Boston's Best Nightclubs & Bars!
The Ultimate Guide To Going Out in Beantown
Boston's clubs pack in the crowds to dance, mingle and party.
This may be more of a tavern town than a true nightclubbing city, but Boston does have dance clubs that crank as much as the music.
Attribute it to the fact that this is a young city – nearly one-third of Boston's population is college age or just out of school.That's BC or BU for those of you not in the know.
Before we belly up to the bars, though, note that Boston is an early party city. Most places close shortly after 1; only a few stay open until 2. By 1:15, people line up at those spots to get that last couple of calls from the bartender or make that last move on the cute number in the black shirt.
There are three main areas of Boston's nightclubbing: Lansdowne Street, at the Boylston/Charles Street downtown on the edge of Boston Common and the Faneuil Hall area.
Keep walking up the stairs at Jillian's to the third-floor bowling alley.
In the shadows of famous Fenway Park, where the Red Sox play with with passion of their fans each spring, summer and fall, sit some of Boston's best nightspots. All the Lansdowne clubs are within a couple of blocks; it's easy walking, even during winter. Sandwiched between the clubs are taverns, most notably the Clask 'N Flagon (best experienced before and after Red Sox games); the Tiki Room with its pupu platters and 64-ounce glasses of margaritas and rum drinks that gets casual clubby after 11, and Jake Ivory's, a lively sing-along piano bar.
Jillian's is one of the most amazing places in all of Boston. It is so big they should offer taxi service from one end to the other. There is a memorizing maze of entertainment under one huge roof. Or, if one chooses, no roof at all – a patios awaits those willing to climb four floors of stairs. The first level (up one set of stairs from the Ipswitch entrance) is a sleek Vegas-style lounge with big-screen TVs in the front and more than a dozen stylish pool tables in the rear. There's even two ping pong tables Finally, a bar with ping pong! Keep going up the ramp and there's a full-on modern arcade with a quiet lounge up another level. Some people prefer to really strike out at the 10-lane bowling alley on the third level, accessible from the Ipswitch entrance. This place also has the hottest waitresses in the city.
Jillian's is connected to its sister club, Tequila Rain. A restaurant/bar on the street level with big plasma TVs, the downstairs dance floor get the let's-get-drunk college crowd. Avoid the slushy drinks. There's a $5 cover Fridays and Saturdays but arrive before 10 and have a run of both Jillian's and Tequila Rain.
Avalon is the biggest and flashiest of the Lansdowne clubs; in fact in all of Boston. This 2,000-capacity club has a big dance floor surrounded by bars, hip lighting, a state-of-the-art sound system, house/hip music from top DJs, and concerts with touring rock acts. There's even an oxygen bar. Most important, however, is the cool crowd. Sunday is "alternative" night, complete with a floor show.
The $12 cover charge also includes access to Axis next door. Fridays has techno downstairs and 80s upstairs. A super-soft lounge with a bar is inviting for those on dance breaks.
On the down-and-dirty side, Who's On First (one block over on Yawkey Way) is perfect for BU and BC students, especially on Saturdays when its 18-and-over. So, too, are the prices: $2 drafts, $7 pitchers and $1 tube shots. It's a large open space with a bar and dance floor.
A little further away is Boston Billiard Club, an classy pool room. It's known for having serious pool players while others hang watching sports or mingling in the bar and lounge areas. Thursday is Ladies Night (25% off pool).
Downtown – Boylston/Charles Streets
A trio of clubs meet at the intersection of Boylston and Charles streets, just up Boylston opposite the Boston Common. The Theater District offers a couple more hip clubs.
The club-dress 20s clubbers have a new place to go. Or they will, once Gypsy Bar finishes its transition from the wildly popular and young-upscale Pravda 116.
Around the corner down an alley is the Big Easy and Sugar Shack. The latter is a New Orleans-style party palace where they give patrons Mardi Gras beads. Like New Orleans, a balcony overlooks the scene below (it's to the dance floor as opposed to Bourbon Street). Sugar Shack is on the lower level. It's a dance/hangout for college students and recent grads; the music is hip/hop and rap. Open weekends only; no tennis shoes. Cover $10 for both bars but you can't take drinks from one to the other. Open until 2. For the older crowd, the more mellow Sweetwater Cafe is also part of this three-bar area down "The Alley."
It seems as every town has a club called The Roxy – the one in Vancouver is one of PubClub's World's Best Bars, in fact – and in Boston this is a massive club with Boston's biggest dance floor and a balcony to see it all. It has theme nights – Salsa on Thursdays, and "Cat Club" on Fridays – but the night to go is Saturday. The crowd is better, the music is best. Cover charge: $15-20 (students with i.d., get in for $5 on Thursdays). Check first to be sure the Roxy has not booked a concert or other event.
Fashionably chic, Aria is a runway fashion show brought to (night)life. Located in the basement of the Wilbur Theater, the entrance is down red-carpeted stairs, the music is international music from Latin to Arabic, there are fashion shows and the "Aria Angels" provide dancing entertainment. The crowd is upscale and 30s+. Expect high drink prices and long lines; Thursdays and Sundays are its best nights (cover $10-15).
Fun at the Faneuil: Dancing to the 80s R 'n R at the Shamrock.
Some locals scoff at the idea of spending a night in the oldest part of Boston, fearing it is overrun with tourists. By day, this is definitely the case. By night, however, after the diners have departed places like the Union Oyster House and the replica Cheers bar, the dance-happy locals start filling up the taverns.
It is also by night that those innocent-looking and historic taverns – one has been around since 1795 – become festive bars and clubs. It starts on Thursday night when the oddly-named Purple Shamrock makes the biggest transformation. At about 10, it begins to fill up with a carefree nice-looking crowd, all casually dressed (jeans are widely acceptable in this area). The music is upbeat party: Guns 'n Roses, AC/DC, Duran Duran, Madonna, even the occasional Jimmy Buffett. This is our favorite spot in the Faneuil Hall area.
Most other places are pretty quiet on Thursday but this is hardly the case on Friday and Saturday. There are lines everywhere and people start to arrive at 10 p.m. There are more bars here than we review; these are our choices for the the ones we like best for the crowd, atmosphere, attitude and tunes.
Tucked away on a side street is Hong Kong, known locally for it's potent Scorpion bowls and chicken fingers. It's better early before the hip-hoppers crowd the upstairs dance floor. Plus, the cover charge that's been known to reach $15 can be quite a buzzkill – before one even gets a buzz.
Parris is a rock 'n roll martini bar. Located above Ned Divine Irish bar in Quincy Market, cover bands or a Top 40 DJ inspires the crowd into a dancing frenzy. The signature drink is "Kiss Me Kate" made with orange vodka. The weekend cover charge varies. No tennis shoes.
The oldest bar in the US has live music nightly, and weekend crowds.
The Bell In Hand is the oldest continuous tavern in the US, and on weekends it's one of the most popular in this area. There's a live band in the front of the bar and the back is packed, hot and sweaty. The Bell In Hand has a band every night of the week but it's usually pretty slow during the week, although it picks up between 5-7.
One of the classic Irish pub-to-club transformations transpires at Clarke's Turn of the Century Saloon. Besides the gotta-love-it name, Clarke's goes from sedate to great starting at about 9:30. The crowd is tavern casual but ready to dance, a bit older than the other clubs in the area, late 20s to mid-30s. The only drawback is the modern music is loud, loud, loud. A bit off the beaten path, south of Faneuil Hall on Merchant Row, Clarke's also grills Boston's Best Burger.
Just about any other tavern is rocking on weekends. Hennessey's is a rather small single-level bar with windows open to Union Street blasting hip-hop. Above it is Club Q, which has a que to get inside; once there plasma TVs, a dance floor and pool tables await. This bar and crowd is more "clubby" than the pubs-turned-clubs in the area. It also has a $10 cover.
On the upscale side, The Rack is a Vegas-style lounge pool club. A bit too cool and "poser" for some locals, it is where some of Boston's star athletes hang. Open all seven nights it has live bands or a DJ, plenty of TVs and quite a few pool tables (naturally). Collared shirts required for men after 10.
Also worth a peek is Houston's. Yes, this is a chain restaurant but it's sunken below the plaza level, has cool low lighting and thusly can attract the attractive patron at the bar.