The best Boston bars

From low-key Irish pubs and dive bars to swanky cocktail lounges, Boston bars cater to every drinker, whether your preferred poison is beer, wine or whiskey

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Beer mecca (and modern dive) Bukowski Tavern, one of Time Out's recommended Boston bars

Beer mecca (and modern dive) Bukowski Tavern, one of Time Out's recommended Boston bars

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.

Cocktails for connoisseurs

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.

  1. 7 Sanborn Court, (at Union Square)
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Alden & Harlow

Taking over the subterranean digs of former Harvard Square institution Casablanca, the expansive Alden & Harlow has plenty of space for eating and drinking between brick walls lined with reclaimed wood and vintage cookbooks. The cocktails echo the modern American fare, with ingredients like parsnip puree, honeyed kumquat and fennel infused lillet.

  1. 40 Brattle Street, (at Church Street)
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Drink

This underground bar has been firmly planted at the top of local and national cocktail-enthusiasts' must-see lists for the personal approach to mixology. Master bartenders present patrons not with a menu but with an ear to listen to each imbiber's preferences, crafting artisinal tipples from their stock of premium spirits and mixers.

  1. 348 Congress Street, (at A Street)
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Classic cocktails

Trina's Starlite Lounge

Rising from the ashes of the classic-but-grimy Abbey Lounge, the Inman Square space has remained a meeting spot for savvy locals. Trina's low lighting and dark wood paneling are brightened up by retro images just about everywhere you look (the bathrooms are wallpapered in mid-century magazine pages), but it's the menu full of diner-style comfort food that really keeps the clientele smiling into expertly executed cocktails. Head here for brunch on Monday to recover from the weekend's excesses.

  1. 3 Beacon Street, (at Dickinson Street)
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Marliave

Though the current iteration is only five years old, the Marliave has occupied its back-alley location since 1885. The top floor offers white tablecloth dining, but more casual imbibers can grab a bar stool or large booth in the main bar area. One or two selections from the extensive list of Prohibition-era cocktails are usually a welcome relief from the commotion of downtown.

  1. 10 Bosworth Street, (at Province Street)
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Hawthorne

The Hawthorne is a swanky lounge spread over several subterranean rooms in the Hotel Commonwealth. It can be difficult to find a free space on one of the spot’s many couches, but the classic cocktails and variety of small plates are worth the wait. The soft pretzel with bourbon mustard pairs well with nearly everything.

  1. 500A Commonwealth Avenue, (at Kenmore Street)
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Silvertone Bar & Grill

Forward-thinking in its backward-looking ways, subterranean Silvertone was a local pioneer of the trend for classic cocktails and American comfort food—and the long wagon train of regulars it immediately formed remains firmly hitched. The owners' good-natured commitment to a bygone era manifests itself in everything from the old prom pictures and liquor ads that line the walls to the confoundingly low prices charged for smart wines by the glass, served alongside much-loved staples such as macaroni and cheese, quesadillas and meatloaf.

  1. 69 Bromfield Street, (at Tremont Street)
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OAK Long Bar & Kitchen

OAK Long Bar & Kitchen is a rebrand of sorts for the Oak Room, a longtime Boston institution at the elegant Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel. Though renovations have lightened what was once a stuffy, dark interior, the renowned tableside martini service has remained—as has the drink’s hefty price tag.

  1. 138 St James Avenue, (at Dartmouth Street)
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West Side Lounge

With its candlelit tables, high-backed booths and reserved seats for walk-ins, West Side Lounge is an ideal place to get your night started. Be warned—once you start in on the fairly-priced cocktails and small plate-focused menu, you might choose to skip your next destination entirely.

  1. 1680 Massachusetts Avenue, (at Sacramento Street)
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Cocktail speakeasies

Carrie Nation Cocktail Club

If the main bar is too full or brightly lit, head past the shoeshine stand and up the back stairs to the “speakeasy,” with pool tables and intimate seating. No matter which corner you choose to imbibe, you can select from offerings ranging from punches and barrel aged cocktails to well-crafted classics.

  1. 11 Beacon Street, (at Somerset Street)
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Lucky's Lounge

Hidden away in a beautiful old warehouse near Fort Point Channel, Lucky's is easily missed. In true speakeasy style, there's no sign—look out for the orange glow radiating from the basement windows—which fits with the louche, retro vibe inside. The big night at Lucky's is Sinatra Sunday; far from drawing nostalgic pensioners, young hipsters flock to hear the Al Vega Trio pay tribute to Ol' Blue Eyes. Lucky's also features live funk, soul and R&B from Wednesday to Saturday, beginning around 9.30pm.

  1. 355 Congress Street, (at A Street)
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Contemporary cocktails

Beehive

An annex of the Boston Center for the Arts, Beehive is a madly buzzing bohemia. Whimsical textiles, wild paintings and other odd objets offset the loft-like restaurant/bar/entertainment venue's exposed-brick grittiness, while some of the city's best-known bartenders mix the drinks. In short, Beehive is a capital-S Scene. The kitchen whips up fun, Mediterranean-tinged nibbles, salads and communal platters to fuel the revelry, plus a few entrées for square-meal sticklers.

  1. Boston Center for the Arts, 541 Tremont Street, (at Clarendon Street)
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Gallows

Situated in close proximity to where Boston’s public hangings occurred, the Gallows embraces its namesake with its macabre décor. Beneath its perpetual Halloween costume, however, the bar has an inventive cocktail list and unassuming vibe.

  1. 1395 Washington Street, (at Union Park Street)
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Steel & Rye

A huge space just across the river from Dorchester, Milton-based Steel & Rye has kept the industrial feel of the building’s past as a former ambulance garage. At the same time, the space has been softened with a long bar, open kitchen and multi-level dining room. The cocktails are varied and well-crafted—try the manhattan variation made with rye and Cardamaro and served down.

  1. 95 Eliot Street, (at Central Avenue)
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Beat Hotel

Whether or not you're drawn in by the ’60s bohemian theme, there’s plenty to like about the Beat Hotel. Like its South End sister the Beehive, this retreat from the bustle of Brattle Street features thoughtful cocktails and daily live music in a cavernous room with plenty of space for all.

  1. 13 Brattle Street, (at Palmer Street)
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Scholars

In a city famous for its cramped confines, Scholars distinguishes itself from its bar brethren on size alone. Housed in a former Talbots, this bar offers a little bit of everything. The main floor boasts a lengthy bar, tables and booths for dining and couch-laden lounging area. If that’s not enough, head upstairs for a second bar and four pool tables. Or just grab a seat on the balcony overlooking the first floor and watch the scene unfold below.

  1. 25 School Street, (at Province Street)
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Met Back Bay

The potential stuffiness of the space (leather upholstery; bar area named "The Library") is tempered by the casual atmosphere and jean-clad servers. Show up late for a cocktail and something from the ham and cheese bar. Or go for dinner and pair a burger with a fairly priced brew.

  1. 279 Dartmouth Street, (at Newbury Street)
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Parish Café

What's better than cramming the city's most celebrated chefs into a single kitchen? Giving them room to think, so they can contribute from afar to a single menu composed of the city's most celebrated sandwiches instead. Besides signature faves from East Coast Grill's Chris Schlesinger, Blue Ginger's Ming Tsai, Radius's Michael Schlow and others, there's always something new to sample; local bartenders get equally creative on the cocktail list. What never changes is the kinetic energy both inside the snug, multicolored café and out on the mega-popular patio.

  1. 361 Boylston Street, (at Arlington Street)
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Abigail's

While many of the area’s bars fill up on weekend nights, there’s seemingly always a spot for you at Abigail’s long bar. The underrated cocktail spot has something for everyone—ranging from “Lite N’ Easy” offerings like the Pimm’s Cup to the party-starting (or, depending on your tolerance, night-ending) Hadron Collider—a half-pint of stout, a shot of Jameson and a glass of champagne. The bartenders are friendly and knowledgeable and there’s even patio seating in the warmer months.

  1. 291 Third Street, (at Athenaeum Street)
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Daddy Jones

The brainchild of Boston industry veteran Dimitra Tsouriania, Daddy Jones serves Greek food, craft cocktails and local brews. While more and more local bars proffer Prohibition-inspired cocktails, the list here focuses on reimagined favorites from the 1980s.

  1. 525 Medford Street, (at Broadway Street)
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Dbar

The owners of Dbar took over a grubby little Irish pub and installed a dark wood interior, a lengthy martini list and an upscale menu that rivals most of its downtown cousins. After 10pm on weekends, the smoke machines, lights and rib-shaking subwoofers come on, and suddenly the night belongs to Mariah.

  1. 1236 Dorchester Avenue, (at Hancock Street)
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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.

  1. 567 Massachusetts Avenue, (at Norfolk Street)
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State Park

The tiny, beloved bar area at restaurant Hungry Mother eventually led to the opening of sibling State Park, a full scale bar nearby. You can split a pitcher of Tom Collins with friends at the indoor shuffleboard table or jukebox. Or grab a seat at the bar and focus on what’s really important—drinking. The cocktail list is a bit short, but the knowledgeable bartenders will make anything you ask for.

  1. Building 300, 1 Kendall Square, (at Hampshire Street)
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Green Street Grill

The long narrow bar area becomes a pile of people and high tops at peak hours—show up for last call or on school nights for optimal results. The menu's cocktail list has plenty to choose from, but if you’re not overwhelmed by options, ask the bartender for the “special” cocktail binder for hundreds of more options.

  1. 280 Green Street, (at River Street)
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Irish pubs

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%.

  1. 912 Massachusetts Avenue, (at Hancock Street)
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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.

  1. 247 Elm Street, (at Davis Square)
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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.

  1. 125 River Street, (at Kinnaird Street)
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21st Amendment

On the surface, there's nothing particularly interesting about this small, low-ceilinged bar. Just across the way, however, is the State House, which leads to the happy spectacle of power brokers, legislators, journalists, tourists and local ne'er-do-wells sharing a drink together. The 21st is the ultimate off-hour politico bar; you may well spot some in there on "business lunches."

  1. 150 Bowdoin Street, (at Mount Vernon Street)
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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.

  1. 378 Centre Street, (at Sherridan Street)
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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.

  1. 21 Kingston Street, (at Summer Street)
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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.

  1. 75 Union Square, (at Stone Avenue)
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Dive 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.

  1. 50 Dalton Street, (at Scotia Street)
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Charlie's Kitchen

Despite the rampant fancifying of everything within a five-mile radius of Harvard, the stalwart Charlie's Kitchen has hardly changed a bit. This place may be known as the double cheeseburger king, but the loud, ready-to-drink crowd of punks, students, professors and local rock luminaries pile into the upstairs bar for the massive glasses of Hoegaarden, cheap eats, snippy waitresses and the best damn jukebox in Cambridge.

  1. 10 Eliot Street, (at Winthrop Street)
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Delux Café

A wall of record sleeves, graffiti-covered restrooms and a low budget, laid-back feel make this place a favorite with locals, passing bike messengers and people from all over town who appreciate a cheap drink or two. Friendly bartenders and the Cartoon Network on the TV add to the kind of jolly atmosphere that can only be found at a place that keeps a fake Christmas tree on the bar all year long. The Delux, in all its kitschy glory, is a hidden treasure.

  1. 100 Chandler Street, (at Clarendon Street)
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Wine bars

Tory Row

Patrons on stylish metal stools appear ready to topple out into the street on warm, busy nights. Is it the consistently packed house or the prime location that gives Tory Row its air of self-importance? No matter—the people watching is superb, the nibbles are filling and reasonably priced, and the beer and wine selection features a smattering of locally produced favorites.

  1. 3 Brattle Street, (at John F. Kennedy Street)
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Shay's Lounge

Owned and operated by English expats, Shay's is one of the nicer bars in the area. Sunk a few feet below the sidewalk and sporting a handy outdoor patio, the bar attracts a lively mix of local academics, artists and die-hard regulars. Though many quaff from the bar's extensive beer menu, this is primarily a wine bar—and there are no spirits.

  1. 58 John F Kennedy Street, (at South Street)
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Belly Wine Bar

As its name suggests, the focus at Belly Wine Bar is the wine—the owners also run the well-stocked wine-and-cheese store Central Bottle in nearby Central Square. This cozy, low-key spot also offers a menu of snacks to fuel the sipping and an underrated cocktail selection.

  1. 1 Kendall Square, (at Hampshire Street)
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Spoke Wine Bar

As might be expected at a wine bar, Spoke has no TV, a well-curated wine list and a menu focused on cheese, cured ham and oysters - perfect for pairing with the vino. However, this unpretentious offshoot of revered Dave’s Pasta on the outskirts of Davis Square also offers skillfully-executed cocktails and a varied draft list.

  1. 89 Holland Street, (at Simpson Avenue)
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Best for craft beer and international brews

The Salty Pig

With plenty of flatbread and sandwich options and a seasonal patio, the Salty Pig is a welcome post-work spot for the Back Bay suit-and-tie crowd. Make a selection from the ever-changing draft list over the slightly-fudged cocktails—The Salty Pig’s hard liquor options are limited to cordials and liqueurs.

  1. 130 Dartmouth Street, (at Columbus Avenue)
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The Haven

Boston's most authentic Scottish pub is actually located in JP. Sure, the great beer selection, Scottish party music and nifty antler chandelier are all well and good, but you're really there for the Haggis and Neeps (lads and lasses less enthused by dining on sheep organs will appreciate the Tomato Birdie or Barley Risotto, made from locally foraged mushrooms). For dessert, make sure to order something with the Drambuie whipped cream.

  1. 2 Perkins Street, (at Centre Street)
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Sunset Grill

The Sunset Grill serves beer. Great beer, beer of all types, from all over the world, in every color and flavor and consistency. And it serves a lot of it. The list of ales and lagers is gigantic: 380 bottles, with 112 on tap. The decor is nothing spectacular, and unless you have a thing about college students, the clientele won't knock your socks off. But with all that ale inside you, who cares?

  1. 130 Brighton Avenue, (at Harvard Avenue)
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Miracle of Science Bar & Grill

The Miracle of Science boasts ultra-modern design, a well-selected variety of beers and a comfortable, sun-bathed interior, thanks to its huge windows looking out over Mass Ave. In honor of the many MIT students who frequent the place, the menu is laid out like the periodic table.

  1. 321 Massachusetts Avenue, (at State Street)
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Bronwyn

Bronwyn draws the most attention for its popular biergarten. If weather or crowds make this patio space unavailable, head inside, find a throne-sized chair and order a giant pretzel. In addition to the lengthy list of beers from Germany and Central Europe, there’s a fine selection of wine and spirits.

  1. 255 Washington Street, (at Union Square)
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Olde Magoun’s Saloon

Though a casual neighborhood place at first glance, Olde Magoun’s has more than 25 beers on tap and an impressive array of small batch bourbons. Making matters even better are the six variations of mac and cheese, each served in a cast-iron skillet.

  1. 518 Medford Street, (at Broadway Street)
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Cambridge Common

A welcome way station on the stretch of Mass Ave between Harvard and Porter Squares, Cambridge Common offers solid New England pub food at reasonable prices—be sure to order the fried pickles or tater tots (or both).  For libations, the 31 beers on tap rotate frequently and feature a strong selection of local microbrews. Just down the stairs, the Lizard Lounge offers live music nightly.

  1. 1667 Massachusetts Avenue, (at Wendell Street)
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Deep Ellum

The decor is plainspoken, but the beer list is superb. And so are the cocktails, with bartenders willing and able to mix up any old-fashioned or off-the-wall concoction you can throw at them. There's also an eclectic menu offering everything from chilli dogs to veggie lentil stew. Taking its name from the jazz-rich area of Dallas, this relative newcomer is generating a buzz among booze connoisseurs.

  1. 477 Cambridge Street, (at Brighton Avenue)
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Firebrand Saints

During the colder months, sip a well-crafted cocktail at the bar and watch the kitchen at work or the five TVs above that loop and mash up whatever happens to be on. During the summer, bring friends, snag a picnic table on the patio and order draft beer by the pint or pitcher until it's time to go home.

  1. 1 Broadway Street, (at Main Street)
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Whiskey bars

Saloon

Saloon’s focus is whiskey, with a full-page selection offered straight or in a Manhattan or old-fashioned. True to Saloon’s speakeasy theme, pass through a nondescript doorway and down a flight of stairs and grab a seat at the massive bar. Just make sure you stake out a corner away from that group of English grads who are a little too excited by the Gatsby-esque vibe.

  1. 255 Elm Street, (at Chester Street)
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Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar

There's nothing to complain about the options for beers on tap and cocktails, but the real draw is the 100+ whiskey varieties. Try them all and you’ll get your own bottle of single barrel bourbon and an engraved whiskey glass. Also, drunk.

  1. 1310 Boylston Street, (at Jersey Street)
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