Boston’s Newbury Hotel Makes an Impressive Debut
By Steve Jermanok
One step off Newbury Street into the reception area of the The Newbury Boston and you’ll notice the stairwell that always took up a good portion of the lobby is no longer there. It’s been replaced by a gem of a small library with books stocked by nearby Trident Booksellers and the Boston Public Library and art selected by Boston public relations executive Lynne Kortenhaus who doubles as a talented curator, as evidenced by the works displayed throughout the property. A six-pack of Yousuf Karsh photographs peer down at you from the left, including portraits of people who had significant impact on the city like architect I.M. Pei, who designed the JFK Library. You’ll also spot Tennessee Williams, who legend has it spent a good deal of time in his room penning a play called “A Streetcar Named Desire” back when the hotel was The Ritz Carlton.
Yes, the venerable grande dame that launched the Ritz Carlton brand in 1927 and had the toniest address in Boston overlooking the tulips and swans of the Public Garden is now The Newbury Boston. In 2018, Highgate Hotels purchased the building from the previous owner Taj Hotels, and then spent the next two years restoring this landmark property to its former glory. It finally reopened in May when I had the chance to visit.
Every Bostonian has a story to tell about this property, including me. The first assignment I had after moving to Boston in the mid-90s was to write about the Ritz-Carlton penthouse suite for Town & Country magazine. I had the good fortune to be taken on that tour by one of the legends of Boston hotel publicity, Caron Le Brun. When the Ritz changed hands to the Taj, I was asked by Boston Globe Sunday Magazine to interview the new general manager, the gracious Karambir Kang. Boston was Kang’s first assignment after his young family was killed by terrorists at his last outpost, the Taj Mumbai. Then there were the many weddings and other events under the signature blue chandeliers still shining brightly since inception. Not to mention, the memorable lunches like the one with travel writer Paul Theroux and his charming wife Sheila Donnelly, swapping stories about writers that inspired us.
Blame it on nostalgia but most Bostonians want this hotel to succeed and judging from what I experienced upon this recent trip, the Newbury will thrive. The eye to detail and sense of style and comfort permeates every space. Another Karsh photograph of Hemingway has his rightful spot overlooking the new bar at the ground floor eatery now called Street Bar. Social media maven Tiffany Dowd was one of the notable Bostonians I spotted dining as the Street Bar has quickly becoming the place to lunch in town.
Eighty percent of the rooms come with a view and if you were wise, you’d ask for a corner suite with large bay windows and a sitting area overlooking the Public Garden. 42 of the 90 suites have wood-burning fireplaces, others have sunken baths. All beds feature Frette linens and all bathrooms contain specially made Canadian willow soap from Byredo. Moldings in rooms are intact, thanks to a renovation that reached the studs, and the colors of the rooms are now a soothing gray.
Kortenhaus’ keen eye for intriguing art works is best found in the event space on the 2nd floor, where Amy Arbus (Diane’s daughter) paints figures and then photographs them in renowned art historical styles like her paean to Modigliani. She’s joined by the photographer David Akiba and his verdant photos of Boston’s Emerald Necklace. Also on the second floor, you’ll find those classic blue chandeliers and the Newbury Salon, a long room lining Newbury Street that will soon be open for afternoon tea. Take a good look at the teacups and you’ll spot the iconic “Make Way for Ducklings” image, inspired by the beloved sculpture found in the Public Garden. Hopefully, you’ll soon be able to purchase your own tea set in the gift shop, because they make the ideal Boston souvenir.
There’s a state-of-the-art fitness center on the 3rd floor with requisite Pelotons overlooking the brownstones on Commonwealth Avenue, and a glass enclosed rooftop restaurant with spectacular views of the city that will make its debut in late June under the watchful eye of celebrity chef Mario Carbone and his Major Food Group. Highgate Hotels spared no expense reconfiguring this great space back to its lofty position as the premier property in town. Grab a room and a meal and you’ll be just as proud of the results.
The Newbury Boston, 1 Newbury Street, www.thenewburyboston.com
Working as a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, contributing editor at Budget Travel, and regular contributor for The Boston Globe, Men’s Journal, and Yankee Magazine, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1,500 articles on 80 countries. He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. With his wife, Lisa Leavitt, Steve launched a boutique travel agency, ActiveTravels.com, in May 2012. His clientele includes many people in the travel business, including Steve Kaufer, founder of TripAdvisor (designed his honeymoon to Turkey), and Mark Snider, owner of The Winnetu Resort on Martha’s Vineyard and The Nantucket Hotel on Nantucket. You can follow him @ActiveTravels