Beer Drinking In Beantown’s Cool & Traditional Haunts
Boston has a long tradition with is bars and beer and, even though it has a strong dance club scene, this is truly a tavern town.
Witness the sheer number of them in the Fanuiel Hall area alone; things have hardly changed since the 1700s. In fact, one of the bars still stands and and another – which brewed the emotions that led to the Boston Tea Party – has its original name, though it has moved across the street from its original location.
Yet there is more to Boston that the brick-building bars of the Fanuiel Hall Marketplace.
There are drinking bars which the 20s and 30s professionals fill up on weekends, sports bars, beer dives and great spots for bloody marys & margaritas.
For many, it starts at the after-work establishements that bring in Boston’s busy business people looking to enjoy martinis and mingling.
Most of Boston’s bars close by 1 a.m. A few places stay open until 2, and by 1:15 there are lines of people waiting to get inside. The two most popular late-night bars are Daisy Buchanan’s (Back Bay) and the Beacon Hill Pub. See below for more on each.
Boston’s Best Bar: The Beacon Hill Pub
Before we go bar-hopping off to the different areas, we begin with our Favorite Boston bar: The Beacon Hill Pub.
For many of this area’s 20s-30s residents, the Beacon Hill Pub is more of a local landmark than Boston Common or the gold-domed State House. It’s the prime late-night gathering place, a dive with a Beacon Hill flair on the corner of Charles and Cambridge.
The beer is cheap – one local 16-ounce offering is $2 but watch the morning headkick – patrons have scribbled their name or phrases in chalk on the brick walls, rock ‘n roll is playing on the jukebox, it has fooseball and pop-a-shot and conversation is friendly and casual.
Plus, there’s just enough good-looking people around to get one in some trouble. Especially after midnight. The place is good anytime, any night of the week, but it’s best from midnight-2.
The places loses a bit of its local charm on the crowded weekends but it’s still as strong as a stiff mixed drink. After the other bars close, there’s a line to get inside.
While in the neighborhood, it’s worth a peek into Seven’s Ale House Pub. Halfway down Charles Street toward Beacon., it’s a long, dark bar with darts in the back and the coldest beer we had in Boston.
Boyleston Area/Back Bay Bars
Boston’s locals bar scene is bustling in a small corridor of the Boylston/Back Bay area. Those people you see walking around, shopping and sitting at the cafes on Newberry Street by day are, by night, sipping or slugging ’em down at any of these places.
The are all within a few blocks so it’s easy to move from one to another, but between 10-midnight you’ll probably get caught in a line. These are “comfort bars,” places where people go to hang out and have drinks with friends but also possess the potential for meeting newcomers.
The people who go here are out of college and getting firmly established professionally. They still enjoy going out but prefer to put the fraternity keg parties in the rear view mirror.
The places are casual – jeans, t-shirts and Red Sox ballcaps mix with Newberry Street fashion, and there are no covers.
The place to start is Cactus Club. The margaritas so good it’s hard to depart. This is not a statement that comes lightly; we are very picky about our margaritas. It’s all in the mix, not the tequila, and the mix is made fresh. Like most cantinas, it gets a lively crowd and the margaritas provide the perfect liquid encouragement.
Or, check out Sonsie on Newberry St. It’s a nice restaurant with a friendly atmosphere, especially good after work.
The locals’ routine is to go from there to either one or all of the following: Whiskey’s Smokehouse, The Pour House and Lic. When those places close at 1, it’s onto Daisy Buchannan’s.
Whiskey’s is the biggest of the bunch. It has TVs but most of they eyes are focused lower, to say into the crowd, making it conversationally loud and busy. Whiskey’s is where a lot of Bostonians who live in this area love to spend their weekends.
It’s cool, casual, friendly and plays good music. In short, it has all the characteristics for a fun night out. The line usually cools down around midnight.
The Pour House is well named. They pour ’em and you drink ’em. It’s super-casual and quite popular for drinkers and talkers; there’s usually a small lineup after midnight.
Lir is a nice Irish bar that gets the spillover from the Pour House. It’s quieter than the other places so its actually possible to sit down and have a conversation with a friend or stranger. There’s enough social activity to keep it from being boring and if you’re in well before 1, they let you stay a while.
Another dive beer joint to consider is Bukowski’s Tavern. It’s a long bar with dark wood, too-loud rock music, wall-to-wall people of diverse backgrounds, 15 beers on draft and 99 bottles of beer on the wall.
A few years ago, before PubClub.com was even a twinkle in the owner’s eye, a friend took the owner to Daisy Buchanan’s. The friend was married and lived in Wellesley. “I only know of one bar in town,” he said, and it turned out to be Daisy’s. For knowing only one bar, he sure knew the right one. It was incredible.
Today, Daisy’s is still going strong, at least after the other bars close. Located on Newberry Street, (below the Ciao Bella restaurant), it has thick wood decor and a conversationally-friendly crowd.
While it may be hard to pull away early from Whiskey’s before closing, it is our recommendation to arrive just before 1 to: a.) Avoid the line, which often doesn’t move because friends of the owner, doorman or others are cutting through, and b.)
To get a couple of drinks (each) at the bar because by 1:15 it’s a tight squeeze. The front bar has most of the action but while the back offers some breathing space, it’s also a sweatbox. Still, it’s a good place.
That friend, by the way, also took the soon-to-be PubClub founder to Pizzzeria Regina in the North End, a real treasure.
One more place to mention: Charlie’s Eat and Drink Saloon (Newberry and Gloucester). Besides the name, the thing to really like here are the bloody marys. Made with fresh ingredients (not a mix), they are excellent, strong but not overwhelming. With breakfast, it’s easy to want yet another.
We went there for breakfast (okay, lunch by some people’s watch) and had them on the patio, along with an omelet the size of David Ortiz’s waistline. We did not go there at night, but did note it’s open until 2.
Faneuil Hall Bars
The oldest continuous bar in the U.S. continues into the night.
One can only imagine the scene at the busy seaport in Colonial Days. Renegades, pirates, sailors and townsfolk crowded into the dozens of waterfront taverns, mixing and mingling, some even gathering at a watering how plotting how to rebel against the taxes and establish independence.
That latter part acutally did occur at the Green Dragon, which while it exists today is across the street from its original location. Today, the ol’ bar features live music and a sing-along crowd.
Still in its original spot is the Bell in Hand Tavern, directly across the cobblestone street from the Dragon. The old brick building has history and live music each night. The crowd is thin except for weekends after 10, when the 20s jeans jetters jam tthe joint. After work, the front bar somewhat comes to life with a dozen or so local revelers.
Our favorite spot, which we cover more in our Clubs section, is the Purple Shamrock. Huge windows open to cobblestone Union Street, the drinks are cheap enough ($3-4 for beer, even the one imported from Canada), plasma TVs are great for watching sports (but keep reading for our Sports Bars) and the music is high-energy fun, like Guns ‘n Roses and Bon Jovi. It’s THE place to be Thursday nights in the Fanueil Hall area.
Hong Kong is famous among locals for its scorpion bowl and chicken fingers. This is a fun place to get hammered. After 11, the baseball-caps-on-backwards people cram the upstairs dance floor and there’s a $15 cover charge. We advise going early; after being stung by a scorpion, all will be fine.
The truest Irish bar around Fanueil Hall is Dooley’s. It has the old wooden decor, the plants hanging outside of the large windows open to the street and the white-haired bartender with the long white cape. The Black Rose features Irish music each night. Both are pretty quiet, though, for crazy partying. Unless it’s St. Patrick’s Day!
We almost hate to say it for the “egad TOURIST!” aspect, but a fact is a fact. The replica Cheers bar at Quincy Market has the best layout of them all. It has twin patios on either side of the building, open-air doors that go out to the patio, sports on the TVs and that inviting bar. Of course it’s overrun with tourists and we called it a replica because the original bar is elsewhere.
Finally, for novelty’s sake, The Littlest Bar on Province St. (behind the Omni Parker House) always gets in the curious. It’s really a heads-on-the-bar type of place but it’s cool to walk down the stairs and have a round. Capacity is 38 and let this also be be said: It opens at 8:30 in the morning. The steps next door, by the way, are the original steps that once took the ruling English leader to his house. History and Boston, you gotta love it!
After Work And Happy Hour Bars
When it’s time to grab a drink after a hard day at the office and put the boss and clients on the backburner, those in Boston’s financial district wander up to the rooftop patio of the Black Rhino. Martinis and suits are the decor at this upscale restaurant/bar.
By the Fleet Center, the sleek Ruby Room in the sleek Onyx hotel is an inviting option. Arrive between 5-6 and mingle with a hotel guest enjoying the complimentary wine tasting.
On the opposite spectrum, the Barking Crab is a Florida-style raw bar with great chowder (some of the best in town, in fact), draft beer, seafood consumed with plastic utensils and a view overlooking the water toward the financial district. On nice days, the patio is open with live music, and at Happy Hour a lively crowd.
Tia’s is also on the waterfront. There’s only about 20 tables, but they face the harbor.
Boston’s Best Sports Bars
This is a sports town, as witnessed by the fact that seemingly one out of every five Bostonians is sporting some type of Red Sox merchandise (hat, t-shirt, jersey, earrings, etc.). So it would figure the place is huge on sports bars, right?
Well, just hold off on the kickoff for a moment. Most of those bars and taverns sporting all those TVs are able to get only two events. And if a local team is playing, then guess what gets priority.
PubClub searched far and wide to see our beloved Alabama Crimson Tide play a game on ESPN2 on a fall Saturday night, only to be squeezed out by simultaneous TV coverage of Boston College and the Red Sox.
After much searching, asking around, taxi rides and sprinting, we wound up at, of all places, a Marriott. Champions in Copley Square to be specific. Hardly the kind of Beantown flavor we wanted but it did have on the Bama game, as well as several others spread out over a couple of dozen TVs.
With a pint of beer and multiple college football games to watch we could finally relax (especially after seeing the score in the Tide’s favor). And, as good fate would have it, we were only steps from some really good bars – Whiskey, Pour House and Daisy’s – with enough time remaining in the night to enjoy them.
Still, the experience resulted in us going on somewhat of a mission to locate actual sports bars so others could avoid the same pre-kickoff panic. We found a few by the Fleet Center, particularly on Canal Street.
The Sports Grille is the most basic of them all, but it boasts 152 TVs. Surely one of them had on the Bama game the night of our near-Midnight Ride. Hurricane O’Reily’s is classy with a sleek lounge area in the front.
This is where to bring the ladies when it’s essential to watch The Big Game and keep your date satisfied at the same time. The Fours is an Irish pub with sports, more for the executive types before Bruins games (for those who forgive and forget the strike season).
We also kept hearing about a place called The Harp on the corner of Portland and Causeway, but it never had anybody inside. Then again, we didn’t go during a game. It’s a nice place with couches looking directly at a big-screen. We’re not sure if it can get more than two games at once, though.
We hear an ESPN Zone is scheduled to open soon. These chains definitely get all the games and with an expansive arcade even have games to play. But they lack character and the overpriced bar food is not very good.
Our local source loves to watch all games at the Sports Depot in Brighton. It’s outside the city, however.