Boston hotels: a new elegance

The Marriott Long Wharf sits at the edge of Boston Harbor, looking something like a great red-brick ocean liner about to head out to sea. The Hotel Meridien, in the heart of Boston's financial district, brings French elegance to a granite and limestone building that was once a Federal Reserve Bank. And the Bostonian Hotel, a contemporary structure, looks perfectly at home in its Colonial surroundings of 17th-century alleyways.

The three hotels, along with the Back Bay Hilton which opened last fall, are part of a multimillion-dollar building boom in Boston. Scheduled to join them in the next few years are Marriott and Westin Hotels at Copley Place, as well as a Four Seasons Hotel, an Inter-Continental Hotel, and a Hyatt Hotel at various other locations. The Parker House and the expanded Ritz-Carlton have recently been refurbished, while the Sheraton Boston is redoing its facade, cafe, and ballroom.

For the visitor to Boston, all this activity adds up to a much greater choice in accommodations than there has been in years past. The most striking among the new hotels is the Marriott Long Wharf, which opened on Boston's waterfront in April last year. Like many of its much older neighbors, such as Faneuil Hall and the 19th-century warehouses along the harbor, the Marriott is of red brick.

Because the glassed-in main entrance area is also a public walkway for visitors to this historic district, guests take an escalator up into a huge glass pyramid that surmounts the lobby on the floor above. There is some interesting artwork. On one of the walls is a handsome mural, painted by New England artist Rufus Porter in 1824, that depicts Boston Harbor in lovely gold and coral shades.

Above a cafe and lounge area called the Palm Garden is a huge ceiling mural by a young New York artist, Francoise Schein, a sweep of geometrical designs in reds, blues, and grays. Most of the 400 guest rooms, comfortably appointed and decorated in a contemporary style, open onto the atrium, and many have a water view. The Marriott's principal restaurant, the Harbor Terrace, also has beautiful harbor views on three levels.

A few blocks inland from the waterfront area is Boston's financial district, an area that recently saw one of its vintage banks turn into the Hotel Meridien, an elegant addition to the French-owned chain. When built in 1922 as the Federal Reserve Bank, the structure was patterned after the 16th-century Pallaza della Cancellaria in Rome. From the outside the only really noticeable change has been the addition of a three-story glass mansard roof that gives each of the rooms on the upper floors a large sloping window.

The Meridien has used much of the building's fine old detailing for new purposes, particularly in the case of the lounge and the principal restaurant, the Julien. What was once the reception area for the bank's governing board is now the hotel lounge, a magnificent room with a gold-leaf coffered ceiling and two original N. C. Wyeth murals of Washington and Lincoln which the bank had commissioned in 1923.

As you might expect in a hotel with a French kitchen, the food at the Meridien is often exceptional. At the Julien, which is considered to be one of the finest nouvelle cuisine restaurants in Boston, the inventive menu offers such items as pheasant with pears and spinach in puff pastry and goose liver flan with oysters and crayfish. Less formal is the greenery-filled six-story Cafe Fleuri. Sunday brunch at the Cafe, which recently won Boston magazine's ''Best of Boston'' award, features tables of French pastries and cheeses, crepes cooked to order, and dozens of hot entrees and salads.

Midway between the Meridien and the Marriott Long Wharf and right across the street from historic Faneuil Hall is the Bostonian Hotel. Ever since its opening last fall, it has proved to be a hotel very much like the city it is named for: charming, respectful of the past, and, with 155 rooms, neither too large or too small.

From the outside the red brick Bostonian, with its green awnings, tall windows, and iron balconies, looks something like a cozy European hotel. Many of the rooms open on to the balconies, some of which overlook Faneuil Hall and the produce-laden pushcarts of Haymarket Square, and are appointed with large, oval-shaped bathtubs, dressing rooms, armoires, exposed beam ceilings, and other touches.

In the midst of the predominantly red brick architecture is a glass-enclosed restaurant called The Seasons, which, as its name suggests, has a menu that changes each season. At any time of year it emphasizes fresh produce, local seafood, and high-quality meats prepared with imagination and skill.

Because the Bostonian is in the historic Blackstone Block, an area of narrow, crooked streets that was a bustling commercial center in Colonial times, an extensive archaeological excavation took place before the hotel was built. A few of the artifacts found, some of them among the oldest objects ever found in Boston, are on permanent display in the lobby.

Visitors with business in the Back Bay area of Boston might want to consider a fourth choice among the city's new hotels, the Back Bay Hilton, a 367-room hotel that is primarily geared toward the corporate traveler. Because of its triangular design, the high-rise Hilton offers guests a choice of three views - the Charles River and the Esplanade, the Christian Science Center and Symphony Hall, or downtown Boston and Copley Square.

The Hilton's principal restaurant, Dalton's Cafe, has a casual atmosphere and features moderately priced breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Most unusual among the hotel's lounges and restaurants is the Satin Doll, a night spot that features live music and dancing of the 1940s and '50s along with light meals.

Practical information:

Rates at the Marriott Long Wharf range from $95 to $120 for a single room and can be made by contacting Marriott Long Wharf Hotel, 296 State Street, Boston, Mass. 02109, (617) 227-0800.

Rates at the Meridien range from $100 to $130 for a single and $115 to $145 for a double. Special weekend packages are available. Reservations can be made by contacting Hotel Meridien, 250 Franklin Street, Boston, Mass. 02110, (617) 451-1900.

Rates at the Bostonian range from $80 to $120 for a single and $95 and $135 for a double. Reservations can be made by contacting Bostonian Hotel, Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, Mass. 02109, (617) 523-3600.

Rates at the Back Bay Hilton range from $65 to $115 for a single and $85 to $ 135 for a double. Reservations can be made by contacting Back Bay Hilton, Dalton and Belvidere Streets, Boston, Mass. 02115, (617) 236-1100.

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