Harvard University casts a long shadow across Harvard Square, with its exalted history, leafy campus and status as the country's petri dish for bright young minds. But while the University may be the Square's focal point, the area itself has also raised its profile dramatically over the past decade (some say for better...), into a mix of national chain stores,
family-owned businesses and longstanding cultural venues.
But the characters in the Square have changed very little: Punks and skateboarders mingle with tweed-clad students on the sidewalks outside Alpha Omega, jewelry boutique to the stars; cinema fiends still fill the Brattle Theater; theatre lovers vie for tickets to the American Repertory Theatre; and everyone seeks shop therapy in Cardullo's specialty foods, and the rare perfumes of Colonial Drug. Restaurants are also considered institutions around here — particularly the likes of Harvest, a forerunner in Boston's culinary scene; Bartley's Burger Cottage; the celebrated Henrietta's Table; and Sandrine's. Newer entries include the vibrant and beautifully decorated OM, the quirky-luxurious UpStairs on the Square, and Chez Henri, a French-Cuban bistro.
Of course, Cambridge's other Squares have plenty to offer, too. The funky, gritty-cool blocks of Central Square are where to catch local and national bands at T.T. The Bear's or The Middle East after hitting any of the neighborhood's ethnic eateries or outstanding spots like Central Kitchen, Rendezvous and Salts. M.I.T. sets the tone for geek chic in Kendall Square, where indie movies run at The Kendall Theatre, students and bargain lovers bag cheap clothing by the barrelful at The Garment District, couples frequent quiet bistros like The Blue Room, and all of the above delight on scoops of the revelatory ice cream at Toscanini.
Meanwhile, abutting Somerville is similar to Cambridge in its diversity, concentration of intelligentsia and artists, but the town’s squares have their own feel, too. Foremost among them is Davis Square, abuzz with Tufts University students, young hipsters and longtime residents. You'll find them loafing on the couches of The Someday Cafe, browsing eclectic gift shops like Pluto, packing the Somerville Theatre for movies and staged shows, and digging into soul-warming dinners at ethnic bistros like Sabur.