When looking at the best historic hotels in Boston, I suggest you stay at America’s longest continuously operating hotel—the Omni Parker House. It has been welcoming guests since it was founded by Harvey Parker in 1855.
A basic rule of thumb I have for lodging in any city is location, location, location. I must stay in the city center. I want to walk out my door and have the city and all its charms (and historic sites) at my feet. The Omni Parker fit the bit perfectly. It’s right on the Freedom Trail so one can just follow the red line throughout the city to get to it, which turned out to be perfect for locating it, especially when wandering back in the dark after dinner. Its location meant it was within walking distance of most of the city’s main attractions…notably the historic ones!
The hotel itself is sumptuous and filled with old-world charm. The common spaces hearken back to the 19th century with their wood-paneled rooms and crystal chandeliers.
You can sink into a comfy chair in the lobby and feel as if a literary great might walk past you. Due to its proximity to the Boston Athenaeum and Old Corner Bookstore, many authors met there. Indeed, it was the home of the Saturday Club—a 19th century men’s social gathering. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson Sr., Charles Dickens, James Russell Lowell, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Oliver Wendell Holmes all graced the Parker House Hotel. Writers gave birth to the idea for the Atlantic Monthly there and Dickens previewed A Christmas Carol to his fellow authors.
You don’t have to be a famous writer, celebrity, or noted politician (although all types have called the Parker House a temporary home) to be treated like a VIP. The staff is gracious and welcoming. There wasn’t a need of mine that wasn’t filled or a request that wasn’t met. From every wish I had made ahead of time to every need I had while there, someone quickly and efficiently attended to my requirements.
I had arrived disheveled and stressed from traveling for six hours that morning due to a rather chaotic departure from my home airport. The young man at the front desk greeted me with a calming demeanor and soothing voice that immediately relaxed me. He checked me in quickly, but first got me a water and attended to my needs. Within minutes I was in vacation mode.
When I got to my room, I found a special treat waiting for me. In one of my previous communiques with the hotel staff, I had mentioned I was excited to try the famous Boston Cream Pie that had been created there in 1856. Who says history isn’t delicious?
Now the official state dessert of Massachusetts, the spongy, golden cake filled with pastry cream covered with chocolate icing and decorated with white icing and toasted almonds made the stresses of the day quickly fade away into a sweet memory.
In case you’re wondering, Boston Cream Pie makes a good breakfast food, too.
The Omni Parker House isn’t just known for world-class treatment, elegant décor, and tasty dessert…there are also the Parker House Rolls! For lunch that day, I went to the Parker House Restaurant and dined on clam chowder so thick that my spoon could almost stand up in it. Served with it were the fluffiest, most buttery rolls I have ever tasted. I’ve eaten many “Parker House” rolls (note the quotation marks because none can will ever live up to the name again) in my life but having the original at the place they were created in the 1870s was close to a religious experience.
I can see why the Parker House Hotel has drawn the rich and famous, like Babe Ruth, Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin Roosevelt, Judy Garland, and many more stars and leaders to stay there over the years.
- Its location on corner of Tremont and School Street is historic. Both names originated in Puritan times. Tremont from being at the base of three hills and the Boston Commons and School Street for the nearby schools including America’s first public school in 1645, which became known as Boston Latin.
- When Harvey Parker hired his chef in 1855, a good cook made $416 a year, Harvey paid $5000 to his French chef!
- John Wilkes Booth stayed at the Parker House on April 5 and 6, 1865 before he assassinated Lincoln on April 14; there was a shooting gallery near the hotel where he allegedly practiced his aim.
- The Parker House Restaurant has employed some rather famous people—Ho Chi Minh worked there in the 1910s and Malcolm X was a busboy there in 1940s. Emeril Lagasse was a sous chef.
- John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie at the Parker House restaurant at table 40 and later had his bachelor party in the Press Room.
- And like any good historic hotel there are rumors of spooky stuff. Elevator 1 supposedly stops on floor number 3 for no reason. One room had so many unexplained doings that they turned it into storage. I did not experience any stops on floor three, although the elevator did stop on floor 5 once when the light had not been lit for it. The man in the car with me looked confused and I said “that’s odd, it’s floor 3 that’s it should unexpectedly stop at.” I got off at the next floor leaving him looking a little unsettled.
I highly recommend staying at the Omni Parker House the next time you’re in Boston. Between its old-world charm, excellent staff, fine dining, and supreme location, it has everything I look for in a hotel. Since it is historic, some of the rooms are quite a bit smaller than modern hotels tend to be. If that bothers you, I recommend staying in an executive room or suite. My friend and I shared an executive room with two full beds that was very spacious with a nice sitting area and a large closet.
The Omni Parker is a great historic hotel in Boston! I can’t wait for my next visit to stay there again.
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