In the minds of many, Boston is a beer town first and foremost. After all, it’s home to the Boston Beer Company and countless microbreweries. But if you look beyond the suds you’ll discover that cocktails in this city have a rich history and a thriving present.
From dedicated classicists like Drink and Ward 8, to boundary-pushing mavericks like Backbar and Hojoko, and laid-back standards like Trina’s Starlite Lounge and Highland Kitchen, Boston’s cocktail scene is a microcosm of the city itself: steeped in history, forward-looking, and unabashed about having a good time.
As always, this is not meant to be a ranking or an exhaustive compilation of the best bars in Boston, but rather a rundown of our favorite cocktail joints in the city.
7 Sanborn Court (Somerville)
This micro cocktail lounge, stashed behind a long hallway in what appears to be a vacant warehouse, frequently requires a wait in line to even enter. Not that you should mind—waiting parties are occasionally rewarded by sample-sized cocktails. That’s just a preview of the hospitality backbar has in droves, which comes across in friendly, knowledgeable staff and an ever-changing menu of bold, envelope-pushing concoctions that make the most of obscure ingredients and house infusions.
The Baldwin Bar
2 Alfred St
A historical-mansion-turned-Chinese-restaurant in a Boston suburb houses one of the best cocktail bars in the state. Yup, you read that right. Sichuan Garden II shares the first floor with The Baldwin Bar, a small, 24-seat lounge with a menu of perfectly executed Tiki drinks. A floor above is Baldwin & Sons Trading Co., a larger, library themed bar that serves original creations and mammoth, 6+ large format drinks. Both share a food menu stocked with—you guessed it—Sichuan specialties.
Brick & Mortar
567 Massachusetts Ave
Tucked away in the second story of a building in Central Square, Brick & Mortar boasts a beautiful, horse-shaped brass bar and (surprise) brick walls. It’s a fitting atmosphere for its boozy house originals and classic covers, supplemented by a beer selection that places local craft brews alongside lawnmower favorites. It’s also a fine place to indulge in a local specialty: order a Daquiri Time Out and you’ll be rewarded with four, fun-sized cocktails.
295 Washington St
A sequel of sorts to The Baldwin Bar, Blossom Bar marries a Sichuan kitchen to a vibrant menu of tropical cocktails with a focus the flavors and spirits of Central and South America. You’ll also find some of the most beautifully garnished cocktails in the state, served in a setting that Wes Anderson would be proud to call his own.
Bully Boy Distillers
44 Cedric St
What the Roxbury distiller modestly dubs its “Tasting Room” is in fact a full-on cocktail lounge, complete with a nine-seat bar, velvet banquettes and a Persian rug. Here you’ll enjoy original cocktails made with Bully Boy spirits in sight of the very stills that produce them—and should you get curious, tours are offered every 45 minutes.
50 Northern Ave
The sleek Seaport spot serves Greek and Mediterranean small plates, but we’re here for the highly original cocktail menu that makes liberal use of housemade ingredients and infusions. And while the drinks are beautifully garnished—expect to see a tiny wooden paper clip or two—they haven’t traded substance for looks.
450 Summer St
It’s rococo from top-to-bottom at Coquette, a glitzy French restaurant whose wraparound bar is blessed from above by a recreation of the ceiling mural found in the Palace of Versailles’s Hercules Room. Its cocktail menu is heavy on French spirits—expect Cognac, Armagnac, and Martinique rhum—in addition to a beautiful Martini service worthy of the setting.
348 Congress St
Subterranean Drink is local restaurateur Barbara Lynch’s attempt at adding a cocktail bar to her high-end empire, and its success is verified by the crowds that reliably form outside almost every night. Once inside, you’ll discover a dim lair decorated by taxidermied insects and butterflies, and a small menu of classic cocktails. You’re free to go off the menu and state your boldest cocktail desires to the bartender, who will return with something you’ve likely never had before but wished you could replicate at home
250 Franklin St
The Fed is found within the Langham Hotel, and seeks to recreate the feel of a London cocktail pub with across-the-pond specialties like glizzy sticks (read: corndogs) and toasties (read: grilled cheese). Its creative cocktail program employs ingredients that aren’t specifically British, but just plain interesting: think rice milk, candy cap mushrooms and housemade orangecello.
150 Highland Ave (Somerville)
Highland Kitchen’s only pretension is its thorough lack of one. This neighborhood haunt marries humble, hometown-bar looks with stiff, gently priced cocktails that vault from the old-school (Bee’s Knees, De La Louisane) to hefty house originals. Highland’s food menu, a collection of hearty comfort classics with the occasional international influence, should go a long way in soaking up liquid fare. Just be prepared for a wait any day of the week—the locals love this place, and they’re not giving it up easily.
1271 Boylston St
Hojoko’s punk rock-inspired, tchotchke-strewn interior should be a hint that this take on the Japanese Izakaya experience is following the “irreverent” rather than “authentic” route. That theme is well represented by its innovative cocktails, which make use of ingredients like shochu, shiso and Japanese whisky. Modern updates on tiki classics are offered, as well as boozy frozen concoctions stored in slushee machines. Look out for a selection of serves 3-6 punch bowl drinks, as well as a “Bombs Away” subsection of the menu pairing Irish whiskey to cucumber shrub soda, curacao and root beer, and of course, sake and beer.
21 Temple Pl
Both the name and logo (a black top hat) of this downtown gem pay homage to James Michael Curley, Boston’s four-term “Mayor of the Poor,” whose stoic gaze falls upon imbibers thanks to a vintage campaign poster. The cocktail menu is divided between solidly executed, moderately priced classics, and highly creative original drinks. JM also offers one of Boston’s best-loved cheeseburgers, and even features an undercover steakhouse with a serious martini menu—Bogie’s Place—hidden down a hallway marked “Adults Only.”
The Longfellow Bar
40 Brattle Street, #3
Located above its sister establishment Alden & Harlow in Harvard Square, Longfellow Bar serves thoughtful cocktails with musically inspired names and house infusions running the gamut from green banana rum to bell pepper mezcal. A globe-trotting menu stocked exclusively with finger foods offers Thai sausage pigs in a blanket, crab Rangoon nachos, and more.
10 Post Office Square
Mariel pays tribute to the excess of pre-revolutionary Havana with an atmosphere of decayed elegance and a full-on nightclub downstairs. Clubby as it may be, the drinks are dead serious: any of its four house Mojitos should change your attitude about the much-maligned cocktail, and its boozy Triple Rum Old-Fashioned is a must for rum connoisseurs.
5 Utica St
Entered via an unmarked service door in a dark alley, the 20-seat cocktail lounge feels like a throwback to another time—not exactly prohibition, but the speakeasy-style bars of the late aughts. And that’s not a knock, as Offsuit’s unpretentious menu of well-made originals and house classics reminds us of why we all fell in love with those bars in the first place.
9A Tyler St
Shojo certainly has style: the Chinatown haunt has an old-school hip-hop soundtrack, plays an endless loop of Kung Fu movies on the bar TV, and features a graffiti-style wall mural. But there’s substance too: its cocktail list gives new life to tiki classics and makes creative use of Japanese whisky and shochu. For the sipping crowd, Shojo also boasts the largest collection of Japanese whisky in New England. Appetites can be whet by a food menu that mashes Asian street food with American fast food.
1 Dalton St
Hotel bars can be hit or miss, and usually fall on the latter. But Trifecta, located within the Back Bay Four Seasons (yes, Boston has two) earns the hotel mark-up with an interesting mix of local and international spirits and beautiful presentations.
Trina’s Starlite Lounge
3 Beacon St (Somerville)
A battered Miller High Life sign serves as a beacon for this dimly lit haunt, whose aesthetic falls under “1950s’ diner in a David Lynch movie.” Setting aside, the draw to Trina’s is its moderately priced, strongly poured drinks that include an impressive slate of house originals like the Shaddock (genever, Aperol, St. Germain, lemon) and the Green Goblin (mezcal, Green Chartreuse, Midori, lime, pineapple). In keeping with its looks, Trina’s serves a hearty selection of unpretentious diner grub. It’s another neighborhood favorite, so expect a perpetual crowd at the bar.
1 Bow Market Way #23
Variety Bar is found on the second floor of Somerville’s Bow Market and comes to us from former Eastern Standard bar manager Naomi Levy. Her eclectic touch is all over the cocktail menu, which serves savory cocktails alongside a Yoo-Hoo Espresso Martini.
90 N Washington St
This noiry bar near TD Garden certainly offers its namesake cocktail, but it doesn’t stop there. Its classics-heavy menu is divided into shaken or stirred drinks, and a four-sided marble bar offers plenty of seats to enjoy them. Keep an eye on the game calendar during hockey season—Ward 8 fills quickly with thirsty Bruins fans after home games.
2 Winter Place
Yvonne’s claimed the former digs of Yankee supper club Locke-Ober, preserving 19th century details like tinned ceilings and a wood-carved bar with a more modern, Instagram-friendly aesthetic. It’s also pulled off another delicate balancing act: marrying lively, night-out atmosphere to considered, quality cocktails that are more than like-bait (though like the clientele, they are good-looking).