In the minds of many, Boston is a beer town first and foremost. After all, it’s home to one of America’s most popular beers—Samuel Adams—and countless microbreweries. But if you look beyond the suds, you’ll discover that this city’s craft cocktails have a rich history and a thriving present.
From dedicated classicists like Eastern Standard and Ward 8, to boundary-pushing mavericks like Shojo and Tavern Road, 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.
Now, let’s get to it.
7 Sanborn Court (Somerville) // backbarunion.com
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 with sample size 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. While it’s easy to get lost in the menu, make sure to take note of the drink of the week, drink of the day, and ever-changing milk punch special.
90 N Washington St (West End) // www.ward8.com
This noir-y bar near TD Garden certainly offers its namesake cocktail, but it doesn’t stop there. An extensive menu broken down by spirit serves strong tiki drinks in excellent mugs and spirit-heavy sippers alike, and a four-sided marble bar offers plenty of seats to enjoy them. Cocktail classes are offered on Sundays, and dollar oysters can be had between 5pm and 12:30am each Monday. Keep an eye on the game schedule during hockey season—Ward 8 fills quickly with thirsty Bruins fans after home games.
150 Highland Ave (Somerville) // highlandkitchen.com
This neighborhood haunt marries humble, hometown-bar looks with stiff, gently-priced cocktails that vault from the old-school (Ward 8, Vieux Carre) 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.
Trina’s Starlite Lounge
3 Beacon St (Somerville) // trinastarlitelounge.com
A battered Miller High Life sign serves as a beacon for this dimly-lit, neighborhood watering hole, whose aesthetic falls under “1950s diner in a David Lynch movie.” Decoration aside, the draw to Trina’s is its moderately-priced, strongly-poured drinks that feature frequent tiki flavors and a rotating carbonated cocktail. In keeping with its looks, Trina’s serves a hearty selection of unpretentious diner grub.
Brick & Mortar
567 Massachusetts Ave (Cambridge) // brickmortarltd.com
You’d never know Brick & Mortar is one of Cambridge’s finest cocktail bars from visiting it on a Friday or Saturday night; on those evenings you’re more likely to find a sea of Gansett-chugging college kids and a soundtrack pushed to ear-punishing decibels. Visit it on a weeknight instead, and you’ll be rewarded with a spot at its beautiful, horseshoe-shaped brass bar. There you’ll find an impressive roster of changing cocktails and perhaps the most thoughtful “shots” menu we’ve ever encountered.
280 Green St (Cambridge) // www.greenstreetgrill.com
The humble appearance of this Cambridge mainstay—which looks like a deserted V.F.W. from the street—conceals one of the Boston area’s most exhaustive cocktail menus. While every patron will receive a standard menu with around a dozen drinks, ask for the full version and you shall receive a six-sided monster of a menu that features scores of selections, ranging from almost every classic you’ve ever heard of to Green Street originals. The cherry on top? Green Street’s prices feel like they belong in the last decade.
650 E Kendall St (Cambridge) // www.cafeartscience.com
Café ArtScience’s airy, snow-white environs recall a sterile laboratory, which fits the mad scientist whims of its bartender quite well. Todd Maul makes drinks that incorporate multiple states of matter, like his “Whaf” cocktails that utilize vaporized spirits. But the menu, which is broken down into sections like “Smoke,” “Tiki,” and “Collins,” offers perfectly executed classics as well.
528 Commonwealth Ave (Fenway) // www.easternstandardboston.com
Eastern Standard gets a lot of credit for reviving the cocktail scene in Boston—and it deserves all of it. The space, which draws inspiration from the grand train stations of bygone eras, features dramatically high ceilings, regal red banquettes and a 60-foot marble bar. Every one of their bartenders seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of cocktail ingredients and their origins, and executes their job with the highest degree of professionalism. The drink list switches between modern originals and the very oldest of the old, and is nicely accompanied by a food menu with French bistro favorites.
The Hawthorne Bar
500a Commonwealth Ave (Fenway) // www.thehawthornebar.com
This sleek, mid-century-inspired cocktail lounge within the Commonwealth Hotel takes the “lounge” part of its description very seriously: much of its seating is in the form of gorgeous, spread-out furniture that could have been plucked from the penthouse apartment of a ‘60s ad exec. The drink list is full of boozy, adventurous cocktails that lend themselves to slow sipping in handsome armchairs. A small plates menu offers snacks plucked from the golden age of the cocktail party, like bacon-stuffed dates and deviled eggs.
1271 Boylston St (Fenway) // hojokoboston.com
Hojoko’s punk rock-inspired, tchotchke-strewn interior offers 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. There’s even a “For the Band” section of large format libations that serve four, so be sure to bring some friends.
90 Tremont St (Downtown) // www.highballboston.com
Located in an upper floor of the Nine Zero Hotel and filled with sofas and board games, Highball Lounge feels like an attic with a perpetual party going on. While gimmicks like rubber ducky garnishes and View-Master menus are employed, the innovative (you guessed it) highball drinks stand on their own. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights bring DJs and a line of revelers that spills out onto the street. Highball Lounge is closed Sundays and Mondays, so plan accordingly.
9A Tyler St (Chinatown) // www.shojoboston.com
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 that is repainted every six months. 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 whiskies in New England. Appetites can be whet by a food menu that mashes Asian street food with American fast food.
Wink & Nod
3 Appleton St (South End) // winkandnod.com
This South End speakeasy, which features golden dragon wallpaper and elegant lounge seating, justifies its ostentatious digs with a serious cocktail list that makes use of house-made infusions, sodas, cordials and more. Those with a hefty wallet (or expense account) can also opt for the “Black Card Cocktail,” a rotating $100 libation that justifies its price tag with rare spirits and ingredients like saffron bitters. A culinary incubator program brings in a whole new kitchen every six months, and each Tuesday sees a meeting of Wink & Nod’s Scotch Club.
354 Harrison Ave ( South End) // www.lionstailboston.com
Newcomer Lion’s Tail, which opened in December 2016, is a rare animal—the deliberately old-world cocktail den that doesn’t feel twee or try-hard. That has a lot to do with the excellent, classics-heavy drink menu, which is partitioned into sections like “Stirred and Straightforward,” “Daiquiris,” and “A Flip, a Fizz, and a Nog.” The delightful menu illustrations, lifted from an early 20th century cocktail book, are icing on the cake.
348 Congress St (Fort Point) // www.drinkfortpoint.com
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 no drink list to speak of. Instead you’ll share your boldest cocktail desires with the bartender, who will return with something you’ve likely never had before but will surely enjoy. Drink opens each day at 4pm. Swing by at opening time or shortly thereafter for the rare chance to enter immediately and take your seat at the winding wooden bar.
477 Cambridge St (Allston) // www.deepellum-boston.com
Deep Ellum shares a wall with the excellent Lone Star Taco Bar, and some of its sister restaurant’s spirit comes across in drinks like The Oaxacan Dead, a mezcal twist on the Zombie. But this isn’t a tequila joint—an entire portion of the menu is given over to Manhattans, and barrel-aged Negronis are always just an ask away. Its tiny patio deck is a lovely place to drain a Pisco Punch in fair weather.
343 Congress St (Fort Point) // tavernroad.com
Tavern Road’s cocktail program showcases the freewheeling sensibilities of Tenzin Sando, one of Boston’s most creative bartenders. Tea-soaked Negronis, saffron-infused rums and matcha powder have all turned up in his cocktails, along with painstakingly shaped garnishes and eclectic presentations that are just too difficult to sum up in words—take a look at @bostonmixdrink on Instagram to get an idea. Or better yet, drop by Tavern Road.
50 Northern Ave (Seaport) // committeeboston.com
This elevated Greek small plates restaurant managed to poach Peter Szigeti, a bartender at Budapest’s renowned Boutiq’ Bar, to manage its beverage program. Szigeti’s experience comes across in drinks that mash together ingredients that sound entirely random on paper but come together beautifully in a well-garnished glass.
1704 Beacon St (Brookline) // fairstedkitchen.com
Don’t let Fairsted Kitchen’s Victorian-inspired digs deceive you: its bar program is anything but staid and sober. The restaurant’s small bar is mightily represented by strong, spirit-forward drinks that make liberal use of amari. For larger parties, Fairsted also offers what might be Boston’s most adult take on the Scorpion Bowl.
The Baldwin Bar
2 Alfred St (Woburn) // www.thebaldwinbar.com
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, six-plus large format drinks. Both share a food menu stocked with, yes, Sichuan specialties. So what we’re saying is: this place is worth the trip to suburban Woburn.
21 Temple Pl (Downtown) // jmcurleyboston.com
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 the many black-and-white portraits that hang throughout the bar. 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.”