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The seven heavenly sins
Things to do in Boston when you’re bad

Historically, the BOSTON area has not been amenable to pleasures of the flesh. Indeed, from the moment the Puritans set their sensible shoes on the shores of Plymouth, in the bleak winter of 1620, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was marked as a place that would forever frown on frivolity in general, and venal frivolity in particular. Though it may be a myth that our city’s first flag depicted a man in a funny hat with a stick wedged up his ass, Boston’s Founding Fathers were certainly not known for their sense of fun. These, after all, were a people who thought Shakespeare’s plays were sinful; God only knows what they would have made of the whole lap-dance thing.

Today, 384 bleak winters later, things haven’t gotten much better.

In the 1960s, Boston’s West End — an area rife with brothels, bars, and gambling dens — was razed in the name of urban renewal. The neighborhood activism of the 1980s and ’90s purged the city’s so-called Combat Zone of much of its sex industry. Since then, political correctness, health concerns, and the specter of litigation have worked together to cleanse the city to a depressing degree of its remaining down-and-dirty distractions. You can’t even smoke in Boston’s bars anymore, and pretty soon you may not be able to drink in them, either. It’ll be fruit smoothies all around and a pack of celery sticks in the top pocket. Boston’s Puritan tradition has been given a new name: civic responsibility.

But human urges are hardy, and there are a still a few stubborn holdouts in the Boston area where less-moral-minded visitors may scratch their itches. Here, then, is a guide to some of Boston’s less wholesome attractions (some even less wholesome than others). In the interest of clarity, we’ve arranged our selections in seven categories, one for each of the Deadly Sins. Naturally, there will be some crossover here — the avarice inspired by gambling may soon curdle into wrath; gluttony will lead to an unavoidable bout of sloth — but that’s the thing about sins: they feed each other until the sinner becomes little more than a large bundle of sinfulness. At least, that’s the idea.


In recent years, this sin has been stripped of much of its potency — pride, it seems, is a good thing now. Virtuous pride can be seen in the rainbow flags of the South End (gay pride) or the carefully tended Victory Gardens of the Fenway (civic pride). No one, though, does the bad kind of pride — the snooty, hubristic kind — like Bostonians. One need only head over the Charles River to Cambridge to locate the source of our biggest bragging right: Harvard University, the nation’s oldest college, producer of 40 Nobel laureates and seven presidents, including — cough, sputter — George W. We recommend donning the insignia of your own state’s university and heading to the Au Bon Pain café in Harvard Square, where you can engage the locals in some spirited discussion on why, say, Ohio U beats Harvard every time. If this doesn’t seem sinful enough, head to one of our sports bars — we recommend the Baseball Tavern or the Cask ’n Flagon in the Fenway — for some televised Red Sox action (at Baltimore on July 26, 27, and 28, and at Minnesota on July 30). This being the Red Sox, you may not get much in the way of pride, but you’re likely to hear some pretty ungodly language.


Considering Massachusetts doesn’t sanction legalized gambling, there’s an awful lot of wagering to be done in the Boston area. The most immediate option is the Mass State Lottery. With a minimum bet of $1 a game, the state’s Keno racket — available in many area bars — offers a top prize of $20 million (for 12 numbers out of 12 on a $20 bet), though the odds of winning this are about the same as being trampled by an elephant while taking a bath in Alaska. The state also runs various numbers games, which go by such alluring names as Big Game Mega Millions. Then there are instant scratch tickets, which range in price from $1 to $10 a pop. Available at many convenience stores, the scratchies can make stopping off for a carton of milk a very expensive proposition.

For those who prefer live action, the Boston area has a number of race tracks. In Revere, there’s the somewhat forlorn Wonderland Greyhound Park, which often seems to attract more attention from animal activists than from gamblers. In nearby East Boston, you’ll find the marginally less forlorn Suffolk Downs horse track, otherwise known as Suffering Downs. Just across the border in New Hampshire, there’s the relative luxury of Rockingham Park, which also boasts bingo on its premises. In Rhode Island, the Lincoln Park greyhound track allows you to supplement your wagering on the doggies with video slots, while the Newport Grand Casino boasts simulcast betting and video slots, but no tables.

For real casino action, there are a few local options. Those willing to make the two-hour trip to Connecticut can visit either the Disney-esque Mohegan Sun Casino or Foxwoods Resort Casino, which, as the world’s largest casino, allows you to alternate losing money with getting lost. Closer to home are the Horizon’s Edge Casino Cruises, which depart nightly from the North Shore towns of Gloucester and Lynn, and which offer card games, roulette, craps, and, in our experience, a couple hundred somewhat stingy slot machines.

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Issue Date: July 23 - 29, 2004
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