Somehow, Boston’s beer-first reputation lingers in the mind of outsiders. Yet, the city’s bars—and the Hub's bar scene in general—have undergone dramatic changes in recent years. Once a city dotted mostly with hotel bars and Irish pubs, Boston is now brimming with drinkeries of every size and description, from cavernous brewpubs to neo speakeasies to artisanal cocktail lounges. And while our dive bar scene might be waning, there are still plenty of bare-boned watering holes to be found. Consider visiting the best bars in Boston before or after dining at one of the best restaurants in town—not that you need an excuse.
Best bars in Boston
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.
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. 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.
One of the city’s most exciting mixologists… is in Woburn? Ran Duan took over the drink menu at his parents' suburban Chinese restaurant—a revelation in its own right—and turned it into an outré bar program that draws cocktail connoisseurs from all over. Classic drinks like pisco punches get bracing updates (pineapple vinegar?); Duan even won an award at the Bacardi Legacy Global Cocktail Competition for his Father's Advice (rum, amaro, vermouth, sherry, creme de banana). In Baldwin & Sons Trading Company, the bar within the bar within the restaurant, things get downright kitschy, with tiki glassware and dry ice effects. Keep an eye on Duan’s just-opened Blossom Bar in Brookline, a complete redo of his parent’s first restaurant, which combines Szechuan classics with a similarly outré cocktail program.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Ran D.
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.
This downtown bar was the victim of a brutal flooding in early 2016 and took months to reopen (damn those wintertime burst pipes), which means it’s your drinking duty to patronize it frequently. You’ll hardly suffer: JM Curley is cocktail nirvana. Concoctions both new-fangled (the Cinnablunt, made up of cinnamon-infused mezcal, cynar and coffee liqueur) and classic (the whiskey smash is to die for) get blended in front of you by hipster-mustachioed mixologists. For lower-key types, there’s a potent beer list, but when cocktails this great start at nine bucks, why play it safe?
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Rosanna M.
The tiny, beloved bar area at restaurant Hungry Mother (RIP) eventually led to the opening of sibling State Park, a full-scale bar nearby. You can split a pitcher of Pimm’s Cup or Tom Collins with friends at the indoor shuffleboard table or jukebox, or grab a seat at the bar and focus on your own drink. The signature cocktail is in keeping with the bar’s cheeky vibe: Miller High Life, Rittenhouse rye, Amaro Braulio and a lemon twist, served in the beer bottle. The cocktail list is creative without being fussy; if you don’t see what you want, worry not! The knowledgeable bartenders will make anything you ask for. End the night with a beer and a shot, and make a date to return for a proper dinner.
Jackson Cannon really was the man who started it all. When the Balthazar-like Eastern Standard opened in 2005, Cannon helmed a bar program committed to a higher level of mixology, from top-shelf spirits to freshly squeezed mixing juices. Suddenly, Red Sox fans started drinking Sazeracs instead of Bud Lights, and other area bartenders took notice. While Cannon has since left the day-to-day operations to head up The Hawthorne, subsequent managers have only deepened the bar’s commitment to quality and creativity.
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.
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.
Brick & Mortar is 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.
Best Boston bars by type
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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