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In terms of U.S. cities, Boston may not be considered the booziest. However Beantown, as it’s so adoringly referred to by residents, does have a pronounced drinking history. The Hawthorne strainer was patented here in 1892, the Ward 8 cocktail (rye whiskey, lemon juice, orange juice, and grenadine) was created in the city’s synonymous ward in 1898, and skipping ahead (thanks to Prohibition and all), Samuel Adams led the renaissance of craft beer with the launch of its Boston Lager in 1984.
While for many years, connotations of Boston’s drinking scene may have been overrun by the craft brew ripples instilled by Sam Adams, the city’s drinking scene has in recent years experienced a rebrand. Today, not only do long-standing breweries and historic watering holes exist — like Bell in Hand Tavern dating back to 1795 or Amrheins since 1890 — but the city’s witnessed an emergence of natural wine bars, divergent speakeasies, and globally inspired cocktail bars.
Here are nine of the best places to drink in Boston.
Best place to start an evening: The Wig Shop
Credit: Brian Samuels Photography
Since Boston’s outdated blue laws restrict happy hours, there’s no rush to discounted drink specials after work. There is a rush, however, to get to downtown’s newest cocktail lounge to kick back and relax after a long day on the clock. With limited seating arranged as a convivial cocktail lounge (think: plush, cobalt settees, and oversized winged chairs), managing partner Kevin Mabry says not having bar seats in this speakeasy setting “makes for a unique and comfortable experience.” Enter through a dark curtain flanked by wigged mannequins, a nod to the former wig store it replaced, and expect a mixed menu split up by “true-to-our-roots classics” (inclusive of Martini service, Caesar Cardini, and Spritz) and “new hairdos” (rotating modern cocktails from the bar team led by Oscar Simoza). On this list, Mabry says the most popular order is the Rise & Grind, the Wig Shop’s answer to the ubiquitous Espresso Martini. The cocktail is a mix of Old Monk Rum, Borghetti espresso liqueur, Mustache Flex cold brew, and whipped cream served in a coffee cup with a chocolate-covered pretzel on the side. “Limited to only one per visit due to the mix of caffeine and alcohol, it packs a punch and is the perfect cocktail for a pick-me-up,” adds Mabry.
Address: 27 Temple Place, Boston, Mass. 02111
Best place to try something new: Hecate
Credit: Adam Detour Photography
Inspired by the eponymous Greek goddess and gatekeeper of magic spells and potions, Hecate is as dark and mysterious as the alley that imbibers descend to enter its 24-seat subterranean locale. Here, elixirs and cordials are homemade by the beverage team, infused into internationally sourced spirits that are a tribute to their own esoteric myths and legends, like Ayook, the smoky, fermented barley from Denmark; Haiti’s holy wood of palo santo; and French liqueur, cider eau-de-vie. Hecate also began a series of pop-ups showcasing global talent from Brussels to Lisbon to Athens in an effort to further its global concept and connection; past guest bartenders were from Sweet Liberty in Miami and Pulp Bar in Copenhagen. Having searched and sourced from around the world to craft the most unique cocktails, Hecate unabashedly encourages imbibers to try something new. “Vodka sodas are available from 9 a.m.–4 p.m., we open at 5 p.m.,” reads the tenets, or rules, listed on its menu.
Address: 48 Gloucester St., Boston, Mass. 02115
Where to get drinks before a concert or game: Sam Adams Tap Room
Credit: Samuel Adams
Boston sports fans already know that their teams’ hubs are spread across the city, and even the state, but TD Garden comes close enough to an epicenter. Host of the Bruins, Celtics, and majority of headliner concerts, this downtown location swarms during live events, which is why you’ll want to be a few blocks removed at the Sam Adams Tap Room. The three-story venue consists of indoor and outdoor beer-hall-style tables to enjoy a flight of the brewery’s most popular pours or ever-rotating drafts of seasonal flavors, as well as the O.G. Boston Lager. Once you’ve had your share of hops, the taproom is less than a half mile walk to the Garden.
Address: 60 State St., Boston, Mass. 02109
Best for a nosh and a tipple: Gray’s Hall
Credit: Gray’s Hall
It makes sense that a natural wine bar next door to a cheese and charcuterie shop is known as a community hotspot to not only sit down for a sip, but to stay a while for a bite. They say Gray’s Hall — co-opened by the same team behind the neighboring American Provisions — was designed as a gathering space for its surrounding South Boston residents. However, much unlike other “locals” spots, the menu is never stale. Both the wine and food menus rotate seasonally and are focused on small producers and local purveyors. Expect a curated list of natural wines from labels you’ve likely never heard of (but will want to take note of) and fresh produce according to the calendar. A sure bet and recurring menu item is the smash burger; a treat to accompany a glass of limited-production orange wine or Lambrusco.
Address: 615 East Broadway, South Boston, Mass. 02127
Best place for a vibe check: haley.henry
Haley Fortier describes her mod wine bar as “more of a feeling” than somewhere you simply go for drinks. That’s because haley.henry has always focused on the overall tone of the bar, creating an atmosphere through the likes of lighting and music; somewhere you want to be because you feel good being there. “A couple years after I opened the bar, I saw a 75(ish)-year-old-woman who was dancing in her seat to Tupac. … I don’t think I could ask for more validation than that,” Fortier says of the tone she’s been able to set. The extensive wine menu might be intimidating elsewhere, but at haley.henry, it’s a starting point for guests to discover their new favorite varieties. Case in point: If a wine you want to try isn’t explicitly listed under the glass list, they’ll open the bottle and start pouring it by the glass. There’s never a dull moment here.
Address: 45 Province St., Boston, Mass. 02108
Best bar to relive history: The Sevens Ale House
Credit: The Sevens Ale House
Though Bell in Hand and Amrheins were previously listed as legendary Boston bars, any Beacon Hill resident and beyond will say that their favored historic haunt is The Sevens Ale House (though to them, it’s just “The Sevens”). That’s because this Charles Street pub has been around since 1933, catering to the local crowd and offering a slice of humility in a notoriously ostentatious neighborhood. Serving only beer and wine, it’s a place to leave your troubles at the door — or don’t and chat to the friendly bartenders about them — or even play your worries away through a game of darts, one of the few remaining bars in Boston to still feature this gamepiece.
Address: 77 Charles St., Boston, Mass. 02114
Best speakeasy that’s not a speakeasy: Shore Leave
Credit: Natasha Moustache
Not technically a speakeasy, this tropical-themed bar has all the characteristics of one — hiding in plain sight, momentous cocktails, and with a mercurial, transformative aura under the streets of Boston’s South End. “We are proud to boast the best rum selection in Boston,” says Ryan Lotz, beverage director for Traveler St. Hospitality, owners of Shore Leave. Year-round, the underground bar pairs its tiki drinks with innovative Asian bites, including ridiculously fresh sushi. Throughout the year, the team transforms the space for holiday occasions, like their Halloween pop-up deemed “Scare Leave,” and “Sippin’ Santa” in December, plus the occasional drag show. No matter when you make it to Shore Leave, however, Lotz assures it “makes you feel like you’re on vacation.”
Address: 11 William E. Mullins Way, Boston, Mass. 02118
Best place to hang with the cool kids: Bully Boy
Credit: Bully Boy Distillers
The Willis brothers may have started their distilling journey on their family’s fourth-generation farm in Sherborn, Mass., but today their distillery, tasting room, and cocktail bar is a highlight of Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. Stop by the 26-seat bar for a taste of the whiskey, rum, gin, vodka, and amaro distilled on-site, and see how the team uses these handcrafted spirits in a variety of specialty cocktails — or try them in a flight (three pours). Signature pours include Roxbury 44, a combination of estate gin, cranberry, rosemary, and timut peppercorns as well as Line of Flight, with Boston rum, blood orange, amaro, and saffron salt. Also featured is a rotating draft cocktail, which keeps regulars on their toes. The spot allows guests to bring their own food, or they can order delivery to the bar — a unique feature for Boston’s drinking scene.
Address: 44 Cedric St., Boston, Mass. 02119
Best place for date night: OffSuit
Credit: OffSuit Boston
Whether you’re on your first date or 15th anniversary, a unique, in-the-know date spot immediately elevates the evening. This 20-seat speakeasy does exactly that — sets the mood for an intimate, candlelit evening that could feel like you’re in the comfort of your living room but with all the details taken care of for you, from charcuterie boards to sublime cocktails. The venue is private and spins albums on vinyl throughout the evening — no skipping, shuffles, or repeats here.
Address: 5 Utica St., Boston, Mass. 02111