As Cameron Kirkpatrick sees it, the Fenway is really two neighborhoods, divided by the swath of park land called the Back Bay Fens.
"The West Fenway has the beer drinkers and the East Fenway has the wine drinkers," says Kirkpatrick. The beer drinkers can be found near Fenway Park; the wine drinkers hobnob along Huntington Avenue, where they view exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts and go to concerts at Symphony Hall, around the corner on Massachusetts Avenue.
Kirkpatrick, a 26-year-old oboist, has lived in the Fenway for a year, as he pursues his master's at New England Conservatory. He and two roommates have crammed themselves into a fifth-floor, two-bedroom walk-up on Huntington Avenue, in a building filled with musicians. The hallways often resound with melody. "It's a wonderful melange of music," Kirkpatrick says. "We have one opera singer. Every day at 4:30 [p.m.] she starts her scales."
Kirkpatrick's drink of choice? "I'm a pale ale kind of guy," he admits, despite the classical music credentials and the address that ought to make him a wine man. Back in February, when he was volunteering for the Howard Dean campaign, he would meet with other Deaniacs at Boston Beerworks, where we start our tour -- right across Brookline Avenue from Fenway Park. You can see the brewing process happening behind glass inside the restaurant. If you have a sweet tooth, try a watermelon ale -- something that holds no appeal for Kirkpatrick, who on this visit sips a Kenmore Kolsch -- a dry German-style wheat beer.
We walk down Yawkey Way, home of Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox, "one of the smallest parks and one of the best," Kirkpatrick observes, although he's not one of the faithful. "Being Alabaman, my heart lies with the Braves," he confesses. Even so, he made it to a couple of games last season. "Boston has an underdog mentality, and I like to root for the underdog," he says. (The park offers hourly tours seven days a week, but they are canceled during convention week, July 26-30.)
Kirkpatrick practices his instrument up to eight hours a day. Then there are rehearsals and classes, papers to write, and passions to cultivate -- he has a special fondness for Turkish music. At the end of the day, he needs to let off steam. On Wednesday nights he goes Latin dancing at Sophia's on Boylston Street; on Fridays and Saturdays the lines are too long. Sophia's is a tower of rhythm, with three dance floors and a rooftop bar with stunning views of Fenway Park and the Boston skyline. The musician prefers the basement Rumba Bar, where there's live music and a great selection of rum drinks.
Maybe because the Fenway is home to so many students on tight budgets, it's no shopping mecca, unless you're looking for anything with a Red Sox logo. "Really, the only place to shop in the Fenway," divulges Kirkpatrick, "is King of Records." The consignment shop around the corner on Queensberry Street has odd and unpredictable hours, but if you get in you can purchase an end table, a miniature suit of armor, or a bottle of olive oil. "You could spend hours rummaging," says the musician.
Only a block away, Kirkpatrick finds sustenance at Brown Sugar Cafe, "an awesome Thai restaurant," he says. It's a low-key and welcoming place that serves more than 100 dishes. Kirkpatrick's favorite is called chicken aspar, a mix of chicken, asparagus, and shrimp with a special chef's sauce. If he's hankering for grub pastmidnight, he stops by Tiger Lily, a Malaysian restaurant on the corner of Westland and Massachusetts avenues.
"There's so much green space in Boston," says Kirkpatrick. "I spend a lot of my Saturdays just sitting under a tree in the Back Bay Fens, reading." In the summer, when most of Boston strolls the Esplanade, Fenway residents spread their towels out to sunbathe on the Muddy River, which runs through the Fens. Kirkpatrick prefers Mother's Rest Park, just across from the Museum of Fine Arts and the site of summer concerts by students at the Berklee College of Music. He also likes to wander through the Victory Gardens, the oldest community-run garden in the country, which started up as part of the war effort in the 1940s. In the Kelleher Rose Garden, he ambles around, sniffing the blossoms.
On the other side of the Fens and the Muddy River, Jordan Hall is the heart of New England Conservatory, and the center of Kirkpatrick's life here. The intimate concert hall, which celebrated its centenary last fall, hosts scores of concerts throughout the year by NEC faculty and students, many of them free. The felt-covered walls enhance the acoustics. The wind gods carved into the ornate patterns on the proscenium smile down on aspiring wind players like Kirkpatrick. "There are concerts here every day" during the school year, Kirkpatrick says. "All they need is a lemonade stand."