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Checking in

Picky guest finds comfort, value in Brookline

Email|Print| Text size + By Hilary Nangle
Globe Correspondent / December 16, 2007

BROOKLINE - When I need lodging, I seek accommodations that deliver the Big Three Cs: comfort, character, and convenience, and do so at little cost. That's not easy, especially in a city.

Recently, when searching for a one-night stay in Boston, I found plenty of places with comfort and character. While most were convenient, all came at a high cost that didn't include breakfast or Internet access or any other little add-ons that can add up quickly. I expanded my search a bit, but that brought other considerations. Since I was traveling solo, safety was a concern, and because I would be without wheels, I wanted lodging within steps of the T. I know, picky, picky, but I found all that and more at the Bertram Inn in Brookline.

Located in a residential neighborhood, just a block from Beacon Street's St. Paul T stop, the Bertram Inn not only met my requirements, but also provided far more amenities than I expected from a bed-and-breakfast, even one marketed as a boutique Victorian inn. It was a steal: comfort, convenience, and character in a deluxe room for $189, including breakfast and plentiful snacks.

Designed by Harry E. Davidson for a local merchant and completed in 1907, the lovely three-story structure remained a private home until 1939. After that, it operated as an inn or rooming house, falling in and out of disrepair until its current owner, preservationist Bryan Austin, purchased it in 1987. He restored and rejuvenated it, preserving original details and complementing them with period furnishings.

The inn's 14 rooms and suites recall the easy elegance that probably defined the house in its early years: working fireplaces in the living room and some guest rooms, elegant leaded glass windows, gleaming quarter-sawn oak trim and wood floors, antique furnishings selected for comfort, and art from the Artana Gallery accenting the walls. Add contemporary amenities, such as complimentary Wi-Fi throughout, flat-screen TVs in some rooms, soft linens, guest robes, oversized Turkish towels, and CD/DVD players. The results blend elements of a visit to grandma's with one to hip cousin Alex's.

Austin employs an innkeeper and staff, but it was his niece Eleanor who welcomed me and led me through the public areas before showing me to my room. A large living room, with working fireplace, provides plenty of space to relax, chat, and read, and doubles as a dining area. She pointed out a table, laden with homemade cookies, breads, and pastries, nuts, dried and fresh fruits, and other snacks for the taking, then opened a closet, where milk, juice, cereals, and other goodies were stashed. Tea, hot cocoa, and coffee are also provided.

"Help yourself to whatever you'd like, whenever you'd like. We put out the breakfast buffet at 8 a.m., and you can eat it here, take it to your room, or eat out here," she said, opening a door to the enclosed, wicker-furnished sunporch and adjacent terrace.

After perusing the options available online, I had chosen Room 4, a corner room on the second floor with big windows letting in plenty of natural light. Unfortunately, on the St. Paul Street side it overlooked a big construction project, which even on a Saturday was noisy. Although I had called the inn to make my reservation, the staff member who took it didn't mention the construction. If he had, I would have chosen a room on the other side of the house. My only other complaint was the lack of individual room controls for heat. Even with the windows open, it was too toasty for my taste. Still the room was pleasant and the bathroom, although small, had nice toiletries and a few surprise amenities, including cotton balls and swabs.

Downstairs I made myself a pot of tea, snagged two chocolate chip cookies, settled into the leather sofa, and read the day's newspapers, before strolling around the neighborhood. To avoid schlepping my luggage on the T, I had taken a taxi to the inn and en route the driver had pointed out his favorite restaurants on Beacon Street, an ethnic bonanza all within walking distance.

I returned after dinner to find my shades drawn, bedding turned down, a light on, and chocolates on the pillow. Turndown service isn't unusual at a fancy hotel, but here it was another surprise. So too was the mattress. The inn has a number of rooms with Swedish Duxiana mattresses, designed to promote proper posture while providing a good night's sleep. While I can't guarantee it was the Duxiana, I slept soundly and awoke refreshed.

And hungry. Good thing, because the buffet included not only the day's featured hot entree, chocolate chip pancakes with maple syrup, but also bowls of fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs, apple-yogurt bread, butter croissants, homemade granolas, vanilla yogurt, and assorted breads, cereals, bagels, and muffins. Although that was more than enough to steel me for the day, I pocketed two cookies as a tasty souvenir.

Hilary Nangle, a freelance writer in Waldoboro, Maine, can be reached at hilary@hilarynangle.com.

If You Go

Bertram Inn
92 Sewall Ave., Brookline
617-566-2234; 800-295-3822
bertraminn.com

What we liked best: The casual comfort of a bed-and-breakfast combined with the amenities of a fine hotel at a fraction of the price.

What we liked least: The construction project across the street.

What surprised us: Turn-down service, with chocolates on the pillow.

You know you're at the Bertram Inn when . . . no matter when you're hungry, there's food available.

Rates: Vary by date and room; December through May $99-$219, including full breakfast buffet and 24-hour snacks. My $189 rate for a deluxe room in mid-November reflected a $10 AAA discount. The Bertram is pet friendly; its sister inn across the street, the Samuel Sewall House, is family friendly. Parking $15.

Directions: From Interstate 90 (Mass. Pike) take exit 18 for Cambridge/Boston and follow signs toward Cambridge, merging onto Cambridge Street. Turn right on Soldiers Field Road/Storrow Drive, then take the first marked exit off Storrow (following signage for Boston University), turning right on University Drive, then right on Commonwealth Avenue. At the third set of lights, turn left onto St. Paul Street, and go seven blocks to Beacon Street. Cross Beacon Street and continue one block on St. Paul to Sewall Avenue, turn left, and the inn is immediately on the left.

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