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The best Irish pubs in Boston

Separate the craic from the crap with our guide to the city's finest Irish pubs

Photograph: Michael Young
Boston's best Irish pubs: Plough & Stars

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

Matt Murphy's

Critics' pick

One of the better Irish pubs in a city that has no shortage of them, Matt Murphy's is well worth a journey into the Brookline outlands. The Guinness poured here is sublime, but what makes it such a hit among locals is its grub. The fish and chips (served wrapped in newspaper, natch) is deservedly famous and the shepherd's pie superb. The kitchen even makes its own ketchup. If it's not as youth-oriented as some of the city's Irish bars, Murphy's still gets its customers moving once the music starts - if they're capable of moving after dinner, that is.

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Brookline

Phoenix Landing

Critics' pick

Oldies are goodies for a reason. This Central Square mainstay, which dubs itself “the alternative Irish pub,” is le bar juste for playoff games, DJed dance parties, early-morning soccer matches, post-Middle East show debriefs and pretty much every other excuse in the book for a pint and a pile of wings. A surprisingly robust draft selection seals the deal, but if you need greater enticement, take a gander at the summertime patio and happy hour food menu.

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Central Square

Plough & Stars

The spiritual forefather of Greater Boston's thriving Irish pub business, the Plough has been going for some 30 years. In the daytime, it offers the best pub grub in town. At night, the tiny bar is transformed into a hotbed of clashing elbows and live music. Your chances of meeting a novelist just went up by 90%.

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Central Square

Burren

A Davis Square mainstay, the Burren is one of the most popular (and largest) Irish pubs on the north side of the river. During the afternoon, the front room—with its wood-slatted floors and a gentle light pouring through the windows—is full of folks tucking into bowls of beef stew, sipping pints of Guinness (or any number of local brews), and listening to informal Irish seisiúns. At night, the Burren is packed, largely with students from nearby Tufts University, who crowd the large back room to hear live (and loud) roots rock.

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Davis Square

River Gods

The Irish owners serve a great pint of Guinness, but you won't find any shamrocks hanging on the walls here. River Gods is contemporary yet cosy, carved into a cute residential neighborhood just outside Central Square. The tiny space fills up quickly around 9pm, as the DJs, who rotate nightly, do their (incredibly varied) thing—get here early to score a table. The beer selection is good, cocktails are reasonably priced and tasty food is served every night until 10pm. All in all, this is easily one of the most unique hangouts in town.

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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.

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Jamaica Plain

James's Gate

Every neighborhood should have a hangout this inviting. The raucous pub side serves a properly poured Guinness and some of the best nachos in town; the quieter restaurant space lets you sit down for Irish fare like shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash. In the winter months the pub fills up with day-drinkers jostling for a place in front of the wood-burning fireplace.

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Jamaica Plain

JJ Foley's

This low-key, low-lit bar is an institution in Boston—a hangout for bike messengers, tattooed masses, business suits and borderline bums. Anyone who's lived in Boston for long has met someone at Foley's, or broken up with someone at Foley's, or met and broken up with them there on the same evening—or knows someone who has.

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Downtown

Independent

Marked by the comfort of a neighborhood haunt and a low-key sort of elegance, "the Indo" is a Somerville favorite. The kitchen produces delicious, adventurous dishes—raclettes, trout fritters, fried almonds—until 1am. And the adjoining bar is Irish without being too much so, with a fine wine list and one of the better pints of Guinness in town. Every other Friday night, it plays host to "Mash Ave," a DJ night featuring the latest and greatest mash-ups and bootlegs.

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Union Square

Black Rose

One of the older Irish pubs in the city, the Black Rose plays its part well: photos of martyred patriots adorn the walls, and flags from every county hang from the ceiling. But its true selling point is the nightly program of live Irish music. If you're up for a rowdy, Guinness-fueled sing-along with friendly locals and tourists, this is the place to go.

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