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A different angle on the Square

By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / October 31, 2010

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Passing Hotel Veritas for the first time, I did a double take. What was this fresh-faced, four-story building with bow-front windows? Last time I had looked, the corner of Remington Street and Massachusetts Avenue was occupied by a run-down Victorian-style apartment building and an auto repair shop, an oddity in a walker-friendly neighborhood otherwise selling yoga lessons, frozen yogurt, and furniture.

The prime Harvard Square real estate had practically begged for a change. And after my initial surprise, I saw that Hotel Veritas had obliged in unique style.

The boutique hotel is a natural fit for the area and a fun addition to the Harvard Square hotel scene. The sleek, pleasantly quirky, 31-room hotel achieves what all boutique hotels strive for: a place where small feels interesting and intimate, not limiting or lacking.

Other hotel options around Harvard University can feel staid or dated, or both. Think 40-year reunion, not five-year. Prior to Hotel Veritas debuting in May, the last new hotel in the area, the Inn at Harvard, opened amost 20 years ago.

“We wanted the hotel to look as if a hip, cool couple had inherited their great aunt’s old Cambridge home,’’ said Benson Willis, general manager. “Then, they made it their own.’’

The result is a mix of old and new that approaches, but never crosses the line of being over-designed. The creative combinations include: crown molding and mirrored nightstands in the rooms, 19th-century French limestone and wallpaper with gold starbursts in the lobby-lounge, architectural echoes of the carriage house that predated the auto shop, and 13-foot-high windows beside the main entrance.

When considering the “branding colors,’’ Willis said, “crimson was absolutely stricken from the color palette.’’ Harvard colors would have projected the wrong image, a sense of trying too hard. So, the interior design favors golds, greens, and blues in textured materials that shimmer. While its name comes from Harvard’s motto meaning truth, Hotel Veritas doesn’t force its university connection or its uniqueness on guests, doesn’t trumpet its hipness with impractical furnish ings or new names for common amenities like other boutique hotels I have known.

Still, Hotel Veritas won’t satisfy everyone’s tastes and wants. It is too small to do that and too smart to try. If you care about having reward points, hotel restaurants, and dozens of staffers available, then head to a hotel with hundreds of rooms. Visitors most comfortable at Hotel Veritas want to experience Harvard Square, to be at the crossroads of the action. Willis said about half the guests so far have been connected to Harvard in some way — parents, alumni, visiting academics — and the other half businessmen and leisure travelers.

I checked into Hotel Veritas on Columbus Day and stayed one night in room 305. At just under 200 square feet with a queen-size bed, the room pushed the limits of cozy.

A nearly floor-to-ceiling bedside window made the room feel not so cramped, as did the economical layout and choice of furniture: two small nightstands, a wall-mounted flat-screen TV, a writing desk, a chair without arm rests, and ottoman. I slept well on the Anichini sheets, at least until Harvard Square came to life around 7:30 in the morning with the sounds of trash collection and street sweeping.

The compact bathroom with beige marble was as efficiently designed as the bedroom. I had only a shower, but four rooms come with bathtubs. The hotel stocks Etro bath products.

Of all the feedback Willis receives, most concerns the room size. The hotel recently created the Petite Queen room category, which covers the eight smallest queen rooms. A Petite Queen costs $40 less than a regular queen. Willis wants to set the right expectations for guests and avoid disappointment when room doors open.

When it comes to service, small works. The same woman who helped me at check-in also came to my room a couple of hours later when I had trouble figuring out the TV remote. The next morning, before handling my check-out, she made several restaurant recommendations. It was nice to have that consistency. The small staff — six concierges and three managers — come to know guests well, making it easier to please them. The staff member who helps with your luggage also can make you a martini in the Simple Truth Lounge.

Guests can order cheese plates ($18 for three cheeses), charcuterie ($22), and drinks ($6-$15 for beer, $9-$12 for cocktails, $9-$15 for glasses of wine) in the lounge or have the same food delivered to their rooms. The hotel makes a concerted effort to go local with its menu and other amenities. For example, Berkshire Mountain Distillers supplies the vodka, rum, and gin.

“If someone chooses to come and stay at a little independent hotel in Harvard Square, I thought they would be more inclined to try a nice local vodka,’’ said Willis.

Guests can take the lounge offerings to the small outdoor patio beside the entrance or a third-floor terrace on the quiet side of the hotel opposite Massachusetts Avenue. There are five rooms with private balconies.

I appreciated the hotel’s reluctance to nickel-and-dime guests, stocking free water, juice, and soda in refrigerated drawers by the front desk. A coffee/espresso machine is available gratis 24 hours. Room rates include access to the Internet and the Karma Yoga gym across the street. The staff will help with other requests, too.

“We hired some people with a great deal of hotel experience,’’ said Willis. “And we hired some people with absolutely no hotel experience, but they were from Cambridge.’’

I put that to the test: Having tried most of the restaurants in and around Harvard Square, I found the staff’s suggestions pitch perfect for everything from a quick breakfast to a casual lunch to an upscale dinner. If visitors want, the hotel can make reservations at the Harvard Faculty Club. It’s a departure from the usual dining scene. But not surprisingly, departing from the usual works for Hotel Veritas.

“If guests want old Harvard, it’s available to them,’’ said Willis. “If they want where Cambridge is now and looking forward, then we certainly hope that Hotel Veritas is part of that.’’

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.

If You Go

Hotel Veritas
1 Remington St. Cambridge
617-520-5000
www.thehotelveritas.com
Room rates: petite queen ($155-$655), queen ($195-$745), king ($215-$745), two double beds ($235-$795), one-bedroom suite ($395-$1,395).