The Best Bars in Boston to Drink at Right Now
Boston’s bar scene was long ago shaken and stirred. Once we were an Irish pub-only kind of town, but now we’re downright groundbreaking in our cocktail programs and wine lists -- not to mention out exciting craft beer scene. Add in an ever-growing number of local breweries and distilleries and we can genuinely call ourselves a preeminent drinking city, even with happy hours still on ice (will we ever become a real city in that regard?). We suffer from too many choices, which is why we’ve rounded up the best of the best bars -- from swanky cocktail lounges to all-natural wine bars to brewery taprooms -- to help you figure out where to grab a drink tonight. From some of the most exciting openings this past year to the all-time best bars in town, these establishments place drinking front and center. Here are the best bars in Boston.
Sister Sorel’s worthy wine bar successor
The space formerly known as Sister Sorel is now a charming, clandestine wine bar just as likely as its predecessor to attract a cohort of in-the-know loyalists. The cozy hallway of a space serves a small, rotating selection of wines from Spain, Italy, France, upstate New York, and even Uruguay, along with snacks like raw oysters and pork and pistachio paté. The wine menu changes so frequently that you’ll be well served by returning as often as possible -- though you might find yourself just as excited to hang with the convivial staff.
Because Michael Scelfo can’t stop, won’t stop
If it’s a continuation of Michael Scelfo’s genius you seek, you can do no better than heading upstairs from Alden & Harlow. Scelfo took the former, beloved Cafe Algiers space and created a hangout that feels both new and well-worn, with huge, original windows behind the bar, marble tables, and exposed brick walls. The cocktail names take inspiration from favorite albums and songs of the staff (hence the drink list being called a “track list”), and the drinks themselves play with unexpected ingredients like carrot butter and tomatillo. You also have to love an entire food menu that technically doesn’t require silverware -- elevated finger foods that justify that second or third drink order.
Drinking inside the library? Who knew!
Could it be that the Boston Public Library, beyond being beautiful and historical, is also now kind of cool? First there was the many-million-dollar renovation to the new wing. Now there’s the Map Room Tea Lounge, a salon space offering an adult twist on afternoon tea, aka tea-infused cocktails like the Tequila Mockingbird (La Marca Prosecco, blood orange hibiscus, tea-infused tequila, lemon, and strawberry) along with afternoon snacks like lobster bisque, charcuterie, and duck confit tartine. Add in the industrial, 1800-inspired decor and you might find yourself turning into a regular bibliofile.
Yet another reason to spend all night at Bow Market
Bow Market is making it increasingly difficult to drink anywhere else in town. The latest addition to the Inman Square institution is an intimate crowd-funded space that’s part art gallery, part draft cocktail enclave. Peruse the mounted wares of a local creative work while you browse a menu of almost a dozen seasonal cocktails on tap -- or heck, order a simple off-menu cocktail, because they can do that for you, too. Bring in some snacks from another local Bow Market vendor and you have yourself a mellow, erudite evening.
A reason to head to East Boston that doesn’t rhyme with Pantarpio’s
This is serious drinking for serious whiskey enthusiasts -- and in Eastie, no less. The “top shelf, low-brow” bar boasts close to 100 whiskey pours on top of a whiskey of the week. There’s also a curated cocktail list as well as an impressive canned beer list on top of a few draft choices. Have we mentioned the tabletop shuffleboard and a food menu that includes Frito pie and both burgers and hot dogs?
Because the world can never have too many vinyl bars
Hojoko could have rested on its kitschy, scorpion bowl laurels and called it a day. But this year it made its loyalists even happier with the addition of The Groove, a Tokyo-style record bar within the restaurant. The energy is distinctly analog: warm 1970s decor, curated vinyl from local authorities, live music, and highballs on top of highballs (sake and champagne, too). Psst: the space is also available for private rentals.
Est. 2018 | Union Square
Who knew a comedy club could have a first-class bar?
Those who go out to see comedy usually stick to beer or suffer through watered-down drinks, but Variety Bar, inside the Comedy Studio at Bow Market, seriously -- or rather, unseriously -- raises the bar. Naomi Levy, the award-winning genius most recently behind Better Sorts Social Club (see below), has helped create one of the most unexpected watering holes in the city, an in-club, Lilliputian cocktail lounge that’s also open to non-ticket holders. Play a little mini-pool and enjoy one of its seasonal concoctions, including the rotating draft cocktail.
Est. 2018 | Fenway
Exciting wine bar celebrating female winemakers and lesser-known vintages
Back in 2016, the miniscule haley.henry shook our dining scene with its outre menu of tinned fish and little-known wine producers. Cut to, and owner Haley Fortier is blessedly spreading the wealth: Her newest venture in the Fenway continues to push boundaries with a by-the-glass wine list that exclusively features female winemakers (said wines are also small production and/or natural). The sophisticated decor invites you to linger over your small plates as you break into one of the restaurant’s more expensive bottles -- but the bar will open any bottle as long as your table commits to two glasses.
Est. 2018 | Downtown
The rare combo of great tiki drinks and great food
You may not realize it, but everyone needs more tiki cocktails in their lives. Or rather, everyone needs more top-flight tiki cocktails, which Tiki Rock delivers in spades. Uni, Clio, and Waypoint alum Charles Smedile directs a beverage program that features potent drinks with names like Eastern Boston Sour and Scrumdiddly Rumptious. The added pleasure of the space is a dinner menu that far surpasses your Kowloon expectations, with sashimi and maki rolls paired with Polynesian-inspired treats like crab rangoon and coconut shrimp.
Est. 2018 | Union Square
Anarchistic wine bar in Bow Market
If it’s named after a Bowie song, it has to be good, right? Owner and local wine consultant Lauren Friel opened up her first solo spot to highlight obscure natural wines that come in at a great price point. No snobbery here; Friel encourages you to order wine by the pretty label by displaying them prominently, and she also leads weekly Natural Wine 101 classes. You’re not here to eat -- there are only a couple of snack foods on the menu -- but Friel will point you towards other Bow Market vendors once you’ve had your vino fill.
Est. 2018 | Downtown
Fancy cocktails made with food by one of Boston's award-winning bartenders
It was only a matter of time before Naomi Levy made her next move. The multi-award-winning former Eastern Standard star -- who cemented her mixology legacy with seasonal, travel-inspired cocktails -- has taken over the onetime Highland Lounge space and considerably upped the ante. Where Highball Lounge was fun and serviceable, Better Sorts is sophisticated and nervy. Incongruously, Levy’s cocktails celebrate food: pear, seaweed, arugula, and hot pepper jelly (!) are some of the outre ingredients you’ll spot on the drink menu. But it all works well, guaranteeing you a singular cocktail experience. And while the food menu skews towards the snack side of things, the short rib Wellington and the burger topped with duck fat roasted onions both make for splendid entrees.
Est. 2018 | South End
The underground tiki bar of your formerly unacknowledged dreams
If Trader Vic’s met a New Orleans speakeasy, you might end up with Shore Leave, a cheeky delight of an underground tiki bar from the team behind nearby Bar Mezzana. Enter through the inconspicuous side door, wind your way down a few flights of stairs, and emerge into the tropics. The decor is that of a moody beach bar -- bamboo wall trim, wooden shingles, palm fronds wallpaper -- with plenty of bar space and table service even for those just there to drink. As for the drinks, traditional tiki cocktails are merely the jumping off point for elixirs like Air Conditioned Eden (a pineapple infused martini with Bianco and dry vermouths, Agricole rum, and a molasses-based gin from Germany) and the namesake cocktail, a bright but smooth blend of white rum, Jamaican rum, passionfruit, aromatic bitters, molasses, and madeira. Yep, the drinking vessels are epic -- think ceramic skulls and coconuts -- and a couple are available for purchase. The final surprise? Just how good the pupu platter-inspired food is. We’re still dreaming of the dan dan wontons.
Est. 2017 | Roxbury
Moody, affordable, intimate bar inside craft distillery
Brothers Dave and Will Willis had already changed the city’s cocktail scene with its craft spirits, but now they’ve gotten into the bar act themselves. It’s a New Orleans-like lair -- a gothic, 26-seat affair decorated with Prohibition-era spirit bottles; you can grab a velvet booth or sit at the bar and gaze through the huge window at the distillery’s 750-gallon copper pot still. The best news? Most cocktails -- all made with BB spirits, natch -- are just $11.
Est. 2016 | South Boston
Looking for locavore drinking? Drinks are slung mere feet away from the place where many of their ingredients are created, including vodka and flavored liqueurs (almond, cranberry). Bar manager Steve Schnelwar, formerly of Tavern Road, oversees the intimate venture, open Thursday to Sunday. Shuffleboard and foosball make it easy to make a night of it.
Est. 2016 | Downtown Crossing
Twee, charming downtown wine bar
This wonderful little wine bar in Downtown Crossing brings something new to an otherwise largely ignored neighborhood of Boston. Who isn’t up for canned fish, charcuterie, and a heavy glass of red after a long day’s work? The concept was developed by Sportello alumna Haley Fortier; chef de cuisine Carolina Curtin is also a Barbara Lynch alum, having worked in the Menton kitchen in the past. In this small, bright space you’ll find 18 seats at the bar and two four-top tables. It’s casual, it’s interesting, and with nearly 50 (mostly old-world) wines to choose from, whether full or half-bottle selections, haley.henry has created a great space to unwind.
Est. 2015 | Somerville
The secret a la carte allure of the ticket-only restaurant
To be clear, not all of us has hundreds of dollars to drop on a single indelible meal. But all of us deserve a chance to sample the experience. Enter Tasting Counter’s late-night wine bar, a no-reservations alternative for the spontaneous and less-monied among us. This is one of your best chances to dip a toe in the city’s natural-wine scene, which might well have begun here. Glasses of wine start at $10, sourced from anywhere from Spain to Slovenia to Oregon, and complement small, a la carte bar bites for as little as $6.
Est. 2015 | Downtown Crossing
Boston’s reintroduction to the supper club
Boston’s most extravagant and opulent cocktail bar, the somewhat clandestine Yvonne’s took over the shuttered Locke-Ober, a staple in Boston’s dining history. The dining room, lounge, and library bar bring a renewed energy and devious spirit to one of the city’s treasures. This is the kind of dark space that's easy to spend hours in, sipping expensive drinks and losing track of time. Yvonne’s social, embellished setting carries over to the bar program, which offers an extensive list of rare wines, classic and playful cocktails (with several large format options to share), and a curated selection of packaged beers.
Est. 2014 | Kendall Square
Futuristic cocktails in Jetsons-like setting
Cocktail legend Todd Maul built it, the late, revered Tenzin Samdo ran with it, and now bar director Ian Swindlehurst has assumed the mantle. The revamped bar and restaurant still places science front and center, and Swindlehurt’s cocktail program reflects it, with seen-nowhere-else science like The Nimbus, is a small, black hourglass that lets you inhale alcohol without ingesting it, and outre cocktail ingredients like mint oil, lychee foam, and fennel pollen.
Est. 2011 | Inman Square
Finally, a sports bar for fans of a certain age (and drinking discretion)
We're forever thankful to Parlor Sports for reconceiving the Boston sports bar. In a city awash in massive interiors boasting 1001 HD TVs, Parlor opted to keep it intimate and low-key (a little surprise considering it's the same owners as Trina’s). This place has everything you need: craft beers, $11 classic cocktails, perfectly executed bar snacks like the pepperoni roll, and of course, HD screens tuned into every New England team.
Est. 2011 | Union Square
Ground zero for Union Square hipsters
Being at Backbar feels like you’re hanging out in the garage-style living room of one of your coolest acquaintances. Once you manage to find the entrance down a dark alley, you’ll walk down a hallway into a small, well-lit space with high-top seating and a relaxed lounge corner. The talented team offers a seasonal menu of classics, moderns, and mocktails. Drinks come together with fat-washed spirits, homemade brines and shrubs, and house-infused everything, yet the pretension levels are surprisingly manageable.
Est. 2011 | Fenway-Kenmore
Stately watering hole for serious imbibers
Nationally recognized as one of the country’s top bar owners, mentors, and tenders, co-owner Jackson Cannon has built an experience at The Hawthorne that revolves around a commitment to education, thoughtfully crafted cocktails, and curating exceptional moments its guests. Bar manager Jared Sadoian's focus for The Hawthorne's beverage program is on geniality, comfort, and sourcing high-quality spirits. The multi-room space is one of the nicest in Kenmore Square: warm and comfortable, with low tables and plenty of available armchairs -- it’s sort of like sitting in someone’s living room, but one that offers some of the best cocktails in town.
Est. 2011 | Downtown
The place to impress visiting cocktail snobs
The much-adored Downtown barroom is home to a thoughtful variety of creative cocktails and a small-but-stellar selection of brews, if that's your thing. But you really should put a serious dent in the cocktail list. There’s even one of the best burgers in town on the menu to soak up all your liquid debauchery. Plus, a free bubble hockey machine in the back! Bourbon lovers, be on the lookout for one of the best whiskey smashes in town.
Est. 2011 | Central Square
Cavernous upstarts loft housing serious cocktail program
Old-timers remember this place as the Enormous Room, a perfectly acceptable nighttime hangout that became far more alluring in its current incarnation. The upstairs speakeasy (no signage; just follow the waxed-mustache crowds) celebrates locally made spirits, seasonal ingredients, and a relaxed approach to imbibing. You’re here to savor, not quaff. Don’t be surprised if you miss your dinner reservation because you have to order just one more.
Est. 2009 | Inman Square
A hip, retro-style diner dive that serves comfort food and a killer breakfast
Dive bars close, but dive bars rarely open. Exception: Trina’s, a neighborhood hangout that retains some grungy aspects of long-ago predecessor Abbey Lounge. Trina’s low-key vibe pairs nicely with its unpretentious approach to cocktails: keep them fun, keep them seasonal, and keep them from being too trendy. The lounge’s Monday industry brunch, complete with a separate drink list, will make you rue the day you ever took a 9-to-5 job.
Est. 2009 | Woburn
Avant-garde cocktails deep in the suburbs
Brought to you by skilled and inventive bartender Ran Duan, The Baldwin is an old-school cocktail bar tucked inside Duan’s parents’ Chinese restaurant, Sichuan Garden II. He’s reviving classic drinks with creative twists, such as pisco punches with pineapple vinegar, and offering signature ones like the fan-favorite Father’s Advice (rum, amaro, vermouth, sherry, creme de banana), all inside a 17th-century mansion. The interior features dark hardwood, black banquettes, and accessories like globes, vintage books, and bankers lamps. Then there’s the bar within the bar -- Baldwin & Sons Trading Co., an award-winning lounge space serving even more audacious cocktails.
Est. 2008 | Fort Point Channel
Menu-free cocktail lair for spirit connoisseurs
In the former warehouse district that is now Fort Point, underneath the popular Italian restaurant Sportello, you’ll find Drink, a Boston bar like no other. Drink is part of the Barbara Lynch restaurant empire, and it provides no cocktail menu, just talented bartenders lining the large, u-shaped bars who ask, "What do you feel like drinking tonight?" Drink’s main premise, curated by general manager Ezra Star, attracts cocktail geeks from all over the city, but it still draws in the everyday vodka-soda drinker, too, with lines around the block on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s the perfect spot to experiment with new flavors during a cold, dark night.
Est. 2006 | Central Square
Unassuming cocktail mainstay in Central Square
Did you know that Green Street owns the area’s oldest liquor license, dating back to the Great Depression? This might explain why the space has earned true institution status. Don’t let the Budweiser sign fool you: The tucked-away Central Square spot is where aficionados go when they tire of cocktail newbies crowding the bar of the moment. Drinks are well-considered and well-priced (under 10 bucks, by and large).
Est. 2005 | Fenway-Kenmore
The city’s cocktail standard-bearer
Since opening in 2005, Eastern Standard has long been recognized as one of Boston’s finest drinking establishments; its bar program is often praised for a serious approach to seasonal drinks made with high-quality ingredients. This place is huge, with a French brasserie-style interior and an educative approach to serving food and drinks. By now, we know that excellent hospitality is a massive part of running a successful business for Garrett Harker, who also owns several other establishments on this list, and this is a commitment that continues to shine here. A well-balanced cocktail list provides classic concoctions for all types of patrons, whether they’re there for a Sox game or a New Year’s Eve blowout.
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