Hotel Review: Former 19th Century Office Building in Boston’s Financial District offers 21st Century Comfort as Design-Driven Deluxe Hotel.

The deluxe Ames Boston Hotel (center right with historic facade) was the former Ames Office Building, the tallest building in Boston when constructed in 1883. (photo courtesy Ames Boston Hotel)

Review by Ron Bernthal

From the Orange Line’s State Street subway station I walked across the street to the Ames Boston Hotel, a 13-story, luxury boutique property that had once been Boston’s tallest skyscraper when it opened as an office building in 1893. Originally the home of the Ames Company, a manufacturer of America’s first shovels and other agricultural tools, the firm was founded in the 1770’s and is the oldest existing company in the United States, now headquartered in Pennsylvania.

The building became one of the tallest masonry load bearing-wall structures in the world, meaning the 13 story building was built without steel, with a three story granite base and sandstone and brick façade. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The conversion of the building to the Ames Boston Hotel was completed in 2009.

The lobby is intimate and stylish, with an eclectic chandelier, designed by Rolf Knudsen and made of thousands of reflective mylar discs, suspended on wires over the interior entry way. Above the chandelier is a stunning, domed mosaic ceiling, preserved from the original 19-century architecture. An interesting juxtaposition. The front desk clerk was friendly and efficient, and off to one side of the lobby is the hotel’s King Street Tavern, a pleasant, casual dining venue with long, communal wood tables as well as smaller individual tables situated next to large windows overlooking Court Street. This convenient on-site restaurant serves breakfast and dinner.

The original domed, mosaic tile ceiling from the 1893 Ames Office Building has been preserved in the Ames Boston Hotel lobby. (photo Ron Bernthal)

My third floor accommodations was a wonderfully designed, minimalist “loft” style King bed guest room (there are only four loft-style rooms out of 114 guest rooms and suites), with a huge, eye-brow style window overlooking the street and the Old State House (1713). This particular room has high ceilings, bare oak floors, and an open-configuration with a sitting area and a large comfortable couch separated from the bedroom by a half-wall that held two back-to-back 42” HDTV’s, allowing TV viewing from each area. The room had two great-looking amenities, a Vers model radio/alarm/iPod docking station, and a brushed silver aluminum Pablo Pardo-designed tube LED desk light that sat on a white work desk.

View from loft-style guest room at State and Court Streets, and Boston’s 1713 Old State House (photo Ron Bernthal)

The extra-large bathrooms are one of the hotel’s most popular features. My bathroom was separated from the bedroom by a huge glass window, through which the commode, shower and sink was all quite visible. The property promotes their “infamous sexy showers” on marketing materials, and they are quite nice, with deep-seated marble bathtubs in some of the rooms, and streamlined stainless-steel fixtures. Modest couples, however, should note that the optional sheer curtains that can be drawn over the bathroom window will not conceal much.
The hotel offers free Wi-Fi and, despite its casual “boutique” ambience, provides all the standard property amenities found in larger deluxe hotels, including a 24-hour fitness center, 24-hour business center, concierge services, valet parking, and meeting and event space.

King bed guest room, view from glass-wall shower. (photo Ames Boston Hotel)

Boston has been a leader among U.S. cities where 19th century structures have been successfully converted into downtown luxury hotels. These include a former bank, a jail, a customs house and police headquarters. Several of the city’s current historic hotels were originally built as hotel properties and have been beautifully restored, including the Omni Parker House, which opened in 1855 and is the longest continuously operating hotel in the country.

The Ames Boston Hotel is located on Court Street, in the heart of the city’s financial district and is a short walk to the Government Center, Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Beacon Hill, Boston Commons, several subway lines and Amtrak’s South Street Station.


Contact:

Ames Hotel Boston
1 Court Street
Boston, MA 02198
Ph: 617-979-8100
www.amesbostonhotel.com

Massachusetts Bay Journal: Summer eating in the historic communities outside Boston is still 18th-century oriented, meaning local seafood, farm fresh veggies, and lots of locally grown fruit.


BY RON BERNTHAL

At the beginning of the 18th century, Boston didn’t have a central marketplace, so vendors pushed carts through town selling local produce such as seafood, wild game, fowl, apples, nuts, and berries. Cooking traditions were based on those of English and Irish immigrants, and featured plenty of stews, roasts, preserved meats, biscuits, and puddings. In addition regional foods such as corn, squash, beans, and potatoes were introduced to the local cuisine.

Boston’s Fanuel Hall was where 18th-century settlers went for fresh fish, vegetables and summer fruit, transported by wagons from nearby farms. (Library of Congress photo)

Faneuil Hall, built in 1742, served as a marketplace for fresh goods, and the region became important for trading, farming, and fishing. By the 19th century, traditional Boston area dishes such as baked beans slow-cooked with molasses, deep-fried batter-dipped clams, and clam chowder began to appear on dinner tables.

Despite the area’s industrialization and resulting loss of farmland, the Boston area has remained a culinary center, where the nation’s oldest restaurants compete with some of the newest, most imaginative kitchens in the country. The one element that many Massachusetts Bay area chefs seem to have in common is that they try source locally as much as possible. Since the mid- 1990s chefs in Cambridge and many of other historic towns which form a half-circle along Boston’s perimeter, have become nationally recognized.

Julia Child, who moved to Cambridge in the 1960s, introduced fine cuisine to the area and paved the way for other great chefs and restauranteurs to emerge onto the food scene. People like Ana Sortun of Oleana and Jody Adams of Rialto, both in Cambridge; Chris Douglas of the Ashmont Grill in Dorcester; Jim Turner of Turners Seafood Grill and Market in Melrose; along with Jason Bond, Jeremy and Lisa Sewall, and Steve Johnson have turned this crescent shaped region into a Mecca of innovative, organic, and locally sourced restaurants.

Jim Turner has continued a long family tradition in the Boston area fish industry, started by his grandfather at the turn of the century, and continuing today, where Turner and his family run a fish processing plant in the seaside town of Gloucester, as well as a popular retail and restaurant operation called Turners Seafood Grill and Market in Melrose, about ten miles north of Boston. Turner is a big proponent of community supported fishery, where local catches are not shipped outside the area, even if the species caught are not as well known as customers are used to.

Jim Turner of Turner’s Seafood Grill & Market, Melrose, MA, serves fresh fish and seafood from North Atlantic waters. Turner and his family also run a fish processing plant in Gloucester, MA.

“The community supported fishery has become an important part of our region’s fishing economy, especially now that all our customers are demanding that the fish they buy from us, whether from our wholesale operation, or from the retail shop, is fresh and mostly local. Whenever possible, we catch it locally and sell it locally,” said Jim Turner.

Lee Belanger, author of the Boston Homegrown Cookbook, says that women chefs, especially in Cambridge, are taking the “farm to table” concept to new levels. “The towns outside of Boston have quite a few restaurants that truly dedicate themselves to serving the freshest cuisine possible, and many of them are now operating their own organic farms nearby. One of our noted women chefs, Ana Sortune, is married to an organic farmer.”

Ana Sortun of Oleana restaurant in Cambridge, provides a fresh, Middle Eastern organic menu, with much of the produce coming from the nearby farm she owns with her husband (photo provided)

Chef Ana Sortun serves rustic and imaginative eastern Mediterranean cuisine in a historic wood and brick Cambridge restaurant called Oleana. Sortun won the James Beard award in 2005 for “Best Northeast Chef,” and her spinach falafel, Turkish pancakes, Tunis lamb, and sheep’s milk yogurt are just some of the unique menu items that customers love. Ms. Sortun says that to her, serving local has to do with passion, flavor, and her farmer-husband. “Quite frankly the decision to use local was easy. It was driven from the chef end in me, where the first thing I look for is the best ingredients, the purest ingredients, the best flavors. My husband and I live on our farm, and we get can fresh vegetables and meat products very easily, so it was just a natural movement for us to incorporate most of our produce into the menu, and the flavor of course is extraordinary, which to us is the major benefit to our customers.”

Oleana, in Cambridge, is where Chef Ana Sortun offers an organic menu of Middle Eastern cuisine using farm fresh vegetables and locally sourced meat and dairy products (photo Ron Bernthal)

Ms. Sortun and her husband, Chris Kurth, live on Siena Farms, a 50-acre property about 25 miles west of Boston. Their produce is grown using traditionally sustainable farming practices of modern organic agriculture and is free of chemical herbicides, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers. Having a farm like this so close to Boston is unusual, but there is another farm even closer. Actually, part of the Alandale Farm is within the Boston city limits as well as in the neighboring suburb of Brookline just across the border. Its 30 acres produce all sorts of organic vegetables that it sells both to area restaurants and local residents.

“This pristine farm has been in the same family since the French and Indian Wars, and despite the increasing land values around the farm, the family is definitely not interested in selling it. It is a truly unique situation, being able to grow and supply organic produce to local residents and restaurants without the additional cost and environmental concerns of transportation,” said John Lee, Alandale Farm’s long term manager.

Chef Chris Douglass runs two restaurants in the town of Dorchester, a few miles south of Boston. Ashmont Grill is a modern tavern with grass-fed beef burgers and fresh fish, including grilled trout, with oyster night on Thursdays. Nearby is Tavolo, another neighborhood gathering place with an Italian ambience. Chef Douglass has been a pioneer in Boston’s sustainability movement, and is the founding president of the area’s chefs’ collaborative. Running both restaurants, located a few blocks apart, leaves little time for relaxation, or sleep.

Chef Chris Douglas of Ashmont Grill, Dorchester, picks up fresh fish at the Boston Fish Market (photo Ron Bernthal

Today, Douglas is up early, heading to the sprawling Boston Fish Market as the sun rises over the harbor. By 7:00 am he arrives at Red’s Best’s, where he picks up some fluke and striped bass. “The guys down here at the market really know what’s running, and when you see the fish come off the boats, it’s great to buy what’s fresh and affordable, whether its haddock or cod or blue fish, and bring it back to the restaurant for our lunch and dinner menu,” Chef Douglas said as he makes his way from Puritan Fish to Boston Sword and Tuna to Cape Cod Shellfish, loading boxes of fish and ice into the back of his van until the back end started to settle lower under the weight. Because the fish was fresh, the inside of the van smelled pristine, as if we were in a new vehicle.

Back at the Ashmont Grill Douglass had kitchen staff bring the boxes into the cooler, other staff would begin to prepare tonight’s vegetables and soup stock, and someone else was already writing the new fish and meat specials on the blackboard for tonight’s customers. This type of preparation happens at many Boston area restuarants every day, and throughout the country at dining establishments that prefer to serve fresh, locally available produce. With all the work involved it has to be a labor of love, and for the Massachusetts Bay area chefs highlighted in this article, it’s also a passion.