Hotel CommonwealthBack Bay, Boston, Massachusetts
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Oyster Hotel Review
Modern conveniences set against an evocative old-time backdrop
The 148-room Commonwealth is one of those hotels that feels like it couldn't exist anywhere else -- it is the hotel embodiment of aristocratic Boston. Every detail suggests affluence and tastefulness (or, depending on your point of view, austerity and priggishness).The lobby is anchored by a huge central ottoman, and around it are low chairs and polished tables gilded with brass swans. It feels almost as if you've wandered past a velvet rope into a museum exhibit recreating an early American parlor -- you're not sure if you're allowed to sit in the chairs.
That was my first impression, anyway. But under all those proper airs, the hotel is consistently comfortable, impressive, and bursting with modern conveniences. The Commonwealth's rooms strike the same vintage chord as the lobby, but feature plush pillow-top beds, large flat-screen TVs, and quality sound systems. Movies -- classics and recent releases -- and Playstation 2 consoles and games are available for free, delivered to your room. A gallery of upscale shops leads from the lobby to Eastern Standard, a lunch and dinner hot spot attached to the hotel. Outside, guests can explore the shops and restaurants of Kenmore Square, or rest up on benches in the small nearby park as Boston University students scuttle from dorms to classes and back. Fenway Park is only two blocks away, its high green field lights visible from the hotel's parking lot.
All of this, together with the high level of service (staffers almost always referred to me by name), puts the Commonwealth in the select company of Boston's grandest small hotels. The nearby Lenox Hotel, which is a bit more expensive, goes slightly further with the pampering; the Back Bay Hotel, also more expensive and housed in a former police station, is closer to the Boston Common. But at 350 square feet, the Commonwealth's standard rooms trump both of these by more than 50 feet. It's one of Boston's best luxury values.
The Commonwealth combines a boutique feel with the attentive and unfailingly polite service of a larger luxury hotel.
The service here is impressive. A concierge is available 24 hours a day, and red-uniformed bellmen stand at attention by the front desk. In person and over the phone, hotel staff almost always referred to me by name. When I asked for a Playstation 2 to be delivered to my room, the employee brought it within five minutes and offered to set it up.
- 24-hour room service from Eastern Standard, the hotel restaurant
- 24-hour concierge service
- Turndown service available upon request
- Free newspaper delivery on weekdays -- your choice of the Boston Globe, New York Times, USA Today, or The Wall Street Journal. Free papers are available in the lobby on weekends.
- Free DVD library with more than 200 titles -- classics and recent releases. Movies are delivered to your room; you return them to the front desk.
- Board games and Playstation 2 console and video games available for free, upon request
- Other things the hotel will provide for free: cell phone chargers, European plug adaptors, GPS systems, and yoga gear
- Free overnight shoeshine
A convenient location in the Back Bay, two blocks from Fenway Park
The hotel sits in the middle of the city in Back Bay, an upscale commercial and residential area where skyscrapers tower above centuries-old churches and expensive brownstone homes. It's a popular area for business travelers -- the Hynes Convention Center is here -- but it also has some of the city's best shopping, from quaint Newbury Street boutiques to the massive Prudential Center mall. More specifically, Commonwealth is in Kenmore Square, a pleasant pocket of Back Bay, amid restaurants, shops, and the student hangouts around Boston University.
- Right next to the Kenmore stop on the T (Boston's subway system)
- Two blocks from Fenway Park
- Five to 10 minutes to the Boston Common and the start of the Freedom Trail
- 10 to 15 minutes to Faneuil Hall, a historic tourist marketplace with more than 150 shops and cafes
- 10 to 15 minutes to Harvard Square, with its shops and restaurants, and Harvard University
- 20 to 25 minutes to Logan International Airport
Like the rest of the hotel, the Commonwealth's 350-square-foot standard rooms capture a classic Boston feel, a sort of comfortable mustiness. A dark wooden desk and curvaceous wooden chairs look like they were taken from an old parlor; an iron luggage stand is a revelation -- a major upgrade from the typical folding stand most hotels put in the closet for you to find and set up yourself; lamps, side tables, and a bureau are as anachronistic as they are charming. And yet, as traditional as the hotel's vibe can seem, there's no shortage of modern conveniences. The Serta Perfect Sleeper pillow-top beds with down comforters are supremely comfortable, the electronics are all up to date, and bathrooms are nice but conventional, with Fresh brand bath products, stainless steel hardware, and sleek glass shelves.
- 350-square-foot standard rooms
- Free Wi-Fi
- Panasonic 31-inch flat-screen TVs get HBO, HBO Plus, and some HD channels.
- Each room has a DVD player, and the hotel offers a free library of over 200 movies, both classics and recent releases.
- Free Playstation 2 consoles and games available on request
- Terrycloth robes
- Each room has a GEORGE iPod sound system -- radio, iPod dock, alarm clock
- Cocktail set with glasses, ice bucket and tongs, with corkscrew
- Minibar with beer, wine, liquor, soda, water, nuts and candy
- Free jogging map of Boston
- Electronic safe, hair dryer, and ironing board with iron in closet
As with many boutique hotels, on-site amenities are limited -- but the gallery of shops is a plus.
The hotel features a gallery of upscale shops in a hallway that connects the lobby and Eastern Standard, the restaurant. The hallway itself is an art gallery, Panopticon Gallery of Photography, showcasing both local and international pictures. There's also Persona Jewelry, where jewelry is crafted on-site, from casual pieces to engagement rings. And Hunt's Photo and Video sells high-end photography equipment and accessories. Aside from that, there isn't much in the way of on-site amenities at the Commonwealth. There's a midsize fitness center and a tiny business center tucked in a nook off the lobby. No pool.
- Upscale shopping gallery off the lobby with stores selling jewelry, art, and camera equipment
- Fitness center open daily -- two stationary bicycles, three treadmills, two elliptical machines, a strength multistation, yoga mats and balls, free weights, and a weight bench
- Small 24-hour business center with two computers
- Business center has one Mac, one PC (both with free Internet), two printers, and assorted supplies like scissors, staplers, rulers and paper clips.
- In-room spa services are available by appointment.
The Commonwealth doesn't stand out as a place for families, but the large rooms are spacious enough to spread out.
Suites are especially accommodating to families, and kids might enjoy some time with a Playstation 2, which you can borrow for free. But there's no pool, and the vibe can be a little sedate for the whole family ... stuffy, even. Overall, the Commonwealth is a hotel best appreciated by adults.
- Large 350-square-foot rooms are accommodating to families; suites even more so.
- Board games and Playstation 2 console and video games available for free, upon request
- Free cribs and rollaway beds
- Kids' room service menu
Dogs are welcome.
The Hotel Commonwealth welcomes dogs but no other animals, and charges a cleaning fee per stay. Dogs are not allowed to be left in rooms by themselves. The hotel can arrange for dog-walkers or pet-sitters through an independent company.
The Commonwealth is clean.
Like a museum exhibit -- which its lobby resembles -- the Commonwealth is meticulously cared for.
The Commonwealth boasts the renowned restaurant and bar Eastern Standard, a popular American brasserie with a clientele that's hardly limited to hotel guests. You can expect a wait at lunchtime, when the business crowd files in. In addition to its expansive, high-ceilinged dining room, there's cafe-style seating on the front sidewalk. Foundation Lounge, below the lobby, serves drinks and zensai Japanese appetizers. On a Saturday night when I was there, the line was out the door; it's draws a young, club-going crowd.
The Island Creek Oyster Bar is a new addition to the hotel. Stressing locally grown -- or bred -- food, at Island Creek diners can meet their Oyster farmer and chef, as well as winemaker and brewer. Food is expectedly fresh, with typical New England inspirations that meld well with the chef's obvious creative flair, and the menu is changed daily based on the market catch.
Also new to the hotel is the Hawthorne Bar, from mixologist Jackson Cannon. The cocktail menu is expansive and ever-changing.
- Eastern Standard restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.
- Foundation Lounge serves drinks and Japanese appetizers
- Commonwealth Coffee, on the lobby level, is open daily, serving Illy brand coffee and teas.
- 24-hour room service from Eastern Standard restaurant, with a special late-night dining menu
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Things You Should Know About Hotel Commonwealth
Address500 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, United States
Also Known As
- Commonwealth Hotel Boston
- Commonwealth Room
- Fenway Room
- Kenmore Room
- Presidential Suite