Tag Archives: Union Square

Good to the Last Drop

Bloc 11 is the second coffee shop belonging to Tucker Lewis and Jennifer Park, owners of Diesel in Davis Square. It sits at the intersection of Walnut and Bow Streets in Union.  It’s spacious, has both indoor and outdoor seating, and hosts live music and open mic sessions a couple of evenings per week. I’ve heard from others that the food is great, but I’ve only gone for the iced coffee personally – delicious iced coffee with a very subtle hint of cinnamon.

The most unique thing about Bloc 11 is its location. It opened in 2007 in a vacant bank building, complete with vaults in the back in which you can sit and enjoy your latte. I regret that my photo doesn’t do the space justice, as it’s much cooler looking in person.

And speaking of lattes, they do some pretty cool latte flower art.

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DAILY TRIVIA: The first residence in the world to have telephone service was that belonging to Charles Williams Jr., who lived at the corner of Arlington and Lincoln Streets in Somerville. It was in Williams’ telegraphic equipment shop that Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson first transmitted a sound via telephone wire on June 2, 1875.

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Prettying Up Union Square

Deriving its name from the Civil War era, Union Square was once a major recruitment center for the Union Army. Today it is a melting pot where the working class of East Somerville intersects with the city’s fashionable western parts, and is one of the oldest and largest commercial areas in town.

There is much to say about bustling Union Square, but for today I wanted to write specifically about one step that was taken a few years ago to better the community through art and the active involvement of its residents, a hallmark of Mayor Curtatone’s legacy.

In 2005 the Somerville Arts Council held a design competition for local artists and craftsmen to design and build street furniture. The competition was based on 4 objectives: to engage local artists/craftsmen in design and fabrication, to recognize the city’s cultural diversity, to celebrate Union Square’s unique character, and to create beautiful and innovative new street furniture designs. The uncommon furniture can be found throughout Union Square.

Glass-top benches: Aaron Binkley; copper benches: Mitch Ryerson; trash barrel covers: Christina Lanzl, Phil Manker; engraved design on glass: Heather Townsend, Jeff Czekaj, Julie Chen, Wes Boyd.

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DAILY TRIVIA: The Queen Anne residential building at 113 College Ave. became a major national focus in 1968 for an alternative Jewish religious movement; it is still the home of the Havurat Shalom community.

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Bickfords No More

If you haven’t checked out Brunello Bistro in Winter Hill, it’s worth a visit.  It may be housed in the old Bickfords location, but it’s definitely no Bickfords. There’s even an outdoor seating area (and nope – it doesn’t overlook Broadway Street, if that’s what you’re envisioning.)

Baked gouda

I stopped there tonight with a friend, and we enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine and shared the baked gouda appetizer.  Wrapped in philo dough with greens, fresh berries and toasted walnuts, it’s an original concoction by Chef Manuel and is indeed quite delicious. As you can see, the presentation is also pretty impressive.

Brunello has an exceptional wine list, full bar and original menu, not to mention plenty of parking. The staff is always friendly and accommodating, and the chef is always coming out from the kitchen to mingle with the diners, ever interested in their opinions of the food.  There’s even a fireplace in the corner, adding to the cozy atmosphere.

I have been to Brunello a few times and though selfishly it’s kinda nice to have a dining option in Somerville without mad crowds, I’m always a tad nervous that they might have to close if more people don’t hurry up and discover this place. Come on, Somervillians… Davis and Union may be the more obvious draws when contemplating dinner out, but don’t forget to support your local Winter Hill establishments too.

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DAILY TRIVIA: The Winter Hill Gang, named for the Somerville neighborhood and once headed by the notorious Whitey Bulger, still  operates today out of South Boston.

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Fresh Veggies in the Wintertime

One of the things that’s made this snowy winter remotely tolerable is the implementation of the Somerville Winter Farmers Market.  It runs every Saturday from 10 am -2 pm at the old Armory building on Highland Street. The last market of the year will be on March 26, so if you’ve been meaning to check it out you best get a move on. It’s also worth mentioning that credit and debit cards are accepted, according to their Facebook page.  I wish I’d noticed that before heading over there this morning, since I forgot to grab cash.

Pies from Cook's Farm and Bakery in Springfield, MA

The Market is part of a bigger city-wide campaign to Shape Up Somerville; its aim is to increase access to healthy foods for Somerville residents.  There are vendors serving up just about everything you could imagine: fresh produce, fish, meat, bread, pies, nuts, sauces, pastries, wine, chocolate – and everything is locally/regionally grown and produced. There’s even live music to entertain you while you peruse, and also… isn’t it cool to have a reason to visit the Armory?

Click photos to enlarge


The Grownup Noise performing at the Winter Market on March 12.

Armory Building, Highland Ave.

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DAILY TRIVIA: Utne Reader named Somerville’s Davis Square as one of the 15 Hippest Places to Live in 1997.

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How do I love thee, SLF

A couple of years ago I stumbled across Somerville Local First on Facebook and “liked” it in an effort to be kept in the loop on local happenings. I was immediately impressed by what a useful community resource it was; so much information was being regularly collected and disseminated that I figured at least 10 or 50 people were working away behind the scenes.

SLF sticker on Sunshine Lucy's storefront, Holland Street

According to the SLF website, the organization’s mission was to engage “business and community leaders in building economies that are green, local, and fair.” Wanting to be a part of this exciting grassroots organization and having a professional background in nonprofit development, I arranged to meet with founder and executive director Joe Grafton to discuss possible volunteering opportunities. I was amazed to discover that most of the organization (and even the Facebook page!) at that time was being managed and run exclusively by Joe, who no doubt wasn’t getting much sleep at all, yet was still excited and enthusiastic for both the organization and town he was serving.

I’ll be talking about SLF in future posts, as there is so much to cover (their 10% shift campaign deserves an entry all to itself). But for now, I wanted simply to mention that THEY NEED YOUR POEMS. Yes, that’s right – as part of the application for a grant from the Community TechKnowledge Foundation, SLF must submit a 4-8 line poem reflecting their work and mission.

Please click here for more information, put on your writing cap, and help Somerville Local First win a much-needed tech grant by sending them your awesomely creative poem.

SLF coupon book, available at Dave's Fresh Pasta and other spots throughout the city

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DAILY TRIVIA: Marshmallow fluff was invented in 1917 by Somerville resident Archibald Query, who made it in his kitchen and sold it door to door.

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The Castle

Prospect Hill, Somerville, MA

The Prospect Hill Monument is  important not only to Somerville’s history but to that of the birth of America. Though the monument itself wasn’t built until 1902, it marks the spot where on January 1, 1776 General George Washington raised the first true American flag at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. A more detailed historical account can be found here.

Prospect Hill Monument

Often referred to locally as “the castle” that overlooks Union Square, Prospect Hill is a familiar destination for families exploring the stone structure or visiting the adjacent park and playground. It’s also a popular spot for folks to congregate on July 4, in an effort to get a glimpse of the Boston fireworks while avoiding the Boston crowds.  I did this on the last fourth of July, and in my opinion it’s not worth the trek. The view’s not too shabby in the winter, but once the leaves grow back on the trees it’s an entirely different story.

View of Boston from Prospect Hill

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DAILY TRIVIA: Somerville used to be referred to as the “City of the Hills”.

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Slumerville? Pshaw…

Somerville, Massachusetts has been my home for the better part of the past 15 years. Truth be told, no place has ever felt more like home to me than here. I decided to start this blog as an homage to this bustling suburb of Boston with so much to offer.

Brasher Falls, NY

First of all, let me explain. I came of age in rural America during the 80s and early 90s far from any metropolitan area. I was also far from cable television, highways and civilization; the first indoor mall within a hundred miles’ drive wasn’t built until I was 16 years old. You think the pre-internet days were bad? I’m guessing that at least your family, unlike mine, didn’t have to share a ‘party line’ with several neighbors due to the limited phone lines available in your county.

One might be tempted to label me an easily impressible sap who just happened to land here on my stumble out of the North Country. (For the record, this is the third state I’ve lived in, and the sixth town in metro Boston I’ve called home.)  I would have to respectfully beg to differ, and insist that growing up with such meager surroundings and little opportunity has made me appreciate the things that surround me now on a much deeper level than most folks probably ever even notice.

There are lots of things I appreciate daily about Somerville. It’s only miles from downtown Boston, yet possesses its own thriving economy and vibrant community. This hasn’t always been the case, as the colloquial ‘Slumerville’ nickname from the not-so-distant past reminds us. Things started to really turn around here in the 90s, beginning with the revitalization of Davis Square. The gentrification  over the past decade or so has attracted many people who are interested in (among other things)  sustainable living, eco-friendly transportation, composting, buying local, and of course, art. Freecycle is a way of life here, as is working on reducing the impact of one’s carbon footprint. And despite the gentrification, which comes with its own list of positives and negatives, much diversity has been preserved here. There are  epicenters throughout the city that are home to Brazilians, Haitians, El Salvadorians, Indians and many other immigrant cultures. There are also folks working to preserve those diverse communities and engage those who live there, encouraging them to be a part of the ever-changing landscape.

So, as of this moment I do declare that beginning tomorrow I will write once per day about something I deem great about living here.  Thanks for reading my first post, and stay tuned…

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DAILY TRIVIA: Somerville was a 2009 recipient of the prestigious All-America City Award.

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