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    Cambridge’s Hotel 1868, a new spot with an old soul

    Pamela Wright for the Boston Globe
    Construction is near completion at Hotel 1868, which is aiming for an April opening.

    The folks behind Hotel 1868 are betting on this: Travelers looking for lodging near Harvard or MIT or Cambridge’s high-tech and bio-science centers, will eschew the higher room prices in those areas and consider this new, nearby boutique. Why not? It’s in the heart of up-and-coming Porter Square, steps from the Red Line, and a hop-skip-and-jump from those other bustling squares (Harvard, Kendell, Central).

    It’s a formula that’s worked before for developer Peter Lee, who opened the similar Porter Square Hotel two years ago. That one has been a success, boasting an 80-plus percent occupancy rate, and he hopes to attract the same clientele to Hotel 1868, located just a block away.

    “There’s a great demand for rooms in this area,” says Kevin Sheehan, director of operations. “Porter Square is getting busier and busier. The entire area is being developed; you can see it coming.”


    “It” meaning the hub-bub of gentrification, with renovated buildings, new hotels, shops, and restaurants, including Yume Ga Arukara, named one of the 10 best new restaurants in America in 2018 by Bon Appetit magazine, and (yet another) Caffe Nero, which will be on the ground floor of the hotel.

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    The design-built 50-room hotel, with its steel-framed, boxy, neo-industrial look, gives a faint nod to the 1800s, when Porter Square was a center for commerce and light industry. “It’s meant to have the look and feel of a renovated mill building,” Sheehan says.

    Sheehan didn’t want to commit to a drop-dead opening date (biggest obstacle is finding staff), but they’re shooting for April. Construction is near completion, with the finishing touches now being done. We took a look.

    Pamela Wright for the Boston Globe
    The interior is a mixture of textures and rough materials.

    Inside the brand-new building is a mixture of textures and rough materials: brick, wood, tile, metal, and exposed frameworks. A whitewashed brick wall serves as a backdrop to a copper-topped check-in counter. A three-dimensional wood wall serves as an accent. It’s a small lobby, not necessarily meant for lingering. Get your key and head upstairs to your room.

    Rooms are minimal and snug, 160- to 200-square feet, but with high ceilings and tall windows. The industrial look continues with heavy wood side tables and headboards made with iron barn-door hinges and wood or studded leather. The bathrooms are also tight, but adequate and modern, with walk-in tile showers and small porcelain sinks. There are a couple of open wall shelves and cubbies to stash your stuff. And, all the high-tech bells and whistles that travelers demand. A 24-hour fitness room and underground valet parking are added perks.


    It’s new, it’s modern, it’s convenient. And, “our room prices can stay 10 to 15 percent below the Cambridge market rate,” says Sheehan. That could be a winning formula, if they can find the people to staff it. Know anyone who needs a job? 1868 Massachusetts Ave., 617-499-2998;

    Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at