Gardner Museum – Venice In Boston

Courtyard at the Gardner Museum

Courtyard at the Gardner Museum

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For those wishing an amazing and intimate taste of Italy while in Boston, a visit to the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum is a must. Designed to mimic a 15th century Venetian palace, it was opened by wealthy socialite Isabella Stuart Gardner in 1903 to house her amazing collection of European Art. A meaningful visit can take a little as two hours. For the Gardner’s, website, click here.

Isabella Stuart Gardner was born in 1840 in New York City to a wealthy family and was educated in New York and Paris. In 1860 she married John (“Jack”) Lowell Gardner Jr. and they moved to Boston, Jack’s hometown. After the death of their only child in 1865, the couple traveled extensively in Europe. Their favorite destination became Venice, and they were frequent guests at the Palazzo Barbaro, the home of some fellow Bostonians and a gathering place for artistic of American and English expatriates. The Palazzo Barbaro was to become a major inspiration for the Gardner Museum.

After inheriting a large sum from her father in 1891, Ms. Gardner Isabella began to collect art seriously. She and Jack dreamed of building a museum to hold the collection, which was to grow to over 2,500 pieces – including paintings, sculpture, drawings, manuscripts, ceramics, from all over the world. They were unable to accomplish this together as Jack died in 1898.

Soon after the conclusion of the filling in of Boston’s Back Bay, Isabella Gardner purchased land for the museum and, with architect Willard T. Sears, designed a museum that would evoke a 15th century Venetian palace. The museum opened to the public in 1903. Mrs. Gardner occupied a 4th floor apartment above the museum until her death in 1924. She left an endowment of $1 million that stipulated that the collection be permanently exhibited substantively in the manner that she left it. This is what you visit today.

Gardner Museum Nighttime View

Gardner Museum Nighttime View – Old & New

Perhaps the greatest treasure is the old building itself. Certainly, the art, sculpture and other objects are important and fascinating. But, strolling the building, gazing at sculptures and flowers in the pink-hued central courtyard (supplied from their own greenhouses), the substantial yet ethereal sensations you get walking the medieval halls, is a close as one can get Venice and old Europe in the Americas. It is a unique and accessible opportunity.

Boston Gardner Museum's Calderwood Hall

Calderwood Hall at Boston’s Gardner Museum

In 2012 an expansion wing opened, presenting a surprising contrast to the old building. Visitors enter through the new wing – while there, make sure to walk up the stairs and take a quick look at the Gardner’s unique concert venue, Calderwood Hall. Seating only 300 people across four levels, concert goers are never more than one row back from the performers; the acoustics are superb. For concert information, click here – if you can, plan early as concerts are often sold out.


Myers+Chang – John Hancock Never Had Flavors So Exciting

Occasionally, you have a meal that is really exciting.  Not necessarily fancy or expensive, just exhilarating with memorable, often new and intense flavors. It might have been at a street vendor in Singapore, the bistro where you took shelter from the rain outside of Paris, the first time you had Thai food, or even that little restaurant where you first tried ceviche in Lima.

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I’ve had these meals, and I just had another one here in Boston at Myers+Chang in the South End. They have been around for a few years, and I can’t believe that it took this long to get here! It is a little out of the way for most Freedom Trail visitors, but the trek is worth it if you like exciting, Asian influenced food.

Public transportation is via the Silver line bus to the East Berkley Street station – SL5 Bus 9, link here. Metered parking is readily available on Washington and East Berkeley Streets. It is also walkable from the Theater District downtown. Although there is seating at the counter/bar, make a reservation, which you can do at, or call them at 617.542.5200.

It feels like a hip diner, e.g., it is not fancy and you don’t need to dress. But, it is fun, funky and has its own style and vibe. Food comes out when it is ready, so don’t plan on traditional coordinated courses. Order dishes to share – two to three per person. Save room for desert.

We ordered a number of the “standards.” The braised pork belly buns came out first. These are little sandwiches of tender pork belly, bao (a green) and hoisin sauce served on dough that almost had the consistency of memory foam – cool and delicious. The taiwanese-style cool dan dan noodles were in a creamy piquant peanut sauce; a great balance to the pork buns. The red miso glazed carrots (serendipitous, as we couldn’t decide what to order) provided perfect contrast. But the piece du resistance was the tiger’s tears (supposedly hot enough to make a tiger cry) – grilled sliced steak in a fiery sauce with plenty of basil and lime. It was not as hot as we expected, but it lingered in our mouths for a while, but not long enough.

Joanne Chang is a fantastic baker (visit one of her four “flour” bakeries if you get a chance), and we elected to share a sticky date pudding w/ginger crème anglaise. Whatever of the crème anglaise wasn’t used on the pudding, I ate with a spoon. I had a Patron XO Café (coffee flavored tequila) and my wife had a Fernet Branca (an herbal aromatic liquor), both on the rocks.

The bill with two drinks with dinner and the after dinner drinks was under $100. On the way out we chatted with the owners, who were both humble and charming; everyone was was welcoming and helpful. The pace on a busy Saturday night was a little frenetic, but it just added to the texture.

All in all, it was a fantastic blending of flavors; unexpected, pungent, sublime and a fun night. Go.

For bargain hunters, Meyers+Chang feature a Cheap Date Night on Monday and Tuesday nights with a $40 prix fixe “themed” menu for 2 people. This is a steal for an amazing culinary experience.