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Checking In

Rooms with views of Fenway, space enough to gyrate

Email|Print| Text size + By Ron Driscoll
Globe Staff / April 29, 2007

When the Red Sox announced last December that they had signed pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square leaped on the news like a batter eyeing a gyroball that's not . . . um, gyrating.

The hotel began running ads in several Japanese newspapers on the day of the signing, and it has made much of its website available in Japanese in a bid to steer the predicted influx of visitors hoping to see the superstar from Japan's Pacific League test his mettle against American League hitters.

Judging by what the hotel has managed in just three years in business, we're expecting the equivalent of an inside-the-park home run.

We stayed there on a February night before pitchers and catchers had even reported, the wind sending already chill temperatures into the sub zero range. After a college tour that included a significant jaunt outdoors, we were happy to step out of the car onto a curbside check-in area blasted with heat from blowers in the awning above.

The sense of comfort was heightened by the almost eerie quiet that descended when the outside door closed on bustling Kenmore Square, which sits at the confluence of several big streets and has an MBTA stop and a bus station.

We were acquainted with this patch of the city, having attended Boston University when the block where the hotel sits had at one end an International House of Pancakes, and at the other, the venerable Rathskellar, a scruffy club that hosted many an ambitious punk or rock band, some of whom went on to become household names.

The hotel had its genesis in the mid-1990s, when Terrence Guiney and a group of partners that included Frank Keefe, a former state secretary of administration and finance under Governor Michael S. Dukakis, were doing some real estate consulting for BU.

"Frank wanted to use a hotel to help revitalize Kenmore Square," said Guiney, the hotel's managing director. "In the middle of that space were eight handsome bowfront buildings, lovely residential buildings that had been turned into retail space at the sidewalk level, and mostly medical and office space above."

What Guiney saw was a logical client base, with BU, Simmons and Emmanuel colleges, and a big medical complex several blocks up Brookline Avenue.

"The people we spoke with at BU were excited about it, and then it became a question of assembling the site, which was a complicated process," Guiney said. "But the hotel has created a lot of sizzle, and a lot of traffic."

Among numerous awards since it opened in May 2003, the hotel is one of five finalists (along with Boston's Nine Zero) for "most excellent hotel" selected by Condé Nast Johansens, out of 285 properties in its 2007 guide of recommended properties.

From the lobby, with its understatedly elegant pieces and circular divan begging to be sprawled upon, it was easy to negotiate the 150-room building, which has a dozen or so shops on the lobby level. Its rooms are labeled either Fenway or Commonwealth: Fenway rooms, a tad smaller at 475 square feet, face the rear with a view of the stadium across the Mass. Pike. Commonwealth rooms face the square and are 525 square feet . (Guiney said a typical room in the city is 350 square feet.)

Even before learning the numbers, we were impressed with the spaciousness of our Fenway room, not to mention its view of the rear of the park's center-field message board, the Coke bottle, and banks of floodlights, which made the chill recede a bit more.

The room's walls were a pale yellow and white, an almost sponged look that turned to stripes in the bathroom. Italian linens and Egyptian cotton blankets were complemented by a rust-colored throw across the bottom of the bed, which doubled nicely as a blanket for curling up in one of the two striped taupe reading chairs, each with its own lamp. The aforementioned view was framed by gold-and-taupe patterned drapes and fronted by a wide table set with wine glasses, tumblers, and a corkscrew.

The room's period furniture is distinctive, with a striking armoire holding the TV/DVD player, a mini bar, and some drawers. The pieces are meant to "echo the French Second Empire style of design, of Mansard roofs and fancy fenestrations," Guiney said. "It is meant to mimic and modernize. They are all one-of-a-kind pieces, designed here and made in Oman in the Persian Gulf. You're not going to walk into another hotel and find them."

Another nice touch was the room information book, packaged to look like a leather-bound volume you might find at Commonwealth Books, an antiquarian bookshop in the retail gallery.

When we sought out dinner at Eastern Standard , one of the hotel's three restaurants, we were met by a boisterous scene for a Monday night. The space fronts on the square, with a few tables set on the sidewalk for warmer periods, and its bar/dining room was buzzing with piped-in Dixieland jazz and a young crowd. We took a corner table a bit away from the noise and enjoyed comfort food of immense portions .

A green salad ($10) with Vermont feta cheese, olives, and lemon vinaigrette, might have more rightly been called a Greek salad. The roasted beet salad ($11) was a crunchy mix of beets, walnuts, endive, and apples. Either would have easily fed two people.

Glazed salmon with mustard and green beans ($23) and honey tarragon meat loaf with buttermilk mashed potatoes ($18) were outstanding, and were followed by a warm chocolate bread pudding that banished the cold for good.

Ron Driscoll can be reached at rdriscoll@globe.com.

If You Go

Hotel Commonwealth

500 Commonwealth Ave.
617-933-5000; 866-784-4000
hotelcommonwealth.com

What we liked most: The way the hotel shut out the clamor of Kenmore Square.

What we liked least: The lack of an early coffee option in the gallery of shops; Truly Jorg's Patisserie was only slowly perking up at 8 a.m.

What surprised us: The size of our room, about one-third larger than the Boston average.

You know you're at the Hotel Commonwealth when . . . your room is bookended by restaurants, one upscale (Great Bay) and one casual (Eastern Standard).

Rates: Room-only rates $245-$485. Packages including Fenway Park tours, Red Sox games, B&B also available.

Directions: Exit Interstate 93 at Storrow Drive. Continue on Storrow Drive to Kenmore Square exit. At first set of lights, turn right onto Beacon Street. At second set of lights, at the end of Kenmore Square, make a U-turn. The hotel is on the right at first set of lights.

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