Uncover a secret garden and stealthy sneakers

by Beacon Staff • April 9, 2008

For college students in Boston, one of the main goals of living in the city is to escape the incipient identity of a tourist and immerse themselves in the urban lifestyle. This attempt may include the obvious, such as fashion choices, avoiding eye contact and learning to cross the street even when the signal tells you not to. But true immersion can only come with knowledge of the city's secrets-the places to show your visiting friends that they wouldn't find in any travel guide. Though Boston's secrets are undoubtedly endless, these two places are only a short T ride away and are sure to wow your friends.

The Rooftop Garden

Cambridge is a popular town among college students for its old-time theatres and wide variety of shops and restaurants, but this secret lies in a less-visited area of Cambridge where office buildings make up the majority of the scenery. The Rooftop Garden is located above a parking garage in the middle of Cambridge Center, about a block west of the Kendall/MIT T-stop on the red line. A small sign in front of the parking garage says that to reach the garden, one must take the elevator to the roof (Level R).

Once there, the elevator opens out onto an elaborate garden, complete with circular sidewalks that intricately weave between small trees, bushes and flowerbeds. The garden is mostly surrounded by drab domiciles, and is connected to the TIBCO Software building, and the indoor pool room of the Boston Marriott Cambridge Hotel.

According to Sean Kin, a guest representative for the hotel, the garden is owned by the city, but the public is welcome to take advantage of it. He said that weddings and other special celebrations have taken place there.

The view from the garden is fairly monotonous, as most of the surrounding area consists of more office buildings and roads. The garden, however, creates the illusion of seclusion. A small green picket fence wraps around the perimeter, creating the feeling of stepping right into The Secret Garden. It is equipped with picnic tables and benches, and the areas not covered by sidewalks or plants is taken up by plush grass.

Freshman Adriana Marroquin, who recently visited the garden for the first time, after hearing about it from a friend, was intrigued.

"In the state it's in now, it's kind of sad," the writing, literature and publishing major said, referring to the lack of green due to the early season. "But I can see maybe going there one day. It would be a good place for a picnic."

The garden can be visited by anyone at no cost. Take the red line to the Kendall T-stop, walk one block west, and take a right at Cambridge Center. The parking garage is located at 4 Cambridge Center.

The Bodega

Where can you go to get cheap laundry detergent and high-end, name-brand sneakers all in one trip? Though probably not a question that is asked often, the Bodega is such a place, and is worth asking about simply because of the way it combines the two.

A bodega is traditionally a small grocery store, sometimes combined with a wine shop and found typically in Hispanic neighborhoods.

On the surface, the Bodega certainly seems to be a small grocery store with an emphasis on the small. Even before entering, it is clear the place has a dingy quality. The windows are filled with bathroom products and cans of Ravioli.

Once inside, the first impression is confirmed. There is barely room to walk around a table in the store. The walls are crammed with more of the same from the windows, and three large coolers of beverages take up much of the small space.

"There's all these guys sitting around; it's kinda weird," said freshman Clayton Childs, who went there for the first time in the fall with his suitemate.

But appearances can be deceiving. The Bodega is not just a run-down convenience store, but also a high end, urban shoe and clothing store, which is hidden behind a secret entrance among the groceries.

This part of the Bodega is a shocking contrast to the initial entrance. The room is filled with bright lighting, including a modern-looking chandelier hanging from the ceiling. A salesperson immediately steps over in greeting, pleasantly offering to help. On the right, a bright green wall displays mural-style paintings of the Boston Celtics. The wall directly across from this wall contains floor-to-ceiling shelves full of name-brand shoes from Vans to Nike to Puma. Beyond the shoe shelves is a nook dedicated to clothing, including North Face and Nike jackets.

The loudspeaker plays a combination of motown and hip-hop music. Throughout the store there is evidence of an urban art theme, from collages on the walls to books with titles like Graffiti NYC.

The fancy decorating isn't a trick, however. The products are expensive; the shoes range from around $50 to $300 and the shirts from roughly $30 to $150. Sweatshirts, jeans and jackets cost even more than that. But the unique styles may make it worth it. Childs, a television production major, bought two pairs of shoes when the store was running a sale. He said the flashy kicks they sell can not be found anywhere else.

There are few products in the store that do not consist of bright colors and distinctive patterns.

Despite the prices, Childs says it is a worthwhile experience, and he has taken his friends there to surprise them with the secret. Even the grocery section is a big part of the appeal, he said, because they make it look like a really run-down convenience store, and he likes the secret entrance the best.

"When you walk in you definitely get that woah factor," he said.

The Bodega can be reached by taking any green line train, except E, to the Hynes Convention Center stop. Walk south for about two blocks to Clearway Street, turn left and the store is at 6 Clearway St.

These two hidden treasures are interesting, unique locations for an excursion on one of the imminently approaching spring days. Set aside some time before you are stuck inside studying and add these impressive locations to your "Boston resident" resumeacute;.