Last week we told you about the best first date restaurant in every Boston 'hood, but we know that sometimes you don’t want to commit to a long meal with somebody you barely know. “Want to grab a drink after work?” is a safer, more casual option, and one that you can brush off as just friendly if it turns out the match isn’t made in Tinder heaven. Plus, since most of Boston’s bars are also restaurants, you can grab a bite should things go especially well and/or you forgot to eat lunch. That said, here is the best bar in every neighborhood for that get-to-know-you drink.
If you want to say “I have social skills, and I like good beer,” the chill vibe at Sunset is a fantastic place for a meet-up. The hearty entrees come in epic portions, and the fountains of brew flow so freely you’ll be able to have an entire conversation about JUST BEER if it turns out you’ve got nothing in common. It sends the message that you have taste, but aren’t overly desperate to impress someone you hardly know.
There aren’t a lot of places you can go out for a casual drink in Back Bay, but of the ones there are, Bukowski’s tops our list for its top-notch beer selection and sophisticated diveyness. While we can’t endorse the blatant misogyny and horrific poetry of its namesake, we can certainly get behind the bar’s signature “surly service,” “sharing is caring” apps, and, of course, the peanut butter burger (with bacon, because duh).
If you're looking to lock it down with someone special, you can't escape this up-cycled jail just a stone's throw from the MGH T stop (although, yes, we realize that it's technically across the street from Beacon Hill). The space is home to two sleek lounges (the Liberty Bar and Alibi), an outdoor courtyard, and multiple restaurants, so not only can you sip punny cocktails (like the "Cool Hand Cuke") in a super-sophisticated atmosphere, but you can hop around without ever leaving the building. Don't have a date? That's cool, too -- the Liberty attracts one of the best-looking clienteles this side of the Charles.
Not only is Warren casual enough for an early round get-together, its food and drink are pretty solid on all fronts (the chowder especially). While you could easily meet up for a quick brew, you could just as easily spend all night noshing on burgers in front of the roaring dining room fireplace. Just like George Washington did.
In a neighborhood of ramen-slinging, cash-only noodle stands, Q is one of the more stylish options for a night out. Fast service, reasonable prices, and a slick aesthetic make the pan-Asian lounge a decent drink destination, and should you find that things are heating up, you can always extend your time together and order a hot pot.
Nine Zero Hotel’s cocktail lounge is more fun than fancy, featuring everything from rubber duckie-adorned martinis to a Spin the Wheel-style drink selector for the indecisive. Jenga, magnetic poetry, board games, View-Master toys, and rotating DJs all contribute to the playful vibe. That being said, it’s certainly not a gimmick; award-winning bartender Shaher Misif whips up one heck of a highball.
Or, if you’re looking for a post-Ant Man hangout spot, jm Curley serves up creative pub food (like the famous Curley’s cracka jack) alongside its rotating lineup of drinks. Also, there’s a strict no-douchebag rule, so the odds that you’ll be fending off date poachers is slim to none. And there’s enough noise to make any awkward silences bearable, but not enough to interfere with your conversation about the annoying physics of your new favorite superhero. (And hey, you’ll need another person to help you polish off that Monte Cristo.)
In a neighborhood of dive bars, the Ashmont’s outdoor patio and chill post-work crowd are remarkably date friendly. With Buck-a-Shuck Thursdays and six types of Bloody Mary available during weekend brunch, a few hours at Ashmont can become something of a sampling session, which is guaranteed to keep the conversation rolling.
So you’re already at a bar and you met each other a few rounds in. Nice! Now go home before you embarrass yourself and call her in the morning. Well, make that afternoon. Late, late afternoon.
From the owners of Trina’s Starlite Lounge comes Audubon, a Fenway bar that isn’t crowded with rabid Red Sox fans and actually serves some respectable beer. A few carefully curated cocktails and affordable-but-adorable sharing plates make it a game-day destination that’s less about gorging yourself on wings while glued to the TV than paying attention to your new friend. Which is good, 'cause who really wants to watch the Sox these days anyway.
The Haven prides itself on its authentic Scottish “food, drink, and banter,” and it delivers on all fronts. The extensive beer list is organized by type and features a whole host of Scottish suds you’ve probably never had before, while the menu includes apps like Cullen skink, house-made lamb haggis, and truffle-honey rutabaga neeps with Drambuie butter. Also, desserts like toffee pudding and tipsy laird trifle.
Even if you’re meeting up post-Garden, remember: there’s nothing romantic about a sports bar. Unless you're on a date with Olympic gymnast and Needham's own Aly Raisman, then, maybe. Instead, head to this sleek-looking lounge, where you can swill a Scorched Earth or sip on a cold one while running through the play by play. Or discussing the intricacies of the balance beam, as it may be. They place has also been known to serve seasonal specials like absinthe or painkillers (in coconut goblets) just to mix it up. It’s a little dark, but that just adds to the ambiance.
Because it’s a great spot, PERIOD. Wink and Nod has out-of-the-park, 100%-from-scratch drinks, star chefs, a speakeasy-style entrance... what’s not to like? So, maybe it’s a bit classy for a first date, but if you’re on date two or three, or serious about him or her, it’ll be worth it. And if they bore you to death, at least you’ll get a kickass cocktail out of the deal. What’s more, the service is totally on point, and there’s something different every season. We like it so much we didn’t even want to tell you about it. But we did. So you’re welcome.
Fort Point/ Seaport
This bar/restaurant combo just opened up in June, so not only are the odds good that your date hasn’t been there yet, but you’ll also likely earn bonus points for suggesting someplace new and different. Combine that with the cozy seating, eccentric collection of Tiki glassware (some Star Wars themed), friendly bar staff, and cheeky takes on classic cocktails, and you have all the ingredients for a great date bar. Also, there’s some decidedly romantic sidewalk seating.
Sure, it’s not the classic Southie dive experience, but as we mentioned before, Pabst-coated sports bars aren’t exactly sexy. What is sexy is Lincoln’s gorgeous wood interior and its Monday night “Good Wine Cheap” event -- a weekly promo featuring discounted bottles that are perfect for the young, trendy, and not-quite-Newbury. The cocktails are cool but far from glitzy; the Crush on You, for instance (Ketel One, lemon, vanilla, and orange soda) makes it easy to send a completely un-subtle message to the person across from you.
Russell House has exposed brick, dark wood panels, and candlelit tables, all of which are just bonuses when you consider the bar’s popular oyster happy hour (post-11pm) and inventive cocktail list (try the End of Story or Jumpin’ Jack Smash). The first floor is a good place to watch the hustle and bustle of Harvard, but if you’d like a more laid-back evening, you can head downstairs for an atmosphere that’s more classy than collegiate. Trust us... it’s way better than taking her to the Wrong Kong.
From the folks behind Union Square's backbar comes Ames Street Deli, a tiny café that transforms into a cozy bar at night. Like backbar, Ames Street offers gourmand bar snacks “to share” along with a variety of strange brews and quirky cocktails. It’s a great-quality bar that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is exactly what you want for the first time out with that special someone.
Sure, it looks divey, but the southern food is to die for, and the drinks are anything but an afterthought. Pick up a StarPop (the bartender’s special fizz for the evening) or a rocking chair (black tea-infused bonded bourbon, Canton ginger Cognac, lemon) to start off the night. Trina’s also gets bonus points for having a delightful winter morning brunch; snag the Captain Crunch toast and chicken & waffles, then soak off your food coma at Inman Oasis.
River Gods is the kind of place where you can really hedge your bets. There’s beer, there are good cocktails on the menu, and there are people, but the bar isn’t as loud and crowded as, say, Brick and Mortar, and not as upscale and cocktail-centric as, say, Green Street or Craigie. It’s off the beaten path enough that it’s usually not as mobbed as other Central Square spots, and it’s the kind of place where you can figure out where things are going without laying all your cards on the table. If your romantic intentions fizzle, you can pass it off as the kind of place you’d take a good friend. If they fire, it’s nice enough that you won’t embarrass yourself.
It’s casual and comfortable, with drinks and food that are basic without veering into boring. It feels more like your living room than a bar, even though it spans two floors and boasts a far more robust beer list than your fridge does. If bars could talk, this one would say, “I’m mature, affectionate, and looking for a stable relationship.” Not bad, right?
The tiny Davis Square wine bar is a bit on the fancy side, but that can’t hurt your chances, right? With everybody else headed to Saloon, it’ll not only be easy to find a table at this slick little establishment, but you’ll actually be able to hear each other talk! It’s not the best bet for beer (obviously), but if you’re into wine and cocktails, both are killer.
Brass Union feels like a laid-back house party, if that house party had an enviable craft beer program. The bar is covered with tabletop games and the indoor area features shuffleboard and Pac-Man -- there’s even a Pac-Man-themed dessert. Head to the outdoor patio for some fresh air and a shot at giant Jenga. It’ll give you both an opportunity to indulge your competitive side, or team up to topple other couples.
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By day, Kim Prosise writes and edits content for clients around the world; by night, her circus freak alter ego performs high-flying feats of fantastic daredevilry. When she's not working, she's traveling, baking, or Dustbusting glitter. Ask her for facts about sea creatures.
1. Sunset Grill & Tap130 Brighton Ave, Allston
2. Bukowski Tavern50 Dalton St, Boston
3. The Liberty Hotel215 Charles St, Boston
4. The Warren Tavern2 Pleasant St, Boston
5. Q Restaurant660 Washington St, Boston
6. Highball Lounge90 Tremont St, Boston
7. JM Curley21 Temple Pl, Boston
8. Ashmont Grill555 Talbot Ave, Dorchester
9. Audubon Boston838 Beacon St, Boston
10. The Haven2 Perkins St, Boston
11. Ward 890 N Washington St, Boston
12. Wink & Nod3 Appleton St, Boston
13. Committee50 Northern Avenue, Boston
14. Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant425 W Broadway, South Boston
15. Russell House Tavern14 JFK St, Cambridge
16. Ames Street Deli73 Ames St, Cambridge
17. Trina's Starlite Lounge3 Beacon St, Somerville
18. River Gods125 River St, Boston
19. The Abbey1755 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge
20. Spoke Wine Bar89 Holland St, Somerville
21. Brass Union70 Union Square, Somerville
Although this Allston spot is known primarily for its HUGE beer selection (nearly 400) -- which makes sense, because this joint is right near BU and is in the frat/party central area of the campus -- it's also got a massive food menu to boast about. It features everything you could possibly think of, including nachos, BBQ ribs, fish tacos, 1/2 lb. burgers, fajitas, and a bunch more. If you aren't coming here hungry, there must be something wrong.
Ditch Newbury and the bastions of distraught twenty-something foreigners asking you what happened to Armani Cafe, and hit up this bastion of barley to take down a peanut butter burger while making a sizeable dent in your Dead Author's Card, a running tally of all the beers you have to drink within six months to earn a spot in their exclusive mug club.
Built in 1851 (and run until 1990) as the Charles Street Jail, this massive granite- and brick-structure situated off the Charles River at the foot of Beacon Hill now boasts 298 guest rooms, an "I'm totally staying in a prison" historical vibe, and five different spots where you can dine and imbibe.
A favorite watering hole of the likes of Paul Revere and George Washington, The Warren Tavern in Charlestown was rebuilt after the Battle of Bunker Hill, and still stands so you can go and order a cold beer and some delicious pub fare, like the Warren Burger, with grilled Canadian bacon and cheddar cheese.
Known for their family-style hot pots, this restaurant/bar/lounge supplies pan-Asian cuisine and refreshing cocktails in an intimate setting.
Located in the Nine Zero Hotel, Highball Lounge is a retro-looking spot where you can enjoy small bites like Korean fried chicken nuggets alongside unique cocktails while playing the type of board games you would find in your parents' old basement (which is coincidentally, and awesomely, the very space the Highball is trying to emulate).
"Just don't be a douchebag." The etiquette guidelines at this sassy Downtown eatery practically say it all. An all-brick operation reminiscent of a Prohibition speakeasy, JM Curley dishes out chef-driven takes on bar food staples like charcuterie boards, duck poutine, and most notable the house burger featuring homemade "pop's Russian" dressing and a build-it-yourself option at lunch. Prices run cheap for the tourist-heavy part of town it occupies -- that goes for the specialty cocktails and domestic crafts on tap, too.
This neighborhood grill joint boasts a sweet patio and fresh takes on American classics.
Audubon Boston has a standout cocktail menu, including the A.B.’retto Sour with Lazzaroni amaretto, Overproof Plantation rum, lemon, and sugar egg white. Or try the Mis Suenos, boosted by Dulce Vida reposado, Punt e Mes, and smoked ginger syrup. For brew-hounds, they also dispense eight craft drafts that'll help wash down their honey jalapeño wings. The Pork Muffaletta and Corn Husk Flounder are also standouts.
The Haven brings a slice of Scotland to Jamaica Plain in the form of a dual-room, 45 seater, serving craft beers and traditional fare from across the pond like vegetable bridie, haggis with neeps, and white pudding sassitch and mash.
Ward 8 brings classic cocktails (via bar manager Mike Wyatt of Eastern Standard) and delicious eats like a Lobster Roll with black truffle mayo to the North End.
Boston Nightlife Ventures' new speakeasy has made a home for the pop-up Whisk, so you can enjoy your cocktails made with Cutty Sark Prohibition Scotch alongside bites like squid ink tagliatelle pasta with baby octopus.
Committee is a Mediterranan spot located on the waterfront in Boston's Seaport District. It's a shiny, sleek, modern take on your typical Greek deli or butchershop: both the lunch and dinner menus offer traditional Greek staples (chicken and lamb gyros, grilled haloumi, souvlaki) and house specialties (the Committee Club, a turkey sandwich on kalamata olive loaf). The brunch menu is what really sets it apart from alternative Greek options, however. To give your regular brunch group a break from mimosas and poached eggs, order a Santorini soda and a breakfast gyro here instead.
A modern, yet classic American pub in Southie, Lincoln Tavern whips up decadent dishes like bacon and butternut squash pizza, oven braised short ribs with truffled mac 'n' cheese, and, for brunch, a memorable smoked prime rib hash. To wash it all down, make sure to check out the 40+ bottles/drafts, creative cocktail selection, or (if you're really thirsty) the 1.5 liter prosecc o "Bucket of Bubbles."
Named for the 19th century Harvard furniture dealer that first occupied the building, RHT is a two-floored pub/resto in bustling Harvard Square, brought to you from the owners of Grafton Street/Temple Bar. RHT's slinging a New England-heavy menu of modern American "artisanal fare" and craft beers. Their craft cocktail is also definitely worth checking out.
The geniuses behind Journeyman and Backbar deliver a one-two punch in the suddenly hyper-charged Kendall Square. First up is Ames Street Deli, the extra-funky sammy haven featuring not-your-grandpa’s meat-on-bread combos. Think zanier, more to the tune of rabbit mortadella on carrot bread (ironic) and foie gras on coconut brioche.
This 1940s/50s-style diner is acclaimed for their brunch, burgers, and dogs, but don't be shy about picking through their craft cocktail and beer list or ordering one of their pressed sammiches.
Did you accidentally stumble onto the set of Alice in Wonderland 2: Winter is Coming? No -- you’ve just walked into one of the weirdest and coolest bar-staurants in Central Square. Pay homage to the river gods by slurping down an Amazon’s worth of classic cocktails, then chase it down with one of their tasty sandos, all amidst the gargoyle-bedecked walls, red-velvet seating, and Halloween-year-round decor.
With a list of 30+ Scotches and 70+ other deluxe spirits, The Abbey will easily coax you into trying some of their equally high-end cuisine (not that you needed any prodding). Get down on Lamb Lollipops and Bison Bolognese before you leave.
Eager to once again strike out on her own, the wine buyer at Davis Square's Dave's Fresh Pasta and former college hoops coach AND former owner of Mobile, Alabama's most popular martini bar has turned the adjoining Black & Blues clothing store into a sophisticated stable of small plates, craft cocktails, and wines so Old World, Wally Szczerbiak's grandfather's grandfather drinks them.
At Brass Union, the front, tavern-style setting gives way to a funk/soul lounge in back, which boasts vintage table-top video games, board games, life-size Connect Four, and a 14-foot shuffleboard court.