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). The Irish pubs Boston has on offer cover incredibly varied ground—some, like Phoenix Landing, also serve as sports bars; some have food that might place them among the best restaurants in Boston; 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, these great Boston Irish pubs have you covered.
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Best Irish pubs Boston has to offer
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.
One of the better Irish pubs in a city that has no shortage of them, Matt Murphy’s is well worth a journey into the Brookline outlands. The Guinness poured here is sublime, but what makes it such a hit among locals is its grub. The fish and chips (served wrapped in newspaper, natch) is deservedly famous and the shepherd’s pie superb. The kitchen even makes its own ketchup. If it’s not as youth-oriented as some of the city’s Irish bars, Murphy’s still gets its customers moving once the music starts—if they’re capable of moving after dinner, that is.
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.
Named after Lough Corrib, a massive lake in West Ireland, the Brighton mainstay—open since 1969—attracts plenty of homesick Galway expats as well as students and longtime locals looking for a friendly, unassuming spot to enjoy a warm Guinness, a massive serving of bangers and mash, and a little live music.
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%.
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.
Oldies are goodies for a reason. This Central Square mainstay, which dubs itself “the alternative Irish pub,” is le bar juste for playoff games, DJed dance parties, early-morning soccer matches, post-Middle East show debriefs and pretty much every other excuse in the book for a pint and a pile of wings. A surprisingly robust draft selection seals the deal, but if you need greater enticement, take a gander at the summertime patio and happy hour food menu.
With its charming exposed brick walls and a genuine Irish pub-style snug, the Thirsty Scholar is an ideal place to hole yourself away with a special someone for a quiet drink. But it’s also a large room, with big TVs to watch the game, and filled to the rafters with a lively crowd of regulars (especially on weekends). So if you’d rather come out and be sociable, that’s OK too.
You really don’t want to get into the discussion of what qualifies as a real Irish pub in this town. Suffice to say, the Field does—perhaps because it doesn’t try too hard. Staff pour a good Guinness, and do so with a smile. As a result, its two rooms fill up each night with a mix of Irish imports and Cantabrigian townies. Darts, anyone?
One of the older Irish pubs in the city, the Black Rose plays its part well: photos of martyred patriots adorn the walls, and flags from every county hang from the ceiling. But its true selling point is the nightly program of live Irish music. If you’re up for a rowdy, Guinness-fueled sing-along with friendly locals and tourists, this is the place to go.