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Boston bartenders' favorite bars

Trina's Starlite Lounge
Photograph: Courtesy Trina's Starlite Lounge

Simply put, bartenders are some of the most resourceful residents of any city. Their job entails much more than skillfully mixing up the libation of your choice. Bartenders are part friend, part tour guide, part concierge and part (legal) drug dealer. They’re historians, sociologists, scientists and critics. With an ear to the ground and their finger on the pulse, bartenders tend to know more about their city than most, and if there’s something special brewing, they’re usually the first to know.

As big fans of research and development, it's often the case that if a bartender isn’t behind the bar, they're in front of another. So, just where do bartenders spend their precious time off? We asked some of the city’s most beloved barkeeps just that. Whether it’s a beer bar, cocktail kingdom, a place to see a friendly face, or that rare hole-in-the-wall where the price is still nice, here are the Boston bars local bartenders like to go to when they're not tending bar.

Pepe Sanchez (Grafton Street, Gustazo): "Toro is one of my favorites. I love tapas, and as a person of Spanish descent, I find it the most authentic. I drink their wine on tap. Or Highland Kitchen—I like the vibe. It’s cool and laid back, the bartenders are nice and easy going."

Andrew Iannazzi (Remnant Brewing): "Semolina Kitchen + Bar in Medford. It's just a staple of the neighborhood and it’s still a young restaurant. Most of its menu is vegetarian by default, so it's easy for all types of people and size groups to go there without having to think about dietary restrictions. My go-to order is the Bolognese with a glass of red wine, and ending with a Last Word. They do all the classic cocktails right. Can't recommend this place enough."

Thea Engst (Lone Star): "My favorite place to drink has to be State Park in Cambridge, because no matter what I'm in the mood for, they have it. I can have a cheap beer—I'm an Upstate NY girl so I love that Genny Cream Ale—or something more expensive and harder to find like La Vermontoise from Hill Farmstead. I've also been known to get a magnum of rosé from time to time. It really depends on my mood and how many people I'm with."

Peter Nelson (State Park): My common post-work hangout is The Automatic, right across the street. Heavy industry crowd, a pair of turntables, and “The Shifty” combo: Tecate & Tequila. When I'm feeling like crossing the river and drinking cocktails, I'm a big fan of Drink. Excellent program, fun and competent bartenders, hilarious theatrics, and the clientele is an eclectic mix of industry folks, out-of-towners, and business folk. I always have a good time. Since moving out to Newton, my neighborhood go-to is Buff's Pub. It's this smallish sports pub with friendly staff, Guinness on tap, and hands-down the best wings in the city. 

Andrew Schneider (Oleana): Highland Kitchen in Somerville is hands down my favorite bar. Most bartenders have been there for years and years. It’s rare to walk in and not see a familiar face behind the bar or a couple stools away. I’ve frequented HK for a decade. I met my wife at that bar on a slow Sunday evening. I’ve moved from late night Wednesday karaoke to 5:30 dinners with my wife and young kids. It's a bar where everyone feels welcome. Creating that type of atmosphere isn’t easy, and I see it as a special gift to the neighborhood. 

Madagan Keyes (Highland Kitchen, Delux Cafe): I like a bar that has realized what corner of a saturated industry it occupies and has flourished. Everything from Eastern Standard and their terrific big bottle selection to Newtown Grill for Bud Lights and scratch tickets. Shays in Harvard square. Atwood's Tavern for [bartender] Liam Davenport. Silhouette Lounge for Big Buck Hunter. Delux with “The Shining” on the small TV. And The Druid in a snowstorm for Guinness. 

Whitney Pallend (Cambridge, 1.): I go to Parlor Sports because I love [bartenders] Garvey and Sam. It has a great neighborhood feel, and it’s actually in my neighborhood. There’s always friendly banter and a familiar face.

John Olszewski (Parlor Sports):  Highland Kitchen: This is my local hang. I live nearby and if I need a place where I can be relaxed and see friendly faces, this is it. I love the vibe. It isn't trying to be more than it is. It is a great local spot with solid food and great drinks served by a super strong bartending team that knows their shit. It's my “Cheers” and while I'm not Norm, I may be more of a Cliff. Or Frank's Steak House. This mainstay has been here since... oh, 1938. That longevity speaks to me and to think that my parents weren't even alive when this place opened. Frank's is one of the few places where you still see generations of families and friends hanging out like they've done for decades. It's truly charming in that regard. I'll go with a couple of friends and grab seats at the bar. I'll grab a whiskey and a Bud for my king cut prime rib. I honestly pray that this place never closes. It's an institution.

Erica Hodgkinson (State Park & Trina’s Starlite Lounge): My favorite bar (that I don’t work at) is Delux Cafe in the South End. They do everything well. I love sitting at this bar, looking around at all the kitshcy decor and watching old school GLOW videos on their TV. The cocktails and beer are always cold and delicious and they pump out some of the best food in the city out of the tiniest kitchen. It’s been my favorite for over 10 years.

Tainah Soares (A4cade): Trina's Starlite Lounge wins my heart every time. It's the place where everyone knows your name!  The staff is incredibly friendly, the food hits the spot every time, whether you're looking for a quick late-night bite or full-on dinner, and the space is cozy any time of the year. I stop in a couple of times a week religiously either on a day off or on my way home from work and drink St-Rita's (margarita with St-Germain instead of triple sec) or a Tecate and a shot of tequila. It's hard to have just one when you're there.

Jordan Runion (Green Street): Fool’s Errand. Get some Benton’s Ham, crab claws and 4 oz. pours of great fortified wines. It’s high value. Also, I like Tres Gatos a lot. Go in and have stuffed Medjool dates, a couple glasses of wine, and then shop in the back for records after.

Glen Cancelleire (Deep Ellum/Lone Star): Trina’s Starlite Lounge because they consistently have the most friendly staff and great service. I’ve been going there since they opened. I get a Coors Banquet beer and shot of tequila.

Isaac Sussman (Trina’s Starlite Lounge): I’m an old man these days so I don’t go out like I used to. I really love what Ran [Duan] and those guys are doing over at Blossom Bar and the Baldwin. That’s my definite go-to when I have friends visiting from out of town. Best Bahama Mama in the world. As for local spots, I love Highland Kitchen a lot. The bar staff is super pro and very attentive, even when they are slammed. The cocktails there are well made and no frills. My go-to there is a Tom Collins, which I think is an underrated classic.

Dennis Silva (Miracle of Science): Some place you can get what you need. I wouldn’t like your take on a Negroni; I want a Negroni. Service is more important than what is offered. I’ll be just as happy with an Old Grandad as I would a glass of Pappy. It’s about the company and the ambiance. I enjoy Trina’s Starlite Lounge because it’s like a cave—a dark den of debauchery with a lamp shining a single ray of light. It’s both high hospitality and far from ostentatious.

Lex Russo (Russell House Tavern): Picking a favorite is tough. I'd say it's between backbar for their quirky, yet technically stellar service, drinks, and atmosphere, or Trina's Starlite Lounge, since it's closest to my house, and well, because they just kinda give a damn. 

David Wells (Shine Square Pub): I’ve got my few spots in my back pocket where i can go have a drink, be anonymous and relax with friends. To me, the Mount Vernon Restaurant & Pub [in Somerville] stands out as a classic favorite. Been spending low-key lunches here with a rotating cast of friends for well over a decade. Aside from the incredible people watching...they make one of the best roast beef sandwiches in town. Meat slicer, right there, on the bar. Classic old school bartenders who’ve worked this haunt for years.

Joe McGuirk (Highland Kitchen, Gustazo): The Druid in Inman Square is a feng shui nightmare. There is a good chance you will get hit in the face by its wildly swinging doors as you enter and once you do, if there is any kind of crowd, you are immediately standing with your ass in someone's face.  If you happen to have the good fortune of sitting at a table, odds are you will hammer your shin against one of the four legs holding it up, which are made of a wood so solid that you will count yourself lucky to have a bruise instead of a fracture. With all that said, I would have to count it as my favorite bar. The bartenders balance sass and warmth in just the right measures to make one feel welcome as long as they behave. The food is simple and consistent and really good. The dance parties that spontaneously occur are a blast. It is a home for wayward folks on holidays and snowstorms. Lately, I have found myself at the Shine Square Pub...A fantastic place to watch sports with the most interactive, fun bar staff...There's darts and trivia and sing-a-long karaoke, and some pinball. They play the sound of the Bruins games and it is just so much fun. So much fun that I often miss my bus.