Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Coolidge Corner vs. Back Bay

I wandered around Coolidge Corner today, noting the advantages of "suburban" living. Coolidge Corner has a lot to offer that we Back Bay residents are lacking.

For starters, they have a giant Trader Joe's. The Back Bay store is a closet by comparison, although I still love it and am grateful for it every day. But there's so much more at the one in Brookline, and I don't even care about the wine. I care about the cheese selection, the Empire kosher chickens, and all that produce. (By the way, if you haven't had their Roasted Garlic Spaghetti Sauce, try some soon. It's $1.79 and has a satisfying rich, complex flavor that doesn't overwhelm. It's especially nice on a pizza. I'm not a fan of garlic sauces and bought my first jar by accident; I'm glad I did.)

Coolidge Corner has a bakery specializing in artisanal bread: When Pigs Fly. Back Bay has nothing to compare with that. Yes, you can get the brand at Shaw's, but the selection is not as fresh or as varied. The last time I was in, I tried their chocolate/peanut butter/banana bread. It was yummy, but not as good as the orange/toasted walnut/cranberry.

Then there's Party Favors, a store that's half party tchotchkes and half CAKE. While most of their cakes feature spectacular frosting designs, they are not my favorites. The Chocolate Decadence cake, in the "gourmet" display case on the other side of the register, is what you want. Outstanding. We Back Bayers do not have anything close to such a bakery, except for Shaw's. We have a mediocre, overpriced cupcake shop. Even worse, we have a lame T-shirt store masquerading as a cupcake store. Do you know many disappointed tourists walk out of there on any given day? Little Johnny should be arrested for inciting sugar cravings under false pretenses.

Coolidge Corner also has Brookline Booksmith, the most excellent independent bookstore in the area, with a big used section downstairs. I'm glad Back Bay has Borders, but I wish our one remaining independent bookstore had a larger selection and didn't smell like patchouli mixed with dinner.

Coolidge Corner is also blessed with TWO Anna's Taquerias. Since we've been eating their burritos at least twice a week for about 15 years, this is almost a deciding reason for us to relocate there. But the four locations in Beacon Hill and Cambridge, including MIT, are also popular with us, and we can hike/walk to two of them. Isn't it high time Anna's came to Back Bay? Not that we've been deprived....

Back Bay doesn't have a movie theater; I remember when we had three! Coolidge Corner still has a great one. And there's a creperie. We have a fondue and raclette restaurant, so I'd call that one even. And we both have a Finale and a Paper Source. That's good. But if you crave Russian white-chocolate-and-blueberry candy bars, Transylvanian "vampire" wine, cabbage pie, or blinis, you have to go to the Bazaar just outside Coolidge Corner.

Back Bay has a much greater selection of stores, of course, including the irreplaceable Crate and Barrel, Anthropologie, Second Time Around (three of them!) and the Apple Store. And there's so much more in Copley Place and the Pru Mall. But Coolidge Corner has its share of nice, little boutiques, including The Studio and Wild Goose Chase, that offer things you won't find in Back Bay. And while Back Bay beats out Coolidge Corner in terms of its sheer quantity of restaurants, Coolidge Corner has its share of delicious, creative, upscale dining, too, including Lineage.

For dogs and cats, there's Brookline Grooming and Pet Supplies, which tops our Pawsh Dog Boutique, I'm sorry to say, by a mile. It has a mind-boggling array of premium cat food brands, which is what brought me out there today. Cats have to eat, too.

Coolidge Corner doesn't have a magnificent, tree-lined mall, a river, an Esplanade, or a Public Garden. Its streets aren't brick-lined and its architecture is more pedestrian than what we're used to in Back Bay. We've also got historic churches and a public library to die for. So I guess I'll stay here, for now. Until those burritos start calling.


  1. coolidge corner only has 1 annas. I believe what you are referring too is Boca Grande. The owners are siblings, but they are not the same.

  2. We also have Clear Flour bakery, the most delicious place on earth!

  3. I think that you are making a fundamentally mistaken comparison between an entire neighborhood and a CORNER. Of course Back Bay has more restaurants - it's a much larger area! But if you live next to Coolidge Corner, as we do, you have the luxury of being close to many wonderful, privately-owned (unlike Crate & Barrel or other Back Bay stores you mentioned) stores and restaurants, and by "close" I mean no more than 5 minutes walk. There's a finale, yes, but our pride and joy is the two Indian restaurants, the amazing thai, the fantastic Korean barBQ, the several kosher Israeli places, the excellent delis, the shawarma places (two!), the Fugakyu sushi.

    I have nothing against Back Bay, I think it's a very nice neighborhood. But that's what it is - a neighborhood, and to compare it to a corner is like comparing Anna's to Taco Bell (I like both, but it's hardly the same!)

  4. Of course, keep in mind that Coolidge Corner as a neighborhood is significantly smaller than Back Bay.

  5. As someone who currently lives in the Back Bay, but was considering a Coolidge Corner move this month, I have to also cast my vote (slim margin) for the Back Bay. I know both neighborhoods well, but something about the din of the Back Bay is just more appealing to me than the din of Brookline.

    PS, you should change the link color for your blog. I didn't realize until after I read the whole thing, that some of those were hyperlinks!

  6. Seriously, you are comparing all of back bay to a three block wide area of brookline? that's hardly fair. If you're going to do that you should also incorporate washington square and brookline village as part of coolidge corner.

    and hynespb, there are two annas in CC. one at thorndike and harvard, the other at summit and beacon.

  7. Thanks for your comments. I wrote this off the cuff and certainly didn't mean it as an exhaustive survey — I was just going over the places I'd seen yesterday

    I think of both Coolidge Corner and Back Bay as neighborhoods, or "villages," size being immaterial. I agree that Coolidge Corner has more than its share of great restaurants and independent shops — I thought I made that point. It's especially true if you stretch the boundaries a bit, heading over toward Brookline Village, for example.

    I love small independent stores, but sometimes you need a few of the bigger chain stores, too; I hear that Crate and Barrel is a pretty good neighbor, and so is the Apple Store. These save us from making trips to the 'burbs. I'd be taken aback if Wal-Mart or Target moved into either neighborhood.

    I consider the Anna's on Beacon at Summit and the Anna's on Harvard Avenue to be in the environs of Coolidge Corner. Having been to both more than a few hundred times, I'm not mistaking either one for that awful Boca Grande! I've been there twice.

    Go ahead, rub it in about Clear Flour. Sighhh....

  8. I totally agree about Johnny Cupcakes! Johnny is such a tease! We do have a lot of good ice cream too though, Emack and Bolio's, Ben and Jerry's and JP Licks all on Newbury

  9. You obviously don't have kids. We considered Back Bay a few years back. Public schools in Boston are dismal. Brookline public schools are among the best in the state. That includes Devotion school in Coolidge Corner. Bottom line: Back Bay is a nice neighborhood for young couples or for old people. Coolidge Corner is a real neighborhood, truly diverse and a great place for young families who still want to live in an “urban” setting. You also have no Peets, Wulf’s fish market and Clear Flour bakery in Back Bay. So yes, stay in Back Bay!

  10. We do have plenty of children in Back Bay these days — more than we used to, it seems. We have several excellent private schools. We also have plenty of students, young professionals, and middle-aged folks, with or without kids. No so many "old people," perhaps, as Coolidge Corner, but we do have the services of Beacon Hill Village for those who can still make the climbs to their apartments. I'm happy to head out to Brookline, do my shopping, and come back here to my very lovely and interesting neighborhood! And since I don't usually eat fish, I skip Wulf's and go to Legal, Summer Shack, or Atlantic seafood when we're in the mood for lobster.


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