The Hub’s bar scene has undergone dramatic changes in recent years; Boston has been shedding its reputation as a no-frills, old-school drinking town slowly but surely. Once populated mostly with hotel bars and Irish pubs, Boston is now brimming with drinking spots of every size and description, from cavernous beer bars to artisanal cocktail lounges. And while our dive bar scene might be waning, there are still plenty of bare-boned watering holes worth celebrating. Consider visiting the best bars in Boston before or after dining at one of the best restaurants in Boston—not that you need an excuse.
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Best bars in Boston
This underground bar has been firmly planted at the top of local and national cocktail enthusiasts’ must-see lists for its personal approach to mixology. There are no menus or drink lists, and all bottles are kept out of view. Master bartenders listen to each imbiber’s preferences, crafting artisinal tipples from their stock of premium spirits, fresh mixers, and house-made accoutrements.
Eastern Standard’s bar program remains committed to a higher level of mixology, from using top-shelf spirits to freshly-squeezed juices. It’s common now to find Red Sox fans drinking Sazeracs instead of beers, and many a Fenway event-goer stops in for a composed entree rather than a quick bite. It’s a great anytime option, especially if drinks are involved. If the warm and inviting interior gets too packed and noisy, try to retreat to the sidewalk patio.
This swanky lounge is spread over several subterranean rooms in the Hotel Commonwealth. It can be difficult to find a free space on one of the many couches, but the impressive cocktails and variety of small plates are worth the wait. Drink options run the gamut from inventive mixed drinks to a well-curated assortment beers and wines.
Science remains the driving force behind Artscience’s daring cocktail program. Past examples of the staff’s wizardry include a clarified piña colada and futuristic Rob Roy that involves a sensory cloud made from ArtScience’s famed Le Whaf. Many drinks feature outrageous garnishes, both edible and non, and rare is the cocktail that isn’t a feast for multiple senses.
One of the city’s most exciting mixologists is based out in Woburn. Ran Duan took over the drink menu at his parents’ suburban Chinese restaurant and turned it into an outré bar program that draws cocktail connoisseurs from all over. Duan even won an award at the Bacardi Legacy Global Cocktail Competition for his Father’s Advice (rum, amaro, vermouth, sherry, creme de banana). If visiting on a weekend, head upstairs to check out the library-themed Baldwin & Sons Trading Co. for even more top-shelf cocktail magic.
Brick & Mortar is still just as hard to find as its predecessor, the Enormous Room - once you head through the nondescript door and up the stairs, you’ll encounter a giant, horseshoe-shaped bar and ample seating. The cocktails shine and the bar snacks (which include bacon-wrapped dates and deep fried house-made pickles) are done just right.
For its seasonal cocktail menu, this South End subterranean pseudo-speakeasy tweaks classic options by using house-made cordials, juices and infusions. Those looking to impress can splurge on one of the “black card” cocktails; packed with pricey ingredients, these run up to $100 each. Members of the Scotch Club spend their Tuesday evenings sampling top-shelf bottles with the beverage director, while a rotating pop-up restaurant churns out bold bites.
The city’s first modern craft distillery has already changed the city’s drinking scene, as bartenders around town regularly incorporate its handcrafted spirits into their own cocktail programs. A trek out to the distillery’s tasting room is a must for any area cocktail lover. The intimate bar area features velvet booth seating and a collection of Prohibition-era spirit bottles, and there’s a large window overlooking the gorgeous copper pot still. Each cocktail showcases Bully Boy’s spirits with fresh juices and small-batch syrups and bitters.
Situated near the spot where public hangings were performed in colonial times, The Gallows plays up its macabre location with an ominous black crow sign above the door. The bar area has an unassuming vibe, and the inventive cocktail list highlights original concoctions, including liquor infusions like apple bourbon and lavender vodka. One of the South End’s best beer lists also wins kudos.
This low-key, low-lit bar near Downtown Crossing is a favorite after-work spot, bringing in a cross-section of patrons - everyone from weary suit-clad businessmen to tattooed bike messengers. Bono is one of the many Irishmen who’ve drank here, and you’ll never know who might pull up to the bar. Reasonable prices and well-poured drinks keep regulars happy.
In business since 1882, this old Irish charmer has long been popular with generations of politicos. The ceilings are lofty, the rooms capacious, and the murals—high on the walls, portraying scenes from colonial Massachusetts—are gorgeous. The generous portions of comfort food and wide selection of ales and scotches are a bonus.
Named after the Irish playwright, 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. The lived-in environs host an eclectic mix of patrons, who come to Jamaica Plain to catch up with friends or enjoy a solitary pint. Locals love it because they are allowed to bring their own food, usually ordered from the various take-out joints that dot Centre Street.
This hidden bar 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.
A cozy Central Square hideaway, Green Street’s narrow bar area becomes a pile of people during peak hours—show up for last call or on school nights if you’re looking for more room. The 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 more options.
A popular post-work hangout near Downtown Crossing, jm Curley offers a dimly-lit option for a rendezvous over well-made cocktails. Concoctions both new-fangled and classic are prepped by friendly bartenders. Beer aficionados select hard-to-find brews off of a lengthy list.
“The Model” started off as an unpretentious little neighborhood dive and then one day, through no fault of its own, suddenly became an “it” spot. So be it—nowadays, the trendy crowd and the divey neighborhood crowd share the place, the former devoted to dancing and the latter to sucking down the cheap, lethal drinks (don’t call them cocktails). The jukebox remains one of the best around town.
One of Inman Square’s most popular hangouts rose from the ashes of the classic-but-grimy Abbey Lounge. Trina’s low lighting and dark wood paneling are brightened up by retro images just about everywhere you look. Craft beers and well-made cocktails satisfy the barflies that reluctantly give up their stools at closing time.
Divey and kitschy, Bukowski Tavern exudes the attitude of its namesake author. By the looks of it, you might think you’d only find PBR and High Life, but the draught and bottle list are extensive and focused on hard-to-find craft beers. Much of the list features regional brews, and the styles represented will satisfy all tastes.
Though often crowded, this unpretentious little Beacon Hill pub is a good spot to seek respite from a hard day of relentless sightseeing or antiques-hunting. The Sevens provides some welcome knuckle and grit to the relative daintiness of the area.
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 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.
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 an eclectic vibe make the Delux a South End mainstay. The Delux, in all its kitschy glory, is a hidden treasure.
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