There are few American cities more glorious in the fall than Boston. That’s especially true in October, when Head of the Charles, the world’s largest gathering of competitive rowers, turns the Charles River into a race course set against the bright colors of a New England autumn along the Esplanade. The fact that the race weekend coincides with Parents Weekend at some of the city’s major colleges and universities adds to the excitement and the crowds. Newbury Street, the city’s premier shopping strand, becomes a phalanx of students and their credit card-wielding parents, navigating scarce sidewalk space as they snake into the city’s best boutiques. On the Saturday night, the North End takes on the chaotic splendor of Naples during a festival, and Hanover Street seems to be one gigantic noisy and garlic-infused restaurant overflowing into the streets.
As a native Bostonian, a recent visit was an especially good time to return to some my favorite places. Regatta and Parents Weekend were the reasons, but it also meant an opportunity to check into the Fairmont Copley Plaza, the 1912 dowager that commands a corner of Copley Square in the Back Bay.
The staff – and visitors – were masked but the staff was also working, by which I mean there was full housekeeping services, which seem to have all but disappeared at other hotels I’ve stayed at recently. Blame the labor shortage, or the continued caution from Covid 19 pandemic in those cases. But it was a small reminder that things are getting better. The staff was impressively on their toes during our entire visit.
The hotel also has a new mascot, an adopted black Lab named Cori who hangs out in his dog bed near the check in desk. It’s a nice, familiar and welcoming touch in a hotel that exudes a kind of venerable turn-of-the-last-century glamor, from the long gilded and mirrored entryway that was dubbed “Peacock Alley” decades ago to the hotel’s 5,000 square foot lobby, splendid coffered ceilings and brass stair railings.
The seven-floor Copley Plaza is constructed of limestone and buff brick in the Beaux-Arts style, showing off French and Venetian Renaissance influences on the facade. Italian marble and Empire Style crystal are hallmarks. I like the fact that much of the classical architecture and decor has been preserved. The hallways are wide, and the guest rooms have large windows, high ceilings, small architectural details and a few quirks, with a solid, Edwardian feel.
It was the first hotel in the nation to have air conditioning, and the first to accept credit cards. The hotel’s architect was Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, who also designed the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. and the Plaza Hotel in New York City.
It also has some esteemed company in Copley Square. Architect H. H. Richardson’s Trinity Church overlooks the square, one of the greatest buildings in America, with stained glass windows by John La Farge and sculptures by Daniel Chester French and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. On another side of the square is the Venetian-influenced Old South Church. Finally, there’s the Renaissance Revival splendor of the Boston Public Library designed by McKim, Mead, and White that commands the entire southern side of Copley Square. By any measure, it’s one of the country’s greatest buildings. Even the skateboarders who use its steps and wide sidewalk for launching themselves skyward clearly appreciate its presence.
The hotel’s OAK Long Bar + Kitchen is a vast room that somehow manages to feel cozy. It has a bar and American brasserie-style restaurant that feels like an elegant living room, with creative fare from Executive Chef, Zaid Khan. There’s invariably a buzz in the place, with the air of a sophisticated party that’s about to take place. The Copley Square is a hive of energy, like it is indeed the hub of the Hub.