this article are either THE CHARLES HOTEL or the Mary Prentiss Inn, which is crazy because they’re a) never available, b) very expensive, and c) don’t stay in a hotel in actual Cambridge unless you’re staying with a friend or in an Airbnb.


I would’ve spelt it nerddom, but that’s just me.

Anyway, there’s a lot more to pick at here but essentially I would like to register my disappointment with the need for anyone to go to some simulacrum of “Cambridge” as it is constituted by this article. Please, if you must go to Cambridge, do try to visit the Mount Auburn Cemetery, Toscanini’s, Darwin’s, and C’est Bon, the perfect liquor store. Other than that most everything I once knew has been replaced by something else, which is how things go in a “gentrifying” (????) college city (poor Lesley University, always overlooked). I am particularly disappointed to report there is now a “Brooklyn Boulders” in Somerville. Generally speaking point yourself away from whatever campus you’re nearest and keep walking. Don’t stop till you get to Crane Beach.