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Vanishing Boston

A field guide to Boston's 'lasting' treasures — to be enjoyed before they're razed in favor of chain stores

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The Boston Brahmin
As a species, the Boston Brahmin has been in decline for decades: John P. Marquand's treatment of this very subject in The Late George Apley earned him a Pulitzer way back in 1938. But despite their diminished visibility and influence, members of this hallowed class still roam the streets of Boston — they walk among us! Your smartest bet, should you wish to glimpse today's Brahmins in their natural environment, is to discretely stake out the St. Botolph Club. Unlike the arriviste Algonquin Club a few doors down, the St. Botolph presents itself with quintessential Brahmin modesty — from the outside, it looks like just another red-brick Back Bay row house. Don't be deceived. The roster of past St. Botolph initiates is packed with eminent Bostonians: John Quincy Adams, William Dean Howells, Henry Cabot Lodge, John Singer Sargent, Leverett Saltonstall, James Storrow, Charles Eliot, Robert Frost. (Sargent's portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner made its debut here, but was deemed too scandalous by her husband, Jack; today, a faithful reproduction graces the club's entryway.) If you do glimpse St. Botolph members as they enter or exit, you'll likely be struck by their distinct lack of ostentation. Such is the privilege of old money, which feels no need to announce itself to the world — and sometimes even seeks to do the opposite. But this absence of flash coexists with intense exclusivity. On a recent weekday afternoon, I ventured far enough inside to glimpse Mrs. Gardner's portrait; hear a thick silence broken occasionally by murmured conversation; and savor the aromas of rich, inviting, decidedly non-ethnic cuisine. Sadly, a club attendant quickly destroyed any hopes of greater access: because the St. Botolph is never open to the public, he explained, the best way to witness its glories is to . . . befriend a club member. How charmingly retrograde!

— Adam Reilly

ST. BOTOLPH CLUB | 199 Comm Ave, Boston | 617.536.570

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