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The best bars in Boston

From low-key Irish pubs and dive bars to swanky cocktail lounges, the best bars in Boston cater to every kind of drinker

Photograph: Courtesy Wink & Nod/Atsushi Tomioka
Wink & Nod

Boston bars—and the Hub's bar scene in general—have seen some dramatic changes in recent years. Once a city dotted with classic bars and Irish pubs, Boston is now brimming with drinkeries of every size and description, from cavernous brewpubs to neo speakeasies and artisanal cocktail lounges

Best Boston bars by type

Bars

The full list of the best bars in Boston

Boston bars—and the Hub's bar scene in general—have seen some dramatic changes in recent years. Once a city dotted with classic bars and Irish pubs, Boston is now brimming with drinkeries of every size and description, from cavernous brewpubs to neo speakeasies and artisanal cocktail lounges. Small spaces and tame closing times (2am at the latest) have contributed to shaping local nightlife into a crawl-friendly network of hot spots. But don’t limit yourself to Boston bars. Cambridge—in particular Central and Kendall Squares—is a great destination for an evening that starts with a few drinks and ends up on the dance floor, and there are also worthy watering holes in Somerville and further-flung neighborhoods.

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Bars

The best dive bars in Boston

Ask ten Bostonians for the definition of a dive bar and you'll get ten different answers. Dollar drafts? Unsavory locals? Big Buck Hunter? The term “dive” may have its roots in the Wild West, when bar patrons would dive under tables at the first sign of a drawn weapon. You’ve no need to fear loaded firearms in these neighborhood joints offering cheap drinks and a no-frills atmosphere. Many of the city’sIrish pubs and sports bars also fit the description and while dive bars aren’t usually associated with craft beer, Bukowski’s is a much-loved exception.RECOMMENDED: See the full list of the best Boston bars

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The best wine bars in Boston

Better known for craft beer, Boston has its share of excellent wine bars. Connoisseurs may want to reserve a table at one of several Boston restaurants with notable lists, such as French fixture Les Zygomates and Barbara Lynch’s South End spot the Butcher Shop. It’s also worth checking out the free wine-tasting sessions held in chic specialist shops.RECOMMENDED: See the full list of the best Boston bars

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Bars

The best cocktail bars in Boston

The international cocktail renaissance has shaken up the city’s once-staid bar scene. There was a time when Boston was better known for Irish pubs and dive bars, and upscale watering holes were largely confined to hotels. These days, Boston’s cocktail bars offer everything from fresh herb infusions to barrel-aged concoctions, but it's not all about seasonal ingredients and cutting-edge experimentation. Some of the best Boston bars concentrate on getting the simple things right, like an impeccable dry martini.RECOMMENDED: See the full list of the best Boston bars

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The best Irish pubs in Boston

What makes some Irish pubs better, or more authentic, than others? It may be something as simple as having craic (a Gaelic term that denotes a rollicking social atmosphere). Boston’s Irish pubs cover incredibly varied ground—some, like Phoenix Landing, also serve as sports bars; some, like Matt Murphy’s in Brookline, rank among the best Boston restaurants; and while some are quiet retreats, others double as nightclubs. Whether you're after great music, a cozy literary vibe or a blacker-than-black pint of Guinness, the Hub's pubs have you covered.RECOMMENDED: See the full list of the best Boston bars

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The best karaoke bars in Boston

Read our essential guide to Boston's best karaoke bars—insider tips and recommendations, written by local experts. From the intense renditions of Courtside's Mark the Shark to the rowdy Thursday night parties at The Asgard, Time Out's editors bring you the finest karaoke bars in Boston.RECOMMENDED: See the full list of the best Boston bars

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The best patio bars in Boston

As survivors of yet another infinite New England winter, we’re more than ready to ditch our coats and soak up the weather the best way we know how: by imbibing al fresco at one of Boston's patio bars. From spacious rooftop joints with a maritime view (The Landing) to cheery fence-lined terraces (Deep Ellum), here are eight spots guaranteed to quench your thirst while also providing some much-needed vitamin D. Just remember, it’s against city law for bars and restaurants to serve alcohol on their patios without also serving food, so be prepared to order a snack or two.RECOMMENDED: See the full list of the best Boston bars

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Boston craft beer guide

Boston has an illustrious brewing history. Founding father Samuel Adams was also a brew master, and throughout the 19th century the city had more breweries per capita than anywhere in the United States. Though the 18th Amendment put a stop to that, the last couple of decades have seen a resurgence of the craft. Sam Adams Brewery in Jamaica Plain was at the forefront of the local trend when it was founded in the 1980s. A tour of the facility (including samples) is among the best things to do in Boston, but if you’re looking for a bar to sip suds from around the world or around the block, try one of these ten Hub-area craft beer bars.RECOMMENDED: See the full list of the best Boston bars

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The best sports bars in Boston

Depending on who you ask, Boston has the best or the worst sports fans in the country—their loyalty to their teams is borderline psychotic and has been the subject of a number of books and movies. For many people, catching a game at Fenway Park or TD Garden is one of the essential things to do in Boston. This enthusiasm spills over into the city's sports bars, many of which are within pitching distance of Fenway’s Green Monster—or in the case of the Bleacher Bar, inside the stadium itself.RECOMMENDED: See the full list of the best Boston bars

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The best gay bars in Boston

The capital of the first state to legalize gay marriage, Boston has a thriving LGBT scene, yet the city has surprisingly few exclusively gay bars and clubs (though parties in nightclubs like The Estate bump up the weekly options). Jamaica Plain has a growing lesbian population and a prime hangout, Bella Luna Restaurant & the Milky Way Lounge, which hosts the regular Dyke Night bash. In summer, the LGBT party migrates to Cape Cod’s Provincetown—quite possibly the gayest seaside enclave in the world.RECOMMENDED: See the full list of the best Boston bars

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Full list of the best Boston bars

Bars

Backbar

This hidden sister bar to popular restaurant Journeyman is best found by looking for the disoriented would-be patrons wandering the parking lot between neighbors Bronwyn and the Independent. Once you find yourself inside, you’ll be treated to outstanding service and meticulously crafted cocktails while seated at low-key wooden block tables. Show up early or make reservations—staff will make people wait rather than letting them crowd the space.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Brendan Behan Pub

This is one of the jewels of Boston’s popular Irish pub scene. Named after the Irish playwright, it once hosted standing-room-only seisiúns, attended by the likes of Patrick McCabe and JP Donleavy. Behan's is not a fancy place—it’s small and dimly lit, with no food on offer—but that’s part of its charm. Locals love it because they are encouraged to bring their own food—usually from the various take-out joints that dot Centre Street—to nibble on in between pints from their incredible beer selection.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Brick & Mortar

It’s still just as hard to find as its predecessor, the Enormous Room, but once you head through the nondescript door and up the stairs, the similarities end. A giant horseshoe-shaped bar and ample bar stool seating have replaced the low, rug-clad seating platforms and hybrid drink/bathroom line. The cocktails shine and the bar snacks (which include bacon-wrapped dates and deep fried house made pickles) are done just right.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Bars

Bukowski Tavern

If you don’t mind a backdrop of loud rock, the beer selection (more than 100 choices) in this tiny bar is fit for the most advanced of beer geeks. If your taste runs to spirits, go elsewhere. As one employee aptly put it, “it’s all about the beer”—but for hopheads, this perch above the Massachusetts Turnpike is heaven in a shoebox.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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