Best cocktail 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. 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.
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 many couches, but the classic cocktails and tasty small plates are worth the wait. (The soft pretzel with bourbon mustard pairs well with nearly everything.)
A must-visit among area cocktail ners, ArtScience’s bar dishes out thrills with every drink. Science remains the driving force behind the cocktail program, which features such new-fangled drinks as a clarified pina colada and futuristic Rob Roy that involves a sensory cloud made from ArtScience’s famed Le Whaf. Bonus points for the outrageous garnishes, both edible and not.
One of the city’s most exciting mixologists can be found a 30-minute drive outside the city, in Woburn. Ran Duan took over the drink menu at his parents’ suburban Chinese restaurant and turned it into an experimental 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). In Baldwin & Sons Trading Company, the bar within the bar within the restaurant, things get downright kitschy, with tiki glassware and dry-ice effects.
Brick & Mortar is 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) fuel the fun.
For its seasonal cocktail menu, the South End subterranean pseudo-speakeasy (no actual password required) tweaks the classics of yore (tikis, Collins) using house-made cordials, juices and infusions. Those looking to impress or be impressed should splurge on the $100 Black Card Cocktail, which could contain a $500 cognac or an impossible-to-find reserve gin. Members of the Scotch Club spend their Tuesday evenings sampling top-shelf bottles with beverage director Michael Boughton; a rotating pop-up restaurant within the space means you don’t have to travel far for rejuvenating sustenance.
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. Show up early or make reservations—the staff will make people wait rather than letting them crowd the space.
The city’s first modern craft distillery has already made its mark, as bartenders around town regularly incorporate its handcrafted spirits into their own cocktail programs. But now that Bully Boy maintains its own cocktail bar inside its expanded distillery, loyalists can drink inside the mothership. The intimate bar area doubles as an inviting date spot; think gothic wallpaper, velvet booth seating and a collection of Prohibition-era bottles. (A large window overlooks the 750-gallon copper pot still.) Each cocktail showcases one of the house spirits with fresh juices and small-batch syrups and bitters.
Jackson Cannon might well have started it all. When the onetime musician took over the bar program at this hotel restaurant, he changed the city’s cocktail scene by committing to only the finest ingredients and techniques. Fresh juices, house-made infusions, and impeccably sourced liquors and bitters translate to a massive drink menu that is seasonally-inspired and populated by reimagined classics as well as more unconventional offerings. Don’t bypass the wine and beer lists, either, as both are surprisingly expansive.
The only struggle is finding a place to stand at this Downtown Crossing bar, which can get packed during peak times such as Fridays after work. No, wait, the only real struggle is choosing what to drink, given options like Bobby’s Bones (bone marrow-fat washed scotch, Punt e Mes, Benedictine, Angostura) and the Hulk Smash (green chartreuse, lemon, mint), meticulously prepared by a mustachioed bartender. Traditionalists will be doubly heartened by the classic cocktail selection and the reasonable prices.
Green Street’s long, narrow bar area becomes a pile of people at peak hours—show up for last call or on school nights for optimal results. 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 of more options.
A local success story: Cousins Matthew Nuernberger and Spencer McMinnan converted an iron foundry into an incubator for small-batch spirits. The bar—a crowdfunded space in the front room that’s open Thursdays through Sundays—is an extension of the distillery’s can-do attitude. Walk through a garage door into the clandestine area, where the creative cocktail menu is written on a chalkboard-painted concrete column. Shuffleboard, foosball, and throwback board games invite you to make a night of it.
OAK Long Bar & Kitchen is the modern version of the former Oak Room, a longtime Boston institution at the elegant Fairmont Copley Plaza. 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. The friendly bartenders excel at handling the crowds while giving each drink the attention it deserves.
Forward-thinking in its own way, subterranean Silvertone was a local pioneer of the trend for classic cocktails and American comfort food—and the 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 reasonable prices charged for smart wines by the glass, served alongside much-loved staples such as macaroni and cheese, quesadillas and meatloaf.
Rising from the ashes of the classic-but-grimy Abbey Lounge, this 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 while sipping on expertly executed cocktails. Head here for brunch on Monday to recover from the weekends excesses.
What was once Locke-Ober—an old-school, wood-paneled restaurant that hosted a million three-martini lunches—is now a ritzy supper club that’s indisputably sexy. And the lounge area is the place for see-and-be-scene imbibing: if park of a group, start with a large-scale cocktail (e.g. Moscow Mule) before sipping your way through classics like the Ward 8 and more outré offerings like the King Louis (vodka, house coconut, grilled pineapple, banana). Throw in dressed-to-the-nines crowds and the occasional celebrity sighting, and you have a primo scene.
Situated in close proximity to where Boston’s public hangings occurred, The Gallows embraces its namesake with its macabre décor. While the bar has an inventive cocktail list that highlights original concoctions, the kitchen is famous as one of the city’s top purveyors of poutine, and other booze-friendly snacks on offer include scotch eggs and fried Babybel cheese. West Coast-style burgers, made from a custom blend of chuck, brisket, and short rib, also help to soak up the booze.
The tiny, beloved bar area at the dearly departed Hungry Mother eventually led to the opening of State Park. 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.
Housed in the South End’s buzzy Ink Block complex, this a modern drining spot whose cocktail program pays particular homage to underappreciated classics like the daiquiri, the pisco sour and the Old Cuban. (The bar’s namesake concoction is a potent blend of bourbon, allspice dram, gum syrup and lime.) The decor is urban chic and the bartenders friendly and accommodating, even on busy weekend nights.
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.
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.