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Originally published in the May 2010 issue of Out.
Pretty much any city block that sprouts the inevitable cupcake cafe, coffeehouse, or tattoo parlor -- the reigning style trifecta -- wins its own acronym these days. A lot of these newly anointed neighborhoods are likely to last about as long as that saccharine cupcake fetish, but Boston?s SoWa (a.k.a. South of Washington) earns its letters. In fact, the city?s gay-centric South End has been itching to expand for a while, and the district?s recently percolating southern rim gives it a fresh anchor. Suddenly the derelict red brickwarehouses and townhouses on Washington Street and Harrison Avenue are morphing into lofts, condos, and studios for the area?s fresh wave of peripatetic urban residents. Walking the hood is like running a global gauntlet. Proven?al brasseries bump up against Italian trattorias, pan-Asian boutiques, and enough galleries to exhibit most of the area?s not-so-starving artists. Geography justifies the creative frenzy. The only thing lying much farther south is the Southeast Expressway, which means there won?t be a So SoWa. Unless someone manages to plant a cupcake stand on the freeway.
Every trendified neighborhood needs a bona fide hangout, and Stella wins the title by consensus. The all-purpose, nonstop entertainment complex features an airy pizza-to-pasta restaurant (reserve ahead for brunch -- and order the signature duck omelet) and a newly inaugurated gay Sunday tea dance in the back bar. 1525 Washingon St.; (617) 247-7747; BostonStella.com
While the South End?s truest gay clubs (e.g., Club Caf?, the Eagle) still lie a short walk north of SoWa, this double-decker landmark is drawing a local crowd with its sleek ground-floor lounge, which swoops around a long bar and opens onto a backyard terrace in summer. Bonus: gay TGIF parties and private dining rooms. 500 Harrison Ave.; (617) 451-5151; RoccaBoston.com
A pitch-perfect, cinematic simulation of a Parisian brasserie -- down to the snaking zinc bar and the white wall tiles -- this sprawling showpiece dishes up a textbook bouillabaisse and duck confit. But it?s the golden pommes frites that win pride of house. Bite into one and you?ll hear Edith Piaf singing. 560 Harrison Ave.; (617) 422-0224; Gaslight560.com
Union Bar and Grille
A contemporary bistro, this handsome neighborhood fave -- complete with oversize banquettes -- knows how to dress up classic comfort food. The result is a rich plate of sweet corn risotto with chorizo and peppers, and a really fat burger roused by andouille sausage. 1357 Washington St.; (617) 423-0555; UnionRestaurant.com
The Chandler Inn
SoWa?s own boutique hotels are still in the planning stages, but this venerable inn is a short walk north and features guestrooms modeled, according to the designer, after an Armani suit. If you?re too lazy to leave the premises, the ground-floor gay sports bar, Fritz, features six flat-screen TVs (and very few Armani suits). 26 Chandler St.; (617) 482-3450; ChandlerInn.com
450 and 460 Harrison Avenue is an alley lined with back-to-back art galleries that exhibit everything from the neorealist to the purely surreal.
Billed as New England?s largest outdoor bazaar, and running from mid-May through October, this produce, crafts, and antiques market takes over an epic parking lot on Harrison Avenue. 540 Harrison Ave.; SoWaSundays.com