The Best Speakeasy-Themed Bars in Boston
Our liquor laws may suck, but let’s be clear: There’s no such thing as an actual speakeasy in Boston. There’s no such thing as an actual speakeasy anywhere. True speakeasies are anachronisms -- illicit drinking spots of yore, back when our government had the gonzo idea to ban boozing via Constitutional amendment.
No, modern-day “speakeasies” are marketing gimmicks -- and that’s totally okay. Just because liquor is legal doesn’t mean clandestine watering holes don’t hold enduring appeal. The lesser the signage, the greater the good time. So, embrace the back alley entrances, the flapper design callouts, and the 90-year-old cocktail recipes, and take a tour of the best speakeasy-adjacent bars in Boston.
It’s subterranean, it’s darkly lit, and it’s a little hard to find. Check, check, and check. The glam-if-furtive spot caters to a sophisticated drinker who’s there to savor as much as socialize. (How else to justify the $100 Black Card Cocktail, a changing concoction made from multiple top-flight ingredients?) It’s also a scratch bar -- all cordials, juices, and infusions are made daily in-house, the better to keep fresh its seasonally changing cocktail menu. But the bar’s most cloak-and-dagger offering is membership to its Scotch Club. Hopefuls sign up in person with a one-time $20 initiation fee and receive a membership coin in return. Once a month, you can plunk that coinage down and wordlessly order a tasting that highlights that month’s Scottish distillery.
Once upon a time, Fort Point was still a nascent neighborhood with only a smattering of overpriced condo developments. But Lucky’s saw the future, and the future was a no-signage, word-of-mouth approach to its promotion of the new Sinatra-inspired lair. The area has since changed (no-doi understatement), but the space hasn’t: It’s still all red-leather banquette seating, crowd-pleasing cocktails, and Rat Pack-era typeface.
Even among jaded drinkers and diners, this one gave delighted pause: an intimate wine bar and lounge located in the frayed, wood-paneled basement of a nondescript veterans' hall. Budget time to find the entrance (it’s in the back), then head downstairs and turn yourselves over to co-owners Kim Courtney and Xavier Dietrich. The setting may scream “rec hall,” but the experience is decidedly European: classic cocktails, Old World wines, and a small, ever-changing menu concentrated on cheese, charcuterie, and one or two entrée-sized specials a night.
If you give two figs about cocktails, you already know about Baldwin Bar, Ran Duan’s award-winning, must-visit bar program in a suburban Chinese restaurant. But you might not know about Baldwin & Sons Trading Company, the bar inside the bar inside the Chinese restaurant. Open Thursday through Sunday, it’s a more sedate library-like lounge where things get downright kitschy: tiki glassware, dry ice effects, and ingredients like acidified papaya pandan compound and yoghurt-washed aquavit.
Time to hunker down with your fellow spirits nerds. What was once an iron foundry is now a lauded small-batch distillery with a little-advertised, crowdfunded bar in the front room. Open Thursday through Sunday, the space -- accessed through a garage door -- slings cocktails straight from the source. (The menu is creative by necessity, thanks to our good ol’ liquor laws, which only allow usage of spirits distilled onsite.) There’s shuffleboard, there’s foosball, and there’s Tipsy Trivia -- the only trivia night in the city that’s focused solely on alcohol-related questions.
Even your Lyft driver might struggle to find the entrance. The distillery’s facility lives in one of those non-residential, non-commercial purgatories that only augments its allure. Located within the larger distillery, the tasting room is a New Orleans-like lair: a gothic, 26-seat affair decorated with Prohibition-era spirit bottles. 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 of the cocktails are just $11, and the rotating draft cocktail clocks in at a mere nine bucks.
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. Little surprise: We recently dubbed it one of the best bars in the country.
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 burrow (no signage) 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.
We’re sad there’s now a website, but otherwise this steakhouse speakeasy continues to operate on the extreme down-low. (And yes, we understand that beef isn’t actually illegal.) Tucked inside JM Curley, with only the tiniest of signs pointing you to a curtained doorway in back, Bogie’s Place is a lilliputian, throwback steakhouse that also places a premium on its cocktails. The headliner here is the absinthe fountain.
This one’s a rare bird: a surreptitious drinking and dining spot that’s devoid of pretension. Tucked beneath Modern Pastry, a quintessential North End bakery -- family-owned, with ancient signage and A-1 cannolis -- the bar doesn’t even warrant mention on the bakery’s website (though there is a sign out front). But it’s a mainstay for neighborhood insiders, who crowd into the stone-walled space for trivia night, solid cocktails, and well-priced beers.
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