We had been living outside of Boston for roughly a year and every trip into the city had been an adventure. We had wandered through the Public Garden and Boston Common, gazed at the USS Constitution at Charlestown, rode the trolley around, took pictures outside of Cheers on Beacon Street and wandered around old cemeteries filled with virtually every patriot you ever heard of. We had even meandered the narrow streets of Boston’s own Chinatown–where my daughter constantly yelled “What’s that SMELL?” while we walked in and out of shops. It was during one summer visit to the aquarium with my parents that we accidently discovered what would become my favorite part of the city–Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall.
While we shuffled up the sidewalk towards the Common to catch the Green Line, we caught a glimpse of activity through an alley and followed the action. We came to wide open circle dotted with push carts lying at the foot of the majestic looking Quincy Hall. On either side of Quincy Hall, there were two buildings anchored with high end design shops, offices, shops filled with tourist’s treasures and trinkets, and restaurants with outdoor seating facing the cobblestone pedestrian walkway. The walkway was filled with street musicians, caricature artists, backpack laden college kids racing by to get somewhere, city professionals bursting through with their quick lunches and wayward pigeons in hot pursuit, and more pushcarts filled with everything you could ever need. You could grab a Red Sox sweatshirt, a Harvard hat, lobster claw oven mitts, jewelry, postcards, hanging plants, bouquets of flowers, mugs and books filled with details of the city’s history. Once you walked past the line of pushcarts and got to the end of the outside of Quincy Market, another and equally important historic landmark, Faneuil Hall was waiting. With its brick facade and large double entryway, this hall’s architecture seemed to almost beckon fierce debate and political discourse. Inside the lower level, Faneuil Hall was filled to the brim with history books, chocolate and postcards while a grand hall for political speeches and meetings was open to the masses upstairs.
While both of these grand halls were a history lesson in themselves (and I truly love the history of this city), it is what you see once you climb the steps and set foot inside Quincy Market that makes it my favorite spot. Once you walk up those steps and look straight ahead through the front entrance, there is a sea of food choices. I don’t mean your typical mall food court staples arranged in a semi-circle. I mean literally as far as the eye can see there are food choices that can satisfy every desire and every palate. In fact, I truly am hard pressed to think of any type or style of food that is not available inside Quincy Market. Everything you can imagine—cakes, chocolates, ice creams, fudge, tiramisu, gelato, burgers, pizzas, seafood, Chinese, Mexican, Indian, loaded potatoes the size of your head, deli sandwiches, salads, soups, appetizers–is all there for the taking. The sheer sight of endless decadence always reminded me of the over-exaggerated depictions of the French Court surrounded by mounds of food from meats to cakes and everything in between. Just call me Marie Antoinette standing there engulfed in the sweet aroma of fresh cut fudge, the simmering steaming pots of lobster bisque, the sizzle of shaved steak or sausage, mountainous swirls of cupcake frosting so elaborately balanced on the tiny cakes that it should be a crime to touch them, and the distinct smell of piping hot pizza as it is thrown onto paper plates to the waiting hordes of hungry men and women. If it was a kingdom to be ruled, I would gladly wear a crown, stand tall on a stool, hoist my plastic silverware high towards the sky and demand each and every chef bring me samples of their finest offerings.
It was a straight shot from the grand entryway to the exit on the other end of Quincy Market. However, I could never see clearly to the other end. The signs and the amount of people flowing in and out simply overtook my field of vision. The signs were all eye-catching and summed up not only what you could get, but where the company was from, when they were established and, sometimes, just how famous they really were. As you can imagine with variety and choice that vast and plentiful, I never ate at the same place twice. Every trip to the city from that day forward entailed having lunch at Quincy Market.
Aside from the amazing food, there was just as much variety and sensory overload to enjoy outside on a nice day. Taking lunch out to the benches and sometimes even the steps of the grand hall was an adventure in people watching like nowhere else in the city. There was always non-stop action just like any other open city marketplace or pedestrian walkway. I had been to a few in other cities across the U.S.; but something just set Quincy Market apart then and now. I think it is the authenticity of the place. The buildings that anchor that section of the city have been there from Boston’s first days, and especially during its most important and influential days. They were the hub of the city back then and, to me, they still are. Faneuil Hall echoed with protest speeches from the great Samuel Adams, and the moving eulogies of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to name a few. It was also the sight of more recent political history including Ted Kennedy’s speech declaring himself a presidential candidate in 1979 and John Kerry’s concession speech after losing the 2004 election. The very essence of freedom was debated there even though it was originally just a market house for the city.
Quincy Market, built in 1824, was originally constructed as an expansion of market space for grocers and butchers and was filled with food vendors selling bread, vegetables, cheese and meats. Remarkably on the inside of both halls, words of unprecedented meaning and importance are still scrolled across the walls and around the inner dome. In Faneuil Hall, the elegance, the raw emotion and brutality of harsh fought verbal battles and the pride of an entire nation still echo from within and spill out into the streets and pedestrian walkway.
Both invite the masses to fill their bellies and their minds with the history of the city, the country. While my purpose was always to find a lunch I hadn’t enjoyed before and get an eye-full people watching, the real intent and purpose of these buildings was never far from my mind. As market houses, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market were where people would meet up, talk and debate what was going on around them, while buying, selling and trading what they needed to get by. In Faneuil Hall’s earliest days, I can only wonder what kind of arguments erupted as a patriot bought bread from a vendor true to the Brits. Maybe the wives quietly voiced their dissent from the mother-land while mingling with each other, exchanging jam, eggs and candles on a Saturday afternoon. I would never know what all ideas or philosophies shared their roots in or around these halls or how voracious some of the debates may have actually been. All I knew for sure was the only fighting I ever engaged in while wandering the grand interiors of Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall was who wanted fish or a chicken wrap and who wasn’t going to get ice cream if they didn’t wait in line quietly. Trust me though, sometimes the dissent and passionate speeches exhibited by my family of patriots while trying to decide who would get what for lunch may have rivaled anything Sam Adams and his fellow patriots expressed in that very corner of the city years ago. While our debates over desserts didn’t change the world or the course of history, during every visit there I always took a moment to appreciate the fierce political dissent and speeches that did take place there and how they most definitely influenced and shaped the city and country I love.