The Battle of That Hill Over There
For instance, it was here that the American Revolutionaries were soundly beaten by the British at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. The British - out of spite or just plain stupidity - then proceeded to burn down all of Charlestown. However, the battle was not fought on Bunker Hill at all, but actually on Breed's Hill. Due to a flaw in British intelligence, the Redcoats had mistakenly charged up Breed's Hill, thinking it was Bunker Hill, and soundly whipped the Americans anyway. The wonderfully phallic Bunker Hill monument sits atop Breed's Hill as a testament to the British High Command's cartographical oversight and fondness for arson.
Wooden Iron Ships
Here's another one. The Charlestown Navy Yard, which is no longer a naval yard at all, but rather a sub-townlet within the hamlet of Charlestown proper, houses the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship in US history, nicknamed 'Old Ironsides'2. Obviously, the ship itself is wooden. Perhaps the Revolutionaries were no smarter than the Redcoats.
Townies, Toonies and Dogs
The town itself is populated by a strange mix of people. There are the 'hardcore', generationally-rooted families who have been living in Charlestown since, well, the damn place burned down. They refer to themselves as 'Townies', and generally dislike anyone who has moved in within the last 50 years or so. Their, well, arch rivals are referred to by the Townies as 'Toonies', for a reason that probably makes good sense to the Townies, but not to anyone else. The Toonies are classic upper middle-class 30-something gym fodder with 2.3 children and at least as many dogs3. The dogs get on well with the children, who get on well with the owners/parents. However, the Toonies as a group do not get on well with the Townies. Sadly, the forces of economics being what they are, the Townies are being bought up and relocated, and the Toonies are slowly repopulating the area. This has led to an alarming increase in upscale flower boutiques, pretentious restaurants, and dog walking services. Most often one can find such businesses occupying storefronts alongside liquor stores, Seven Elevens, and housing projects4.
A Bar, Half a Bar, and a Pub
Sadly, the bar scene is not extensive, although it is interesting in that it reflects the socio-economic diversity of the town as a whole. The Warren Tavern, which was opened in 1780, bills itself as the oldest continually operating bar in Boston, and the former meeting place of many of our Founding Fathers5. It has a very colonial charm: low ceilings, wooden beams, good beer and typical pub food. Unfortunately, for the Townies at least, it is almost entirely frequented by the Toonies, who generally stand around making plastic conversation and looking uncomfortable and self conscious in mid-range designer gear. However, the Warren Tavern burger is the best burger in Western civilisation.
If you intend to bar hop (pub crawl), you will not have to go far, for there is only one other bar to hop to. And it's about 30 yards down the street6. It's called Sullivan's, and as you would expect from such a good, Irish name, it is a good, Irish pub, with classy American touches like karaoke on Thursday nights. They do not serve food, they do not take credit cards, and they generally look unfavourably on people in suits and high heels. Basically, if you are looking to grease the mind with some pretty standard libations, this is your place. Zero for atmosphere, but plus several million for the one abusive waitress and the general 'pub' feel of the place. But don't put your cigarette out in an empty glass, as the aforementioned waitress will go into orbit. Oh, and don't expect a bathroom mirror, paper towels, or even a working toilet. But hey - it's a pub, right?
Boston? Well, I've Heard of it...
A final inconsistency: Charlestown is 100% part of the city of Boston. It has no separate town council or mayor, and it falls under the jurisdiction and tax laws of Boston proper. That being said, it is also bounded by parts of a river, requiring one to cross a bridge no matter how one approaches from downtown Boston. It also has its own unique name, telephone exchanges, and is generally about as far removed from Boston (both physically and in spirit) as a neighbourhood can get.
And so there we have it: Charlestown. There's all the other things that make a town a town, of course: cash machines, take away food outlets, a Blockbuster - but did you really want to hear about all that?
Further Guide reading...
If you really must read more about Boston, the Guide has these entries:
- Public Transport in Boston
- The Boston Molasses Tragedy
- The New England Aquarium
- The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum