The 10 best places for a drink in Boston, from sports bars to speakeasies
More insider guides for planning a trip to Boston
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Boston is a drinking city. The breadth of bar styles here nowadays stretches from glamorous, clubby haunts to wild cantinas, and from suave cocktail joints to historic pubs. If you’re lucky, you will find a bona fide one-time speakeasy, but more likely it will be a new name styling itself after a Prohibition-era booze hall. The Hub has more than its share of down-to-earth watering holes, otherwise known as dive bars, where a craft beer has yet to see the light of day. There’s also an increasing number of city breweries with taprooms and you can even sink into a sofa at a distillery tasting room, and enjoy still-to-table drinking.
Wink & Nod
Modeled on the ideal speakeasy of yore, but without the bathtub booze, Wink & Nod has low lights, lots of comfy nooks in which to relax and good service. Cocktails are exemplary, and created with in-house cordials and infusions. The Noble Pursuit, made from Avua Amburana cachaça, is elevated with flavours of hazelnut, lime and cinnamon. There’s also wine and beer, and the bar hosts a rotating pop-up food menu from visiting chefs, usually up-and-coming, and always notable talents.
Contact: 00 617 482 0117; winkandnod.com Prices: ££ Opening hours: Mon-Sat, 5pm-2am. T stop: Back Bay
Pull up a seat at one of Boston’s oldest establishments. In one form or another, a hostelry has occupied this spot since 1862. Now styled as a speakeasy, accessed through a blowout hair salon on Winter Place, the expertly restored mahogany bar (carved in 1886) is magnificent and was once an elbow prop for Boston’s movers and shakers, including John F. Kennedy, who is rumored to have brought Marilyn Monroe here. Part of the original bar was moved to the Library area during the renovations that saw the place reopen in 2011. Low lighting, cocktails with flaming garnishes and sharable small plates add to the debauched atmosphere.
Contact: 00 617 267 0047; yvonnesboston.com Prices: £££ Opening times: Daily, 4pm-2am (kitchen closes at 11pm) T stop: Downtown Crossing
There is no irony lost in the fact that this chic, clubby bar is the former drunk tank of the Charles Street Jail. The prison is now the swish Liberty Hotel, of course, and Alibi takes up a spot on the ground floor but is independently run. The space has retained the original jail cell doors and granite window sills, and is all set in exposed red brick. The lighting is low; it’s quite romantic really. The seasonal patio opens at 5pm, weather willing, and there’s a bar menu and full dinner menu — food is good, but drinks are the focus and bottle service is big on weekends.
You can’t miss the Bull and Finch Pub on Beacon Street, just across from the Public Garden. It has a big yellow flag emblazoned with a familiar font that spells out ‘Cheers’. This is the bar that inspired the 1980s television show that starred Ted Danson and Woody Harrelson. It actually managed to remain a cosy quaint neighbourhood pub until well into this century, but commerce has since took over and now it’s more of a tourist attraction with elevated prices. It’s also been renamed and expanded onto the first floor. Still, it’s immensely popular, and during quiet times, the basement once again becomes a nice place to relax and have a drink.
Contact: 00 617 227 9605; cheersboston.com Prices: ££ Opening times: Daily, 11am-2am T stop: Park Street, Arlington
This is something of a hidden gem, even to most Bostonians. This small bar is tucked under Fenway Park’s bleachers and has a windowed garage door that looks onto centerfield. The view is blocked on game days, so don’t expect free viewing here. Still, it’s a very cool hole in the wall, which is what it actually feels like, literally. There’s good bar food, local beers, and a very relaxed attitude – as long as you’re a Red Sox supporter.
Tucked under Hotel Commonwealth, The Hawthorne is a smart bolthole for well-crafted cocktails. Whether it’s a vintage drink or something of a whim, created on the spot, that you’re after, the bar delivers a cocktail experience above and beyond. Remember the Maine (Templeton rye, vermouth, cherry Heering, and absinthe) is a classic cocktail with an interesting backstory: The Maine, a US naval ship, mysteriously exploded and sank off the coast of Havana in 1898. The food menu amounts to small plates that won’t distract from the drinking experience, but provide a little ballast: think pâté, soft pretzel, and deviled eggs. There are also specialty sipping rums – Boston was once a big player in the rum trade.
Dating back to 1894, McGreevy’s is largely credited as ‘America’s First Sports Bar,’ due to some rabid fans of an early incarnation of the Red Sox Nation hanging out there. It is now also something of a baseball museum with a good collection of artifacts – on game nights it’s packed. At heart, this is an Irish bar, though, and outside of Southie, the South Boston Irish neighbourhood, this is about as close to a real Boston Irish pub as you’ll get. There is also music and comedy. Punk rock fans might be interested in the fact that it’s co-owned by a Dropkick Murphys – Boston’s answer to The Pogues – band member, Ken Casey, and considered the band’s official bar.
Contact:00 857 327 7228; mcgreevysboston.com Prices: £ Opening times: Sun-Thurs, 11am-12am; Fri-Sat, 11am-2am T stop: Hynes Convention Center Station
This is a smart, sophisticated spot to enjoy the very best tequilas, mezcals, and specialty margaritas – the cucumber jalapeño version is a fabulous summer refresher. There’s a tree lined patio for the warm weather, where margarita pitchers – plum tarragon or smoking grapefruit anyone? – cool down the Back Bay. Food is excellent: Tico has the tastiest tapas, including vegetable based dishes such as smoked beet mochi with guacamole. Note that the kitchen closes at 10pm, though. Nibble, and then drink on till the wee hours.
Bully Boy Distillers’ tasting room and cocktail bar is a bit off the beaten path in the industrial Newmarket district, and a short hike from the nearest T (about a mile). But the award-winning spirits from the city’s first craft distillery are put to very good use in a seasonally changing ‘still-to-glass’ cocktail programme, which also includes house-made infusions, syrups and bitters. It doesn’t get any more local than this. There are food pop-ups, too, and the distillery tour includes a spirits tasting. Pre-book or take your chances. Or just stop in to enjoy a drink.
Contact: 00 617 442 6000, bullyboydistillers.com Prices: ££ Opening times: Thurs, 5pm-10pm; Fri-Sat, 12pm-12am; Sun, 1pm-6pm T stop: Andrew
Part of a locally owned hospitality group, this Mexican cantina-styled bar has a gothic, rock and roll look, with a little From Dusk Till Dawn vibe thrown in. It’s a manicured walk on the wild side with a great rock soundtrack, and as the name suggests, rather potent Scorpion Bowls (shared tiki-style drinks) are a speciality. Tequila and mezcals are also a focus. There’s a full bar though and an accompanying ‘Americanised’ Mexican food menu. Overall, it’s a lively drinks destination, and also a great spot to start or end an evening.