BOSTON Over the past decade, the South End's South of Washington (SoWa) strip has witnessed an impressive transformation from sleepy industrial sites to happening art galleries, boutiques and, in warm weather, the massive SoWa Open Market. Here's a look at the arty strip's indoor and outdoor venues, which offer a slew of unique alternatives for events.
1. The 450 Harrison Avenue building holds the neighborhood's largest collection of art galleries, including Gallery Kayafas, a photography-focused open space that can host 70 for a reception or 30 for a seated dinner. With hardwood floors and floating walls that can be configured in several different ways, the gallery also offers a sound system that can be connected to an iPod. In the same building, Walker Contemporary, which opened in November 2008, is a raw space with white walls and a red-brick ceiling, with room to host 60 for a reception.
2. Across the street, a cluster of galleries and stores have opened in the still-renovating 460 Harrison Avenue building, including Mars Made, a local company, open since February 2008, that designs custom game room furniture. Groups can book playful receptions in the company's 1,000-square-foot glass-enclosed showroom, which features two pool tables, a foosball table, a dart board, and a small bar area with a flat-screen TV. The showroom holds 25 guests and catering is allowed.
3. Adjacent to Mars Made is the new bilevel home of exotic furniture and carpet retailer Mohr & McPherson. The 8,000-square-foot store, which is packed with unique pieces from Japan, Morocco, Indonesia, and beyond, can be configured to host cocktail parties and receptions for 200, utilizing its diverse stock. Later this winter, the store will add a cafe to its ground-level space. Mohr & McPherson also rents furnishings for off-site events.
4. Running in between these two buildings is Thayer Street, a brick-paved pedestrian area dotted with sculptures, trees, and small green lawns. In warm weather, Thayer Street has been used for company picnics and other outdoor events, with room for 400. Groups must bring in their own tables and chairs, but electricity can be provided from the adjacent buildings. Some groups have opted to host simultaneous indoor and outdoor events—for example, a picnic on Thayer Street with an option for guests to mingle in the Mars Made game room.
5. Around the corner on Harrison Avenue is the long-standing Boston Sculptors Gallery, a storefront space that exhibits large-scale works such as Kim Bernard's current Motion Matters, an installation of 49 cement spheres suspended by springs. The gallery can accommodate sit-down events for 60 after business hours.
6. Finally, the former power station at 540 Harrison Avenue is a raw, dramatic space that can be used for large events in warmer weather. The red-brick building is one massive open room that can hold 1,000 for a festival or other large-scale event. The building was home to the SoWa Antiques Market last summer and also hosted Boston Magazine's 2009 Best of Boston party. Groups must bring in pretty much everything needed for their event, including generators and bathrooms.