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This Guide's for You

A Look at the Ins and Outs of Harvard Square

By Rebecca K. Kramnick

Talk to any Harvard old-timer, and he'll tell you that in the good ol' days, eating out meant a choice between The Wursthaus and Elsie's. And if it was a drink you were after, you frequented Cronin's, the Square's faithful watering hole.

Well, that was before the age of the yuppie and the Square's conversion into a virtual consumer's paradise. You'll be moving into a neighborhood of seven Chinese restaurants, four Mexican restaurants, nine pizza places and close to 20 locations where you can get various kinds of salads, sandwiches and dinners. And, don't forget the five bakeries and five assorted ice cream parlors.

On the entertainment side, although the Square boasts a good number of bars, you'll probably want to travel to Boston if you want to see live bands and dancing. In general, if it's environs you're after, you picked a pretty good place to spend four years. Here's a rundown of what's going down in the Square and whereabouts. Have fun.

FOOD

There's a rumor going around that Harvard dining halls have made a deal with local eateries to serve the very worst food--lots of dry fish and curdled ham--on weekends so the restaurants in the Square can make the most off the free evenings of desperate and hungry college students.

Whether or not this is true, you will soon discover that the dining hall food at Harvard is fair-to-middlin' at best, while the Square boasts an incredible assortment of eateries to satisfy everyone from granola lovers to greasy burger fans. So say goodbye to that new stereo you were hoping to save up for and plan on spending a good deal of your budget on what Cambridge has to offer in the way of gastronomical delights. Here's a sample of the area's finest (and not so finest). Good luck and watch out for the Harvard dining halls' steady diet of cod, scrod, and shad.

AMERICAN

The Square is a virtual paradise for the lunch goer with enough salad bar, quichey places around for each and every hungry yuppie. And, if you desire sandwiches or soup and salad for dinner, you'll be happy with most of these places (in no particular order) as well: The Garage (at the corner of Dunster and Mt. Auburn Sts.) provides the highest concentration of healthy eating spots in the Square including: Formaggio, which is famous for its huge fresh bread sandwiches, especially its turkey or roast beef and boursin; Stuff It's, with its sahara bread "stogies," with lettuce, tomatoes and cheese and options ranging from turkey or roast beef to lentil, or brown rice; Baby Watson's (most famous for its desserts), which offers tasty "stroller" wrap-around veggie sandwiches; the Coffee Connection for various melted sandwich extravaganzas to accompany the coffee or tea of your choice (as well as some amazingly buttery croissants); and the old favorite Souper Salad with its bountiful salad bar, light sandwiches and fresh breads. The Stockpot in the nearby Galleria offers similar fare. Furthermore, the walk across JFK St. will be worth it, as the Stockpot is usually less crowded. And, if you want to bag the dining halls, but don't want to venture too far off campus, check out the Greenhouse Cafe in the Science Center for its famous gooey chocolate chip cookies and, its newest addition, pizza.

For burger lovers, the Square offers a host of options. There's the beloved Square landmark for more than 25 years, Bartley's Burger Cottage (1335 Mass. Ave.), where you can get all kinds of juicy, cheese-and-onion bedecked concoctions at reasonable prices. Even cheaper, although greasier, are the cheeseburger platters at Charlie's Kitchen (10 Eliot St.), the self-proclaimed "double cheeseburger king," and Buddie's Sirloin Pit (39 Brattle St.), where you can get great fries and plenty of beet.

Other Square institutions you shouldn't miss are Elsie's (71 Mt. Auburn St.), the home of both the "Big Burger" and the "Roast Beef Special," and Tommy's Lunch, (a the corner of Plympton and Tommy's Lunch, (at the corner of Plympton and Mt. Auburn Sts.) the favorite place for late might (open until 2 a.m.) lovers of cheese steak and pinball. And the trappes (Bostonese for milkshake) are good and thick. Theu, of course, there's the Mug and Muffin (1382 Mass. Ave), a good place to watch the locals and overhear pretentious conversations taking place in a crowd of cigarette smoke. The muffins aren't bad and the coffee is free flowing.

When it comes down to "real restaurants," the pickings get slimmer. The Square may be great for lunch, but if it's a nice dinner (with the 'rents or other relatives paying) you may want to venture into Beantown. However, there are a few places in the Square worth trying for a good dinner. At Grendel's Den (39 Winthrop St.), you'll find a reasonably priced, cheery place that serves up the requisite salad, quiche and burgers as well as some heavier meals, including some Middle Eastern specialties. Next door to Grendel's is the relative newcomer Latacarta, which specializes in pasta and other light nouvelle cuisine dinner dishes. It's a little pricey, but the plant-draped natural wood interior is nice, and makes it a romantic spot. Around the corner on Winthrop St. is another newcomer, Caffe Paradiso, a truly yuppie phenomenon with its gleaming espresso and cappucino machinery. Check this place out for pasta and some sinful pastries and tarts.

33 Dunster St. (in the Garage) is another salad-bar type place that also serves up pizza and other entrees. But you can skip the overpriced, overrated brunch. Upstairs at the Casablanca (40 Brattle St.) offers some veal and chicken dishes at upper range prices. The Greenhouse (3 Brattle St.) is fine but a bit overpriced.

FRENCH/CONTINENTAL

Unless someone else is paying, you probably won't see The Harvest (44 Brattle St.), which sports an outdoor garden and a quintessentially yuppie crowd. More reasonable is Autre Chose (1105 Mass. Ave.), with excellent French provincial specialities that aren't exhorbitant. The Swiss Alps (where Brattle and Mt. Auburn Sts. meet) offers some tasty and reasonably priced cheesey entrees with lots of rich sauces for the cholesterol fan. Upstairs at the Pudding (10 Holyoke St.) is expensive and trendy and clearly designed for after the theater. That's the best--and maybe the only--excuse for going.

STEAK/ELEGANCE

This category is filled almost entirely by Boston eateries. When you've got the bucks and the inclination, there are a few outstanding places for steak and all the fixings. Durgin Park (340 Faneuil Hall; Government Center 'T' stop) is actually not a huge splurge, and it boasts probably one of the best, juiciest prime ribs in Boston. But beware: the waitresses are renowned for their rudeness--it's a prerequisite for the job as well as a part of the place's supposed charm. Slightly more upscale is The Chart House (60 Long Warf; Aquarium 'T' stop). The setting is warm and tasteful without pretension--wood everywhere, low lighting and not too much noise. Everything--from the clam chowder to the chocolate desserts--is solid, satisfying, and not a huge strain on the pocketbook.

ETHNIC

If there's one thing that rivals the preeminence of sandwich spots in the Square, it's Chinese food, clearly the best of the possible international fare. The Hong Kong (1236 Mass. Ave.) is easily the best-known and most flamboyantly colored Chinese restaurant in the Square. The Kong's food, especially the Peking Ravioli, is best when sampled alongside one of the exotic drinks. Kong food is also good late at night when every other place is closed. Wei Tai (95 Winthrop St.) and Ta Chien (10 Eliot St.), under the same management, have the Square's best Chinese food, with the atmosphere at the latter giving it top billing. Go to either with a lot of people for a moderately priced dinner or a good Sunday brunch. The Yenching (1326 Mass. Ave.) is perhaps the Square's most centrally located Chinese joint, but because it doesn't take credit cards and doesn't have the heavy drinking atmosphere of the Kong, it doesn't seem to attract much of a Harvard crowd. Yet the food is good, the beer is easy to get, and the prices aren't too bad.

For other international buffs, there are a number of places to choose from. The only one that serves real schnitzel is The Wursthaus (4 JFK St.). It's also where you can catch President Bok eating his daily breakfast. And, if that doesn't tempt you, try the better-than-average deli selections and beers from more than 30 countries. For Greek food there's Skewers (92 Mt. Auburn St.) and The Acropolis (1600 Mass. Ave). Neither place is too fancy or expensive, and both serve authentic dishes. For Italian, there's a decent place toward Central Square; La Groceria (853 Main St.), which specializes in North Italian cuisine. For Japanese fare, there's Roka (Eliot St.) a small spot that gets raves from sushi addicts. Also check-out the Square's newcomer Cafe Sushi (1105 Mass. Ave). The place sounds French, but the food is authentic and not too expensive. For Mexican fans, there's cafeteria-style (and -priced) Paco's Tacos (50 JFK St.). Another fast food spot is Tacomaker (JFK across from the Galeria), which offers 99-cent specials. For decent eats, La Pinata (16 Eliot St.) isn't bad and is cheap. Better is Casa Mexico (75 Winthrop St.), which is also correspondingly higher-priced, but at least the burritos are worth digging into.

Tucked away behind Elsie's is Ching Hua Garden (24 Holyoke St.). This place looks like a real dive but has good food, good service and good prices. And they take credit cards. There's also Young and Yee (27 Church St.), but this place has never been especially popular among undergraduates.

ICE CREAM

It's been said that Harvard admissions officers sometimes attempt to convince prospective freshmen that by coming to Harvard they'll have access to the best ice cream anywhere. The Square is certainly the ice cream capital of Massachusetts and maybe of the nation. With eight different stores within a three-block radius, on some days it's hard to walk down the street without knocking into someone carrying an oreo ice cream cone or one of those little plastic dishes that sport a mixed concoction of fabulous flavors and chewy, nutty, crunchy bits. Moreover, most of the ice cream stores sport a wide variety of flavors that you won't find in most parts of the nation. For example, flavors ranging from cantalope to ginger snap to Snickers are not unusual. It might sound a bit strange at first, but just about everyone takes to the new flavors instantly. The real problem is not getting someone to try them, but rather to keep yourself from constantly dishing out the $1.15 or so for a small cone.

Steve's (31 Church St.) used to be the top dog, with mix-ins and its own line of T-shirts and hats. But when former owner Steve Herrell sold the store and founded Herrell's (15 Dunster St.), he did his old store one better. (At least most ice cream afficionados seem to think so.) You're more likely to stand in a line of tourists at Steve's, since everybody has heard of the granddaddy of them all. At Herrell's, however, you can sample a variety of less exotic, but deliciously sweet, ice cream without dealing with the crushing crowds. Steve's/Herrell's dissidents will insist that Emack and Bolio's (1310 Mass. Ave) is the best in the Square. There's a lot of truth to their argument. Try the chocolate-and-Health-bar-dipped gourmet cones. On the other hand, if you go more for the simpler flavors, there's Baskin Robbins (1230 Mass. Ave). Neon-lit Haagen Daz (in the Galeria) is fine if you've got money and you're not interested in volume. Brigham's is the Howard Johnson's of the Square, with fewer flavors and cheaper prices. Bailey's (21 Brattle St.) is good for old-fashioned ice cream parlor ambiance and real hot fudge sauce, which is well worth trying. Uncle Bunny's (962 Mass. Ave) is pretty good if you're up for the 10-minute trek. The Gelateria Gluseppe (85 Mt. Auburn St.) is close by and offers light sherbet-like ice cream that is much smoother than the traditionally made ice cream. At Toscannini's (899 Main St.) in Central Square you can enjoy ice cream that many say is not only worth the walk but a cut above even the Square's top draws. They have the classic seven flavors in a not-too-sweet and perfectly smooth mixture.

PIZZA

If it's really good pizza that you're after, follow route 91 for about two hours south to New Haven, because you picked the wrong Ivy. As famous as the Square is for its ice cream, its pizza leaves much to be desired. There are, however, a few bearable places, and some of them would probably satisfy even the most die-hard Eli.

Pinnochio's (74 Winthrop St.): This place seems to change owners as often as the seasons, but the current proprietors have made a good stab at it. Their slices are a bit expensive, but pies are reasonable and not bad tasting Cafe Avventura (The Garage): The best deal in the Square for the best thin-crust pizza around. A slice for only 65 cents, and you can get a 10 percent discount with your student i.d. Pizzeria Regina (4-10 Holyoke St.): Ever since Avventura's came around, this place has become less popular, which is unfortunate since it has a good atmosphere, and there's a bar upstairs. Pizzeria Uno (22 JFK St.): The most restaurant of the Square pizza places, Uno is a yupscale place, complete with veggie dips and other interesting appetizers. The pizza isn't bad either. Ruggies (Mass. Ave next to Store 24): Believe it or not, English pizza is not bad once you get used to it. Avoid the Baby Prince size though, as you will pay a lot and get very little.

BARS/ENTERTAINMENT

A phrase often used to describe the College is also applicable to the bars around Harvard Square: the hardest thing about them is getting in. But, while the presence of an off-duty cop or huge bouncer in from of big state warnings can be frightening to the neophyte Square drinker, the atmosphere inside most establishments is pleasant and easygoing.

The closest thing Harvard has to a campus pub is the two-year-old Picadilly Filly (123 Mt. Auburn St.). Crowded, not too large and not too bright, you'll find more people you know in this inexpensive pickup joint than you'll find in your dorm. If, on the other hand, you prefer a place that makes Jiffypop popcorn while you fill up with cheap beer at the bar, then visit the Bow and Arrow (Bow St. next to Baskin Robbins). On Wednesday nights, you'll find most of the Harvard undergraduate population here, and you can you drink for hours on a minimum amount of cash. Other nights, the Bow adopts a more local flavor, and the crowd turns mostly to rooting for the Celtics.

Right around the corner is The Hong Kong (1236 Mass. Ave), Harvard's little touch of Trader Vic's, the famous Polynesian restaurant. You should proceed immediately up the stairs, past the off-duty cops and the bouncers and dive into one of the Kong's famous Scorpion bowls. After one night of bowl consumption, you'll probably find out that the Square's largest drink contains little alcohol, a big price tag, and packs an awful headache with only a minor buzz. But like Steve's ice cream, you have to try it at least once in your lifetime.

If the Kong's beer choices don't satisfy you, walk to the middle of the Square and pop open the doors of the Wursthaus (4 JFK St.). The 'Haus has two entrances, conveniently located on either side of the Varsity Liquor Store, and about a million tables at which you can get a drink. Most impressive is the array of beers. You'll find a menu stocking more than 200 beers, including some from countries that probably don't have a word for "hops." Down Mass. Ave the other way you'll find Chi-Chi's (1001 Mass. Ave). Chi-Chi's is about as Mexican as the Wursthaus is German, and on a good night you can get a margarita with some alcohol in it, some free nachos and a quiet enough place to have a real conversation with people.

If it's scenery you're after, then head over to the Boathouse Bar (56 JFK St.), which features preps, Business Schoolers and lots of crew paraphernalia. A long walk up Mass. Ave. will take you to the Plough and Stars and Jack's (952 Mass. Ave.) These two rarely see a Harvard student, but you might want to try them for a change of pace.

On the entertainment side, live bands play consistently at Jonathan Swift's on JFK St. Swift's features deadhead rockers and blues musicians. Doors stay open until 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. Passim, in the alley between the two halves of the Coop, doubles as a restaurant by day and features folk artists and acoustic guitarists by night. If you don't mind a short hike up Cambridge St. to Inman Square, you can hear live jazz at the 1360 Club.

At some point or another, you'll want to venture beyond the world of Harvard's dimly lit cafes. There's lots of dancing to popular new wave music and techno-pop bands at the newly opened Man Ray (21A Brookline St.). It's connected to a gay night club next door so you'll find a mixture of men dancing with m.n. women with women, and men and women. If you want more emphasis on the band than the dancing, check out The Channel.

A last stand for strictly hardcore punk is Chet's (across the street from the Boston Garden). It spotlights mainly local bands. Good visiting New York and L.A. bands usually hit. The Rat (528 Commonwealth Ave.) in Kenmore Square (on the Green Line).

BOOKS

Where there are cafes, there are intellectuals. And where there are intellectuals, there are books. This relationship is most marked in Harvard Square, where there are books stores in every nook and cranny. Ask most Bostonians where to find big heaps of the printed word, and they'll point in the direction of the Square.

The Square's 27 new, used, and specialty book stores dot most corners and fill at least three basements. For textbooks and general reading, your best bet is to start with The Harvard Coop. The Harvard Book Store (1256 Mass. Ave) stays open till 10 p.m. every night except Sunday. It carries new titles and used books at half-price downstairs. For more mainstream new books, there's the Paperback Booksmith (25 Brattle St.). Reading International (47 Brattle St.) is also good for late-night shoppers and offers a huge selection of magazines and a mixture of popular and scholarly titles. Wordsworth (30 Brattle St.) rounds off the Square's general reading book shops.

For those who crave book-hunting adventures and are not disposed to claustrophobia, there are several used book specialists with popular and obscure titles. Aisles are narrow here, but lighting at McIntyre and Moore Bookshops (30 Plympton St.) is enough to allow reading. Fairly academic volumes line the shelves, and it sports large literary criticism, philosophy and medieval history sections. Across the street is the Starr Bookshop (29 Plympton St.) nestled in the east end of the Lampoon Castle. It's got two floors of mostly scholarly texts.

If you get tired of Plympton St., head over to The Book Case (42 Church St.). Look in the six-by-six foot "Room A" for occult books, "Room B" for religion, and go to the store's Annex (33 Church St.) if you don't like reading in the dark. The Pangloss Bookshop (65 Mt. Auburn St.) is another sure bet for cheap used books, especially in the social sciences.

For Marxist and Third World literature, check out Revolution Books (1 Arrow St.). Schoenhof's Foreign Books (75 Mt. Auburn St.) recently opened at this expanded location. This foreign language buff's paradise will send away for rare titles, just as the Grolier Book Store (6 Plympton St.) will take special orders for poetry books.

Publications on sixties-style spirituality, religion and the occult can be found at Shambhala Booksellers (58 JFK St.). Sky light Books (111 Mt. Auburn St.) and the Daws Here Book Store (99 M. Auburn St.)

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