Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
The hotel's impressive history and grand lobby elevates an otherwise standard mid-tier property to mythic status.
In a city that wears its historic pedigree like a badge of honor, even the hotels boast storied lineages. And none is more impressive than that of the Omni Parker House. Opened in 1855, the 551-room landmark is the longest continuously operating hotel in the country, and the first in Boston that offered running water and elevator service. The hotel's famous guests -- and former employees -- read like a laundry list of the political and cultural elite: Charles Dickens did the very first reading of A Christmas Carol on American soil for members of the Saturday Club literary group. Decades later, Ho Chi Minh worked as a baker in the basement kitchen, likely churning out the hotel's deservedly famous, eponymous Parker House rolls. JFK proposed to Jackie at a table at Parker's Restaurant, where Malcolm X once worked as a busboy.
In fact, you can't walk two feet without stumbling over some historical artifact or site of a ghostly encounter at the Parker. With gentle prodding concierge Seamus Murphy, who's worked for the hotel for 33 of his 49 years, will regale guests with tales of the 19th-century whiskey salesman's ghost who lives in the closet of room 303 and plants booze-soaked kisses on slumbering female guests. Given the Omni Parker House's notable heritage, the absence of a special tour or even a printed guide highlighting the hotel's history (and haunted floors) is surprising.
Much of the original building was razed and rebuilt in the 1920s, but portions of the hotel -- including some guest rooms towards the back of the building -- date back to the 19th century. The hotel completed a $30-million renovation in 2008 that maintains the building's architectural integrity, particularly apparent in the spectacular lobby with its ornately carved oak paneling, chandeliered ceilings, and hammered gold elevators.
Rooms are a welcoming hybrid of old and new -- carpeting, linens, and furniture were all updated recently and manage to blend well with the hotel's charming turn-of-the-century vibe. Service, however, is about what you'd expect from a mid-tier chain -- fine, but not overly impressive. For an equally grand, historic feel, with a few more upscale services thrown in, try the Lenox Hotel, which has contemporary perks (Bose speakers, chauffered hybrid SUV service) and freebies (an extensive snack menu), or the Fairmont Copley Plaza, with its gorgeous rooms and an award-winning Oak Bar overlooking Copley Square.
Service -- with the exception of a few charismatic staffers -- is nothing special.
With its grandiose legacy, opulent gilded lobby, and uniformed valets and porters waiting to greet guests, the Omni Parker House projects an image of old-world luxury and white-glove treatment. But the first word in the hotel's title sums up what you can expect once you've checked in. The Omni chain provides decent, but by no means extraordinary, service, and sometimes a lack of professionalism mars the hotel's luxe veneer.
Example: My room was directly across from the housekeeping closet, and as I passed by, I found a maid sitting on the floor of the closet in the dark, chatting on her cell phone. I requested an 8 p.m. turndown service from the front desk, but when I returned after dinner, I noted that the request had not been administered. For a place with such a remarkable history, there are no guides or other informational services plainly available to guests at the reception desk or inside rooms. It's up to ambitious lodgers to track down a concierge, or better yet, the burly head of guest services Seamus Murphy, who gamely relates tales of the hotel's famous guests and ghostly residents to interested parties.
In the heart of downtown, just one block from Boston Common
Omni Parker is situated in the heart of downtown Boston, just outside Beacon Hill, a historic, wealthy, residential neighborhood known for its Federal-style rowhouses, brick sidewalks, narrow streets, and more than 40 antique shops. The hotel is directly across from King's Chapel, the Old Town Hall (now a Ruth's Chris steakhouse), and a block-and-a-half from Granary Burial Ground, where the likes of Paul Revere, Sam Adams, John Hancock and Mother Goose were laid to rest. The blocks surrounding the hotel are lined with bars, Irish pubs, and restaurants that characterize much of Boston's food scene -- steakhouses and seafood joints.
Up-to-date, but with itsy-bitsy bathrooms
Unlike some historic hotels, the Omni Parker House has successfully updated guest rooms to suit modern travelers' needs without forfeiting old-world charm. All rooms underwent soft renovations in 2008, so carpets are spotless and furniture is in excellent condition. My 260-square-foot deluxe room (about average for downtown) was clean, spacious and attractively decorated with brand-new plush furniture, mirrors with old-fashioned moulding, brocaded faux fabric wallpaper, and a new 32-inch, flat-screen TV. A large wooden work desk was outfitted with a data port for laptop plug-ins. The one place that vestiges of the old hotel were felt in a less pleasant way was the cramped bathroom, where I had difficulty maneuvering in front of the sink without being attacked by the heavy fabric shower curtain.
Few amenities aside from a large gym and a storied history
With the exception of the ghosts that supposedly haunt the 3rd and 10th floors and a spacious new gym, there aren't any special features at the Parker House.
Okay for families
Although standard rooms are on the small side, there are adjoining rooms available, free cribs, and small amenities for children upon check-in. If families don't mind riding the T (Boston's subway system), it's only one block away with easy access to many sites. Faneuil Hall is just three blocks away.
Small pets are allowed for a fee.
The Omni Parker House allows pets under 25 pounds for a one-time fee. Pets can be left unattended in rooms unless disruptions occur. No other special amenities are offered.
Recent renovation has left it pretty clean.
The lobby and hallways may be dark, but they're clean. Guest rooms feature brand-new carpet, bedding, and furniture, but some stains are apparent on wallpaper and there are minor cracks in the marble of the bathroom's showers. I found a crumpled up receipt on the floor under the desk in my room that had been left by a previous tenant.
The hotel's full-service restaurant, Parker's, is as historically significant as the rest of the hotel. Not only did Ho Chi Minh, Malcolm X, and Emeril Lagasse all work there, it is, after all, where the famed, buttery Parker House rolls were invented. Ditto the Boston cream pie, though the restaurant's contemporary rendering is virtually unrecognizable from the traditional dessert (it more closely resembles a Little Debbie Zebra Cake in looks and taste). Slightly less famous, but a signature dish nonetheless, is the bland, beige New England Schrod, the etymology of which once referred not to the actual type of fish but the acronym "Special Catch (Haddock) Received of Day," according to my waiter. (Nowadays it's just plain haddock.)
Steeped in history, stuffed with ghost lore, and teeming with old-world grandeur, the surprisingly affordable Omni Parker House is the place to stay for a taste of Boston's literary and political past. But manage your expectations when it comes to service and rooms.