Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Greater Boston Area >
Feb 10, 2011 05:51 PM

Craft cocktails near Symphony Hall?


I will be attending the BSO tomorrow and hoping to find a nice place for a good cocktail afterward, preferably within walking distance (we're taking public transportation). I haven't been a regular in that area for several years, so I'm hoping for recommendations. Would prefer not to fight for a cab and willing to walk within reason (say, ½ mile of so). I'm hoping for something a little more on the mellow/classy side (not completely overrun and crowded), but interested in hearing all options.


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Clio is pretty close and certainly one of the best cocktail bars in the city. If you want super close, the bar at Lucca Back Bay is surprisingly good.

    1. Within a ten-minute walk, Clio is the only true craft cocktail bar, where the full-on cocktail nerdiness is in effect. An ambitious, long cocktail menu, beautifully executed, in a generally quiet space. Pricey.

      Lucca Back Bay, Brasserie Jo, and Deuxave are restaurants with good upscale bars that aren't super crafty (though Deuxave leans a littler harder that way), but have excellent bartending. L'Espalier's small front lounge, The Salon, is a little-known alternative for a quiet, refined, high-quality, expensive drink. This place is dressier than most.

      Darryl's Corner Bar, Columbus Cafe, Petit Robert Bistro (South End) and Parish Cafe (South End) have good cocktails in more casual, neighborhood kind of settings (and Darryl's usually has live jazz).

      Newbury and Boylston Streets have some places with usually respectable if often overpriced cocktails, but the scenes can be a bit frenzied at peak times and quality can suffer. These include Sonsie, the Capital Grill, Towne (the front bar is usually crazy, the first-floor rear bar more serene), Back Bay Social Club (two bars: street level and basement), Citi Bar in the Lenox Hotel, Abe & Louie's, and Sel de la Terre (usually quieter than most) and M Bar, both in the Mandarin Oriental.

      774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

      Petit Robert Bistro
      468 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA 02215

      Abe & Louie's
      793 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02116

      Brasserie Jo
      120 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02116

      Lucca Back Bay
      116 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02116

      Back Bay Social Club
      867 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02116

      15 Replies
      1. re: MC Slim JB

        last time we went to Brasserie Jo after a concert they sent out a Manhattan that had had the crap shaken out of it - complete with ice chips and a cap of froth. Not so crafty. Specialty cocktails were similarly poor.

        Brasserie Jo
        120 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02116

        1. re: loper

          I don't think anyone has ever characterized Brasserie Jo as doing craft cocktails, and I concur that its specialty cocktail list is uninteresting: it's still mostly about that dated, overly sweet, flavored vodka thing. I imagine part of this is catering to a hotel-guest crowd.

          With the exception of the usual craft-cocktail suspects and a handful of top-end hotel bars, I'd explicitly order a cocktail stirred if that's how you like it. I tend not to fret too much about a Manhattan being shaken instead of stirred, or getting some ice chips in a strained cocktail -- in fact, I know folks who love the little bits of ice that make it through a Hawthorn strainer. I understand the preference, but I'd rather have foamy and icy than lukewarm.

          I'd guess that 90% of bars in Boston that serve a lot of shaker cocktails just shake everything. Cocktail geeks know that stirring certain drinks, like anything with bitters, is a basic of proper bartending, but bad training or expediency tends to rule. Stirring properly just takes a lot longer, 30 seconds or more vs. a typical 10 to 15 second shake, which really adds up in a busy bar -- so lots of bartenders who stir still don't do it long enough to chill the cocktail properly.

          I would be happier if Brasserie Jo abandoned its use of 14-oz cocktail glasses, as I've come to prefer smaller drinks. Over a long patronage, I've had much better luck than you with the competence of the bartending.

          Brasserie Jo
          120 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02116

          1. re: MC Slim JB

            In terms of cocktail geeks and basics, don't you mean stirring anything with just alcohol (like Manhattans, Martinis, etc.) and shaking drinks with citrus juice?

            I've never heard the stirring drinks with bitters, even if they contain citrus juice, direction before...

            1. re: Canadian Tuxedo

              I imagine there are exceptions, but the general rule of thumb is shake anything with fruit juice, cream liqueurs, simple syrup, eggs and/or dairy. There are times when an initial dry shake (sans ice) should be done before adding ice to the shaker, e.g., when whole eggs are involved.

              I tend to stir cocktails that are spirits plus aromatized wines only, and/or where less dilution is desired, and/or when carbonated mixers (including beer, cider, and sparkling wines) are involved. (Some drinks, like a French 75, can be shaken, strained, and have the Champagne topper added last.) It's rarely a good idea to shake long drinks, like a G&T.

              What I was taught about bitters (and here I mean the aromatic ones like Peychaud's, not potables like Cynar and other amari) is that some can add a lasting cloudiness (unlike the cloud of tiny air bubbles introduced by shaking, which tends to evanesce a few seconds after straining), and a few (notably Angostura) can leave a slick of foam on top, especially when you use a high dose of bitters, like in the Trinidad Sour. It's not the most attractive thing, kind of weirdly coarse and bubbly, unlike the nice tight foam you get from egg white.

              Some drinks absolutely demand stirring, like Swizzles, where the stirring is an essential part of the theater of the drink.

              The ice-chip issue is obviated by meticulous bartenders via double straining, decanting through a Hawthorn strainer and then through a mesh strainer. I don't see that done very often.


        2. re: MC Slim JB

          Thank you, both, for the great ideas. One follow up: I've never been to Clio, so I'm not familiar with their set-up. Is the bar area large enough that if we couldn't get seats, we'd still be comfortable (not in the way of the wait staff, or hovering over seated diners)? Are they generally welcoming to people coming by just for drinks?

          Thanks again.

          1. re: tomjb27

            I routinely go in just for drinks at the bar. You might not get seated in Clio's dining room or at Uni just for drinks, unless perhaps it were slow near the end of service.

            I think there are about 7-8 bar seats, a couple of bar stools at a window-front counter, and a few low bar tables, seating maybe another 8 people. It's pretty spacious, so if you couldn't get seated, standing around would not be terrible. I wouldn't take a big group in there.


            1. re: MC Slim JB

              Thanks again for the input.. I will make it a point to get to Clio, believe me. For various reasons we ended up at Towne and not Clio. I had a not very good (okay, pretty bad) Manhattan (no measuring, a splash of vermouth like it was a "dry" martini. you know the drill). I switched to a margarita and it was overly sweet, which belied the printed ingredients, until the bartender admitted the "fresh lime" was actually some sort of sour mix that included a sweetner. Not a bad drink, actually, if you find yourself stuck there, but not passing my (admittedly) draconian interpretation.
              Our bartender was wonderful otherwise, an absolute peach (the staff was uniformly awesome), and the prices were reasonable considering the obvious appeal of the space for people attempting to get laid, but I can't recommend it for cocktails.

              1. re: tomjb27

                Try the cinnamon-smoked-glass drink at clio next time, or the house swedish punsch...

                1. re: tomjb27

                  Bummer. I haven't been to Towne yet, but every new report I hear makes me want to run screaming in the other direction.

                  1. re: tomjb27

                    I got a cocktail there a few weeks after it opened that was a combination of vodka, orange blossom water and a splash of prosecco. The drink was so weak that I seriously doubted that the bartender had added any alcohol in, which is a disappointing feeling when it costs $14. We also had the bartending staff look pretty much through us while sitting at the bar, so we haven't been back.

                    1. re: BlueTrain84

                      I am not sorry I haven't tried Towne yet though I had high hopes for it given the hype.

                      1. re: rlh

                        Hadn't heard any hype about it. We tried it out since my wife knows the bar manager. Pleasant staff, but after watching them make drinks, I ordered a beer.

                2. re: tomjb27

                  by the way, the food is good at clio's and uni though expensive. The chef-owner used to be the sous chef of J-G Von Gerichten in New York City, a famous 3 star french chef.

                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                      i eat at JG in nyc about 12 times per year. Still, i guess with Coppa, Toro, Clio and Uni, he has accomplished a lot of the Boston food scene.

                      1704 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118

                      253 Shawmut Ave, Boston, MA 02118