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The Hawthorne
Photograph: Gustav Hoiland The Hawthorne

The best cocktail bars in Boston

Whether you’re after a perfectly shaken martini or creative concoction, the best cocktail bars in Boston will deliver

By Eric Grossman and Time Out Boston Staff

While Boston may be better known for its classic dive bars, legendary Irish pubs, and lively sports bars, the number of cocktail-driven bars has been on the rise. In normal times, the best cocktail experiences in the Hub can be found everywhere from a discreet hideaway and sophisticated hotel haunt to a friendly neighborhood hangout. Learn about regional spirits, try out house-made mixers, and enjoy inventive concoctions prepared by highly-skilled mixologists. And if all you seek is a bone dry martini prepared to your specifications without fanfare, well, they’ve still got you covered. 

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best bars in Boston

Best cocktail bars in Boston

Drink, Bars, Boston
Photograph: Susie Kushner

1. Drink

Bars Cocktail bars Seaport District

This underground bar 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.

The Hawthorne
Photograph: Gustav Hoiland

2. The Hawthorne

Bars Cocktail bars Fenway/Kenmore

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 perfectly-executed cocktails—both classic and inventive—are worth the wait. A variety of small plates keeps the fun going; the soft pretzel with bourbon mustard pairs well with nearly everything. 

Eastern Standard, Restaurants and cafes, Boston
Photograph: Elan Fleisher

3. Eastern Standard

5 out of 5 stars
Restaurants Contemporary American Fenway/Kenmore

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 Baldwin Bar
Photograph: Courtesy Baldwin Bar

4. The Baldwin Bar

Bars Cocktail bars

One of the city’s most exciting mixologists can be found 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. 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.

Wink & Nod
Photograph: Courtesy Wink & Nod/Atsushi Tomioka

5. Wink & Nod

Bars Cocktail bars South End

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.

Blossom Bar
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Blossom Bar

6. Blossom Bar

Bars Cocktail bars

Blossom Bar is the sister entity of Woburn’s Sichuan Garden restaurant and Baldwin Bar. Located inside the Brookline Village location of Sichuan Garden, where the varied menu includes both spicy Sichuan dishes and Chinese-American favorites, the Latin-inspired bar provides locals with a sophisticated bar experience minus the schlep to the city. Adventurous cocktails are prepped with exotic ingredients and served in style.

Brick & Mortar
Photograph: Michael Ascanio Peguero

7. Brick & Mortar

5 out of 5 stars
Bars Cocktail bars Central Sq

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.

Photograph: Michael Ascanio Peguero

8. Backbar

5 out of 5 stars
Bars Cocktail bars Somerville

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.

Better Sorts Social Club
Photograph: Courtesy Better Sorts Social Club

9. Better Sorts Social Club

Bars Cocktail bars Downtown

This cocktail club-restaurant fusion offers a sophisticated menu of signature drinks and dishes that are perfect for sharing. If you have yet to find your go-to cocktail, Better Sorts Social Club may have you covered. Better Sorts has a “decanter program” in which you answer a questionnaire concerning your preferred flavors, textures and more. A mixologist then concocts a drink catered uniquely to you and your table.

Shore Leave
Photograph: Reagan Byrne

10. Shore Leave

Bars Cocktail bars South End

The South End has a Tiki destination courtesy of the team behind Bar Mezzana, which is located across the street. Chef Colin Lynch’s menu features a mix of Pacific Rim dishes—think Asia- and California-inspired treats. The Tiki cocktail program combines classics (Mai Tai, Zombie) with creative, multi-component concoctions. The interior is meant to resemble a tropical oasis, complete with a long, bamboo-accented bar and jungle-inspired design touches.

Photograph: Courtesy Yvonne's

11. Yvonne’s

Restaurants Contemporary American Downtown

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 part 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.

The Longfellow Bar at Alden & Harlow
Photograph: Nina Gallant

12. The Longfellow Bar at Alden & Harlow

Bars Harvard Sq

Michael Scelfo’s Longfellow Bar resides in the historic Café Algiers space atop his Harvard Square dining destination, Alden & Harlow. The bar follows a communal, family-style approach similar to that of Alden & Harlow. Scelfo’s award-winning burger is available at Longfellow Bar anytime, and not in limited quantities (as is the case downstars at Alden & Harlow). The bar program transforms and elevates simple ingredients, with infusions, vinegars, syrups and bitters all made in-house.

OAK Long Bar + Kitchen, Bars, Boston
© Alexandra D. Foster

13. OAK Long Bar & Kitchen

4 out of 5 stars
Bars Hotel bars Back Bay

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.

Gallows, Bars, Boston
Photograph: Chris Bourn

14. The Gallows

Restaurants Contemporary American South End

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 citys 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.

Trina's Starlite Lounge, Bars, Boston
Photograph: Sara Skolnick

15. Trina’s Starlite Lounge

4 out of 5 stars
Bars Cocktail bars

Rising from the ashes of the classic-but-grimy Abbey Lounge, this Inman Square space has remained a meeting spot for savvy locals. Trinas 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 its 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.

State Park
© Michael Ascanio Peguero

16. State Park

4 out of 5 stars
Bars Cocktail bars Kendall Sq

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.

JM Curley
Photograph: Courtesy JM Curley/Tara Morris

17. jm Curley

Restaurants Contemporary American Downtown

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. 


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