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Looking for Good Cocktail Bars in Boston

  • m

I live in NYC, and when my brother-in-law and his wife visited us a few months ago, we took them to a bar here called Raines Law Room and they loved it. It's one of the "speakeasy" type bars, with a strict door policy that often leads to a long wait but also a lack of crowds once one does get inside. Raines has a sophisticated, even lavish decor, with large comfortable couches. And of course the drinks are great, though expensive.

When we left, they said that they wished there was a place like this in Boston. I'm hoping my fellow Hounds here can help me out. Where are the best places to get a good cocktail? Thanks in advance.

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  1. This is not my arena, and others will prob jump in, but there have been a number of recent threads on this topic. Just do a CH Boston board search.

    under 'craft cocktails':
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/809803

    1. The Hawthorne in Kenmore Square is just beautiful. Great Cocktails, Little snacks and fantastic space. Island Creek also Makes delicious cocktails as well as Craige on Main.

      1. BackBar in Somerville is probably the most "speakeasy" type and does practice crowd control (you can and should call ahead). Excellent cocktails.

        Did they like the atmosphere more or is their focus more on the drinks?

        1. Another recommendation for The Hawthorne. You described it wonderfully in your query. It is in a lower level at the Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square and you feel you've been allowed to enter a private home or club. Service is outstanding. And, if you do have to wait, there are two restaurants with big bars from the same group of owners in the building.

          It is also right at the Kenmore Subway and bus station so you can get there easily without driving.

          Penny
          http://www.bostonzest.com/

          -----
          The Hawthorne
          500 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215

          1. We do most of our cocktail drinking at either Brick & Mortar in Central Square or Drink in Fort Point. Drink does limit the crowds to a degree. Brick & Mortar, sadly does not. Neither spot is particularly comfortable, as the only seating in both is bar stools.

            3 Replies
            1. re: mkfisher

              I've seen a line out the door at B&M. I haven't figured out if that's a trend or a one-off, but that night was much better in terms of crowding.

              1. re: jgg13

                To be honest I haven't been back since the Bustonian debacle. They may have changed their policy after that happened.

                1. re: mkfisher

                  Haha I forgot that we discussed said debacle already :)

                  I've gone a few more times since then. The most recent time I noticed that it hit a certain level of crowding (more than I'd prefer, but I'm crotchety) and stayed there long after I thought there'd be a slew of people showing up. When we left there was a line being maintained out the door. Like I said - not sure if that's a regular thing or not.

                  Speaking of, based on my very small sample size - it seems like 7:45 is the sweet spot, as a lot of the post-work people are leaving then but the night crowd hasn't shown up yet. Every time I've been there it seems to empty out briefly around then.

            2. Besides Backbar and Hawthorne, two restaurant bars, No. 9 Park and Clio (especially when the diners have left) have that feel. No. 9 does have a couched area in the lounge that you can drink in. Clio has some tables. Drinks are top notch. Also for good drinks but with a different atmosphere is Craigie on Main.

              Of all the places mentioned, Brick & Mortar is the most speakeasy like. No sign of any sort on or near the door. No phone. However, it is not a cushy-seat bar. It has a bit more of a dive bar feel; the drinks are excellent and the staff has a good pedigree here in Boston.

              http://cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com/

              1. Eastern Standard
                Stoddard's
                DRINK
                28 Degrees

                7 Replies
                1. re: meeps2002

                  Anything you can share about the 28 Degrees bar program? I am familiar with the other three.

                  1. re: yarm

                    28 Degrees is a little different from the others I listed. It's a unique atmosphere, can be very dressy one night, hosting a drag party the next, or quiet and casual. Ideally, you would have first experience over the summer with their awesome outdoor patio, but nonetheless try it out. They have great fries as well.

                    Cocktails range from normal martinis to these nice beverages:

                    Lemon Grass Drop:
                    Hangar One Buddah’s Hand Lemon Vodka, Fresh Lemon, Lemon Grass Infused Simple Syrup

                    Blueberry Basil Martini: Pearl Blueberry Vodka, Blueberry Puree, Fresh Lemon, Fresh Basil, Anti-Oxidants, Vitamin C, E, & Traces of Vitamin A

                    (the description off their site)

                    If unsure on trying it out...start here for a cocktail on a night that you're dining out in the SE

                    1. re: meeps2002

                      The blueberry basil "martini" description just made me snicker out loud. Anti-oxidants? Traces of Vitamin A? Oh my. What, it's not low-carb, too?

                      1. re: LeoLioness

                        oh i know...but whatever it reads...tasty

                        1. re: meeps2002

                          and starting with flavored vodkas doesn't speak of serious cocktail program at all. 28 degrees will also be closing shortly.

                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            The one time I was there years ago, I do remember the vodka-laden menu and their frozen drink machines. I was just wondering if they changed any in the last 4 or 5 years.

                            http://cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com/

                        2. re: LeoLioness

                          I've had a few enjoyable nights at 28 Degrees, but get bored with their inventive, but vodka heavy cocktail list. I'm not a fan of vodka drinks at all.

                  2. Haven't been to BackBar or Brick and Mortar yet, but my favorites are:
                    The Hawthorne
                    Drink
                    Clio
                    Eastern Standard
                    Island CReek Oyster Bar
                    Craigie on Main
                    Stoddard's (may depend on which bartender you have - bar manager is great)

                    1. There are no shortages of bars in Boston. The places mentioned are all nice but different. The Tamo Bar at The Seaport Hotel is one place to consider. Some nights it has jazz.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: libertywharf

                        second for Clio in the Hotel Elliot which has just rebuilt its bar; it looks great. can't wait to visit the city, hotel and bar in the near future. recent article in the Globe had a picture of the new bar. (sashimi bar in lobby is quit good also)

                        1. re: libertywharf

                          the drinks and the service are mostly awful at tamo.

                          1. re: libertywharf

                            Tamo Bar has a nice space, but I wouldn't recommend it for a cocktail enthusiast. Pretty much any other place mentioned, except for 28 Degrees, would be better.

                          2. Of all those mentioned so far, I think The Hawthorne is the only one that fits your description. Sophisticated, maybe not lavish, but comfortably elegant with couches and chairs in various seating areas, wonderful service and excellent cocktails. There is a small cocktail menu if you need a jumping off point, but they prefer to make you something designed around your mood and tastes.

                            1. Maybe not exactly what you want - but another fun night out is the Reggata Bar in Harvard Sq. It's within the Charles Hotel (Henrietta's Table). Buy a ticket to some live music and you can just hang out at a little table and have a great evening.

                              1. I would concur that the only place like Raines, in terms of pure atmosphere, here in Boston is probably Hawthorne. Backbar has a bit more of a casual feel, although still loungey.

                                If drinks are the focus, then B&M, Clio, Craigie, ICOB, etc. are all great, but are stools at a bar or standing room for the most part. No. 9 does have couches, but it feels more like a waiting area than a lounge space, similar to the couch in the corner of ES. B&M, Drink and ES can all have lines at the door, but there are crowds inside too.

                                1. I cannot speak to good cocktailry as an expert, but I did notice that the downstairs bar at the new tapas place in Union Square - Casa B - had a wide and varied assortment of bottles and liquors that seemed tilted toward the uncommon - all of which struck me as if they had been assembled with care and taste. My pisco sour was also excellent.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                    Casa B does have a bar that is stocked with an assortment of spirits and such that is worthy of a craft cocktail bar; it's a beautiful space, too. I have not sampled the cocktails yet, only had time for a quick glass of wine on my last stop, but I will note that the bartender-staffed bar (as opposed to the bar seating in front of the open kitchen) is tiny: maybe 4 or 5 seats, with a few lounge seats nearby, enough for another 5 or 6 people. I imagine this getting crowded fast on weekend nights. They do take reservations.

                                    Echoing many previous recs here, my craft cocktail short list: No. 9, Drink, Green Street, Rendezvous, Craigie on Main, Brick & Mortar, Backbar, Clio, Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar, The Hawthorne.

                                    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                    1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                      Last night, Casa B had a cocktail special - a Blood and Sand. Very nicely done. Also, I noticed a bottle of Batavia Arrack on the bar. The bartender admitted that it doesn't go with the Latin theme, but that he likes to use it to make a sour, and to wash the glass with scotch first. Didn't try it, but might next time.

                                      1. re: Bluebell

                                        Brick & Mortar also had a blood & sand on Saturday

                                        1. re: Bluebell

                                          The Arrack Sour with a Scotch rinse sounds a lot like Avery's Arrack-ari that Avery Glasser of the Bittermens Bitters created for the menu at Green Street a few years ago. It resides on their 6 page A-to-Z menu (for a while it was on their short menu) and I still order it every once in a while.

                                          http://cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com/20...

                                          1. re: yarm

                                            Yes, I've had the Avery's, but the bartender at Casa B hadn't heard of it,

                                      2. Thanks, everyone! I think I'll start them out at the Hawthorne and go from there.

                                        1. I don't know about speakeasy-type places but Drink in South Boston is pretty fantastic. It's in a subterranean space and feels sort of like a speakeasy even if it isn't. The place gets PACKED so be warned, but the bartenders there are outstanding and can make anything you desire. I also highly recommend the crispy fried pig's tail appetizer. Seriously, it's delicious. Tastes like ribs but more like eating chicken wings!

                                          -----
                                          Drink
                                          348 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210

                                          1. I'd add the Adults Only area at JM Curley

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: Beachowolfe

                                              I was at JM Curley on Friday and saw the sign for adult only but didn't check it out. Does it have another bar area?

                                              1. re: drewames03

                                                It's basically a second room with an entrance just past the far end of the bar on the left. Cool little space. And it has its own bar, but I'm guessing that it's only staffed for private events.

                                                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                  Been open when I've been at night. Actually crowded.

                                                  Place is actually pretty cool except for the cafeteria style lunch service.

                                                  1. re: Beachowolfe

                                                    I had lunch there recently and it was ordinary table service, not cafeteria style. Is this something new?

                                                    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                      I was made to order and pay at the bar, each patron separately, in a large group.

                                            2. Descent in the basement of the W actually has some real bartending talent on hand. Probably a good idea to get there before the vodka/soda club crowd show up around midnight.

                                              http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                A pity they don't open until after 8pm...not sure I follow the business reasoning behind that

                                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                    they're missing out on the after-work crowd (old and young)

                                                  2. re: barleywino

                                                    When I was first trying to learn about them last fall after I heard they had opened, their webpage had more information about the DJs who would be spinning there than the bar program. I instead put it on hold until I heard anything positive from people about their cocktail program. To date, I have heard nothing other than Charlotte Voisey designed the menu (and departed with her paycheck) in regards to drink quality and craftsmanship. Considering that it is at the Woodward, from past experience I expect no strict bartender training structure.

                                                    1. re: yarm

                                                      Actually the W, not the Woodward. And I think that's a reasonable expectation. It will be another place where you need to spot the known good bartenders and sit in their section, otherwise you are likely to roll snake eyes.

                                                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                1. Todd Maul (Clio) will be on Chronicle this Thurs 7:30pm (ABC TV)

                                                  8 Replies
                                                  1. re: barleywino

                                                    In related news, it seems like Todd could be leaving Clio in the near future according to his Twitter feed

                                                    1. re: rlee21

                                                      Wow, big news! And right after they finished fixing up the Clio bar for him. Hope he stays local.

                                                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                      1. re: rlee21

                                                        Really now, say it ain't so! I would be very sorry to see Todd leave Clio. I too wish that he stay local and continue being the bar genius he is.

                                                        1. re: marais

                                                          He hasn't declared that he is leaving, just some ominous Twitters. Even if he leaves, I am guessing that he will stay local. We followed him from the Rialto to Clio, and we'll follow him from Clio to where ever he goes next. Doubtful that he'll get to take his toys (centrifuge, rotovap, cane juicer) with him, but the off the shelf ingredient recipes he makes are superb on their own.

                                                          1. re: yarm

                                                            Confirmation from Todd. He'll be leaving Clio in May and is looking to open up his own place. Not sure where exactly, but he is staying local. Apparently, the centrifuge, rotovap, and sugar cane extractor are all his, so his toys will travel with him.

                                                            1. re: rlee21

                                                              The two outcomes I hope from this are: a) Maul gets the venue of his dreams (I'm guessing somewhere on the other side of the Charles); and b) Clio is able to backfill him with someone with at least a quarter of his talent and hospitality chops. Big shoes.

                                                              http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                Maybe he can take over the bar at Troquet-- great little space, good location, and they could use somebody who knows what they're doing, cocktail-wise

                                                                1. re: barleywino

                                                                  This news comes as a complete surprise, but I can imagine Maul opening up something tiny and personal somewhere on Spring Hill, something to complement Highland Kitchen. Would be of a piece with the next-gen craft cocktail places in Cambridge and Somerville like Brick & Mortar and Backbar.

                                                                  http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                    2. I've been to Drink and Backbar. Both are speakeasy style (unmarked door, basement decor). Drink is larger and has more of a decor. Backbar is Somerville-basic. Drink was incredibly crowded (Friday night) and Backbar was not (Wednesday night). When Drink is crowded the bartenders make mistakes - one had to dump out my first drink, having forgotten the main ingredient. And our other drinks at Drink varied from pretty good to pretty mediocre. Having said that, we'll try it again, maybe not on a Friday. Backbar's main mixologist is very knowledgeable, spent a lot of time designing drinks for each of the 4 of us, and all our drinks were terrific. The best was the Last Word. They don't have fresh basil which is a shame since I love it in cocktails (neither does Drink), but he suggested Last Word because of the herbaceous nature of green chartreuse, and it was excellent. The model-t is also a good one at Backbar, as is the Suffering Barkeep.

                                                      1. Unrelated to speakeasies, but has anyone been to Art Bar? They've been getting press for their cocktail classes, but I have never heard of anyone sitting at their bar nor have I heard of the bartender. Not cheap, but not out of the range (whether or not they deserve Hawthorne/Clio/No.9 prices though...).

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: yarm

                                                          Troy Clarke manages their program; he's a good wine guy and has a B.A.R. Ready credential. The classes look pretty serious and crafty for something aimed at non-professionals. Sorry to say I have yet to have a cocktail at his bar.

                                                          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/