boston skyline

With its very specific liquor laws and train lines that stop running around 1 a.m., Boston isn’t known as a going-out city in the same way New York or LA is. That doesn’t mean that Boston is without its fair share of top-notch bars serving up creative cocktails, cool natural wines, and long lists of craft beers. And it doesn’t just come down to the drinks, either — many of these spots boast impressive dishes that leave you craving more after every bite. But if you don’t know the city well, you may be at a loss for where to go when you’re in town.

Fear not. We’ve compiled a list of some of the coolest spots around Boston to grab a drink. Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, and if you’re visiting the city, you shouldn’t be afraid to branch out and try something completely different. Still, we’re pretty sure that if you visit any of the spots on our list you’re not going to be disappointed.

Without further ado, here are our 20 favorite bars in Boston.

1. haley.henry

bread with tinned fish

They say that hot girls eat tinned fish, and it’s totally true. But there’s no place a hot girl would rather eat tinned fish than at her local bar with an eclectic wine list, and that’s just what you’ll find when you make your way to haley.henry. This spot was a 2020 James Beard Semi-Finalist for Outstanding Wine Program for good reason — you can choose from a long list of reds, whites, and oranges that rotate on a regular basis. The staff is super knowledgeable, so even if you don’t know anything about wine, they’ll be able to find something you’re sure to enjoy.

The best part? You only have to commit to half a bottle, so it’s easy to taste-test a bunch of different options on the menu. You can’t forget about the food, either. Executive chef Alex Bhojwani blows it away with pretty much every dish on the menu, which is heavy on the tinned fish and other seafood dishes. Add to that a fantastic playlist that every millennial can groove to, along with a small, intimate atmosphere tucked away in Downtown Boston, and it’s clear why this place is one of a few absolute faves in the city.

2. Back Bar

bar full of people

When you’re looking for a fun first-date spot, you can’t go wrong with Back Bar in Somerville’s Union Square. If there’s one thing this place is known for, it’s a rotating, themed menu that features hilariously creative concoctions all centered around "Star Wars" or bears, for instance. Yes, it’s kind of random, but it’s random in the best possible way. With a vibe that’s playful, fun, and relaxed, you may not expect the cocktails to be as delicious as they are, but alas, each one is crafted with care and finesse for ultimate drinkability. The staff is friendly and informative, and if you tell them what you like, they’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.

The environment here is unbeatable. It’s not a huge spot, so the seating is close and intimate, making it ideal for a date night or drinks with a small group of friends. Back Bar doesn’t take reservations, so make sure you’re ready to wait in line when you arrive or plan on going early. Just know that the wait is well worth it to get a sip of whatever this cocktail bar is serving.

3. Offsuit

table with tall green cocktail

Troquet on South is already famed for its wine list and New American fare, but unless you’re in the know, you would never realize that tucked in the back is the swanky speakeasy Offsuit. You have to make your way to a back alley behind the restaurant to enter, where you’ll find a number seemingly unceremoniously taped to an unmarked door. Call, don’t knock, and you’ll get your first glimpse of this small but special space. It’s darkly lit and intimate, but the music can be loud.

The snacks here are fantastic, so you should definitely plan on grabbing a few bites while you’re there. However, what you should really go for are the cocktails. The long list of drinks features craft combos we’ve never seen before (like a drink using Italian bitters from Milan … with pineapple), and each one invites you to experience something new, different, and totally unparalleled. Offsuit is a spot that feels hidden, special, and unexpected — a great place to take your date when you’re trying to impress them with your knowledge of the city.

4. Ivory Pearl

Ivory Pearl in pink neon

If you’re in the mood for seafood to pair with your cocktails, head to Ivory Pearl in Brookline. This neighborhood spot feels casual and classy at the same time, and you’ll be impressed by the long list of beverages inspired by other drinks. The cocktails range from simple to seemingly unhinged (but still delicious), and even if you’re not much of a liquor person, there’s an impressive list of wines to choose from.

While the cocktails here are definitely the star of the show, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t snag a meal while you’re there. The Tentacle Dog is a standout, fever dream of ingredients nobody in their right mind would ever put together: octopus, roe, sauerkraut, sliced apple, and mustard, all placed inside a warm bun. It may sound strange, but trust this — it’s absolutely worth a try. Just pair it with some tots and caviar, and wash it all down with something equally wild, like the rum-based Grasshopper Frappe which features crème de menthe, macadamia cream, and lemon.

5. The Quiet Few

The Quiet Few

Generally, when you go to a dive bar, you visit it for the vibe, not the incredible food or long list of drinks. However, when you go to The Quiet Few in East Boston, you’ll get all of the above. This dark, softly lit bar focuses on whiskey, and they have a ton of it — bourbon, rye, Scotch, Irish, and Japanese whiskey lovers will have no problem finding plenty to sip here. If you aren’t too fond of whiskey, a small but impressive list of cocktails will also have you covered. Try something different with the Book of the Month, or keep it classic with a Negroni or Manhattan.

But don’t stop at the drinks. This bar’s food menu is also celebrated, and you’ll need something to munch on when you’re drinking anyway. Most of the items on the menu are elevated forms of classic bar food. Want fries? Go for the Disco Poutine Fries, which are blessed with a generous drizzle of chicken gravy and Cheez Whiz. The Frito Pie Dog takes a classic snack and makes it a meal, plus pretty much all of the other burgers and sandwiches are spot-on. If you’re feeling fancy, you can add caviar to almost anything on the menu. When was the last time you saw that at a dive bar?

6. The Avenue

black building labeled Avenue Bar

Some of these bars are taking it to the next level when it comes to creativity in their food and drink menus. What if you just want something simple, reliable, and cozy? That’s when you have to head to The Avenue in Allston. You’re not going to find a lot of frills here, but what you will find is an excellent selection of craft beers, a tried-and-true food selection that offers up all the classics, and a fun, relaxed vibe where you’ll feel great taking your friends for a weekday drink.

Beer is a clear choice here, but don’t let that stop you from trying the bar’s cocktails. They’re nothing outlandish, but they’re reliable when you’re not in the mood for a carb-heavy beverage. Then, tuck into the tacos, which are sold individually, or a burger, which is surprisingly affordable. We’re also super impressed with the guac and chips here, so don’t forget to order a side either.

Part of what makes The Avenue such a special place, goes far beyond the menu. The staff is friendly, welcoming, and genuinely seems to have a good time with each other. It’s a place where you’ll immediately feel right at home, whether you’re watching a game with your friends or bringing a book along for some solo quiet time.

7. Shojo

pirate ship and mermaid mural

Shojo, located in Boston’s Chinatown, is a perfect spot for catching up with friends, drinking fun cocktails, and sharing a few bites of Japanese-inspired fare. We’re impressed that this place offers mokkiri service, which is a customary way of pouring sake that involves an overflowing glass (per SakeTimes). Naturally, Shojo has a wide selection of sakes that even rice wine newbies will love. The cocktails are impressive, ranging from the zippy Seoul Sizzle, which features spicy Korean gochujang sauce, to the tamer Tea Garden, which highlights Japanese whiskey and matcha. Don’t order the same drink twice — there are too many solid options to choose from to limit yourself to only one selection. There’s also a small but solid list of beers and wines to select if that’s more of your thing.

The food menu is similarly impressive. The duck-fat fries may be the pinnacle of bar food as far as we’re concerned. Also, the fried eggplant bao is the way to go if you’re looking for a meatless option. Add to that the trendy but laidback atmosphere, and it’s clear why Shojo makes the list.

8. Trillium Brewing Company

Trillium Brewing Company

Fort Point mainstay, Trillium Brewing Company, is a classic choice when you’re looking for a beer around Boston. This local brewery, which has now stretched into other Massachusetts locations and has even made its way to Connecticut, is famous for its top-notch beers and a fun, friendly atmosphere. It is perfect for a sunny day outside. The beers range from classics to creative concoctions that no other craft breweries but Trillium could ever dream up. A trendy suggestion is Twice the Daily Serving, a fruit-punch-inspired sour that has us dreaming of summers on the Cape even during the coldest of Boston winters.

If it’s warm enough, we suggest grabbing a table outdoors where you can enjoy the sun while sipping on your beer and ordering from the surprisingly sophisticated food menu. (The uni linguine is a top choice, but you can’t go wrong with composed oysters, smoked brisket sandwich, or tuna crudo either.) And if you can’t get enough of the beer at this place, don’t worry — you can always take a pack (or two) home with you to enjoy whenever the mood strikes.

9. jm Curley

jm Curley bar filled with people

Boston is not known for its late-night scene, but there has to be somewhere for industry workers to go once their shifts have ended. That place just so happens to be the very special jm Curley, a downtown classic that’s an absolute favorite with locals. This place is all about glowing hospitality and American comfort food bites that go way beyond your average bar burger. The Eastern Standard soft pretzel is always a classic, especially when you’ve already been to one bar too many and you don’t want to wake up the next day with a pounding headache. The mushroom hummus is also something special, as is hamachi aguachile — not something you’ll see on every late-night bar menu. If you’re unfamiliar with that dish, TASTE Cooking classifies it as a spicier food similar to ceviche.

Of course, you can’t go wrong with any of the cocktails in the long list of available options, but you can also choose from a lengthy menu of beers and a slightly shorter list of wines. Plus, it’s open until 2 a.m., so on those late nights when you don’t know where else to go, jm Curley will have you covered.

10. The Koji Club

The Koji Club

Calling all sake lovers! If there’s one place you have to visit in Boston, it’s The Koji Club. This place hasn’t been open for long. According to Eater Boston, it started as a virtual pop-up by sake expert Alyssa Mikiko DiPasquale. Yet, it was such a success that it needed a brick-and-mortar location, which you can now find in Brighton at the Speedway marketplace. The Koji Club is one of the best bars in Boston to go if you want to learn about sake — the list is so extensive that it would take months to explore the whole thing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; the staff will be happy to point you in the direction of sake that will please your tastebuds.

A nice thing to love about Koji is that this menu is a bit restrained in terms of categories. Without a lot of beer or vino, Koji shows that it’s not trying to be everything at once. Instead, the bar’s focus stays on what DiPasquale set out to do: share good sake. As far as food goes, keep it simple with some warming miso soup, or feel your fanciest with calbee chips or Japanese curry empanadas. The Koji Club isn’t your average, everyday bar, so if you’re looking for something different, something unique, this is the place to be.

11. Row 34

cocktail being strained into a glass

Oysters and wine may sound like the obvious pairing, but oysters and beer? We’re here for it, and so is Row 34, a seafood spot with a fantastic selection of beer, wine, cocktails, and all the raw fish you could possibly get your hands on. The huge list of craft brews is sure to please the hoppiest of IPA bros as well as the Saison-sipping set. The wine list is equally impressive, with plenty of by-the-glass pours and an extended list of bottles. Though there isn’t a super long list of cocktails, every option is top-notch. We love the Honest Work (crèma mezcal, orange cordial, and Giffard d’Espelette) as well as the non-alcoholic Sunshine State of Mind, which features a combo of passionfruit and mint. It’s an option for the designated driver of the group.

This dinner menu is fun and inventive, but what you really need to go for is the raw bar. There is a long menu of oyster options, and they can all be topped with a spoonful of caviar or kept clean and simple if that’s what you prefer. A selection of paté and crudo round out the offerings, which are sure to please any serious seafood lover.

12. Roxanne’s

Roxanne's in neon pink letters

If you’re looking for a great date night spot, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Roxanne’s, a colorful, whimsical bar located in downtown Boston. The first thing you’ll notice when you walk in is the fun, tropical-looking wallpaper, along with the purple neon lighting. It sounds intense, but it’s still casual enough to flex as a Saturday spot or a weeknight hang. The cocktails aren’t anything too wild, but they are super pretty. The floral Side Chick and The Staycation — which has pea flower-infused tequila — are both fun options, but if you’re looking for the most Instagrammable drink of them all, you have to go with The Fortune Teller, which is served with a poppable bubble on the surface of the glass.

Take a look at the food menu, and it may not seem like anything special. Wait until you taste the dishes, because these bar food classics are actually excellent, from the fried goat cheese to the charred Brussels sprouts. This neighborhood spot is a fun place to bring your friends — especially when you want to take some pictures. There’s a cocktail for that too: The Naked & Instafamous.

13. nathálie

bar counter lined with wine bottles

Owner, operator, and sommelier Haley Fortier doesn’t just run haley.henry (the first spot on our list), but she also wows guests at nathálie, a Fenway wine bar that has a similar but decidedly different feel than haley.henry. This place focuses on "small production, natural, and female-produced wines," and the long list of half-bottle options here are honestly staggering. Don’t worry about feeling lost, though — the staff is extremely helpful in directing guests to the perfect pour.

Alex Bhojwani is also the executive chef here. While nathálie’s menu is decidedly less tin seafood-focused than its sister bar, it’s easy to be blown away by pretty much anything that comes out of the kitchen. Even though the menu changes often, you don’t have to mourn your favorites too much — eat confidently knowing that the latest offerings will highlight new ingredients and flavors that you’ll soon fall in love with.

The vibe here is warm and welcoming, upscale but not stuffy in the least, and a welcome departure from the raucous, mass-produced beer-slinging sports bars that Fenway is known for. It’s certainly great for a special, romantic evening out, but nathálie is also a spot to visit on a slow weeknight when the bartenders have even more time to share about their favorite wines.

14. The Longfellow Bar at Alden & Harlow

The Longfellow Bar at Alden & Harlow

Make your way to Cambridge to indulge in some of the best cocktails in the city at The Longfellow Bar at Alden & Harlow. Chef Michael Scelfo outdoes himself with pretty much everything on the menu, and while it’s a fantastic place to grab a quick drink, you definitely shouldn’t leave without enjoying some bites from the food menu as well. The wines available by the glass here are anything but basic: The "Boden Funk" Sauvignon Blanc is exciting, and an orange wine from Calabria, Italy, is something to be grateful for. The cocktails at The Longfellow really shine: From the My Name is Jamie, laced with fennel, to the Jack of Hearts, which highlights plum-infused vodka, you can’t go wrong with anything on the craft beverage list.

Fun food offerings like crab Rangoon "nachos" and the Pigs ‘n Blankets (pastry stuffed with Italian sausage) offer guests an elevated twist on bar food classics, and we can’t get enough of them. Perhaps our favorite part of this spot, though, is the bar itself. Elegant, refined, and well-lit, it feels like the kind of place where mysterious strangers meet or memorable evenings happen with close friends.

15. Trina’s Starlite Lounge

Trina's Starlite Lounge

Head just north of the city, to the border of Cambridge and Somerville, and you’ll find Trina’s Starlite Lounge, undoubtedly one of the best bars in Boston. At first glance, it may seem like your average neighborhood dive. Take a closer look, and you’ll realize that there is more to be found beyond your initial impression. Trina’s Starlite Lounge aims to create a safe space for all people. From their hashtag #TSLLovesYou to how they treat anyone coming in, it’s not just talk. When you walk into Starlite Lounge, you’re greeted with friendly service, accommodating staff members, and smiles wherever you go. It’s one of the coolest spots in town, but you’re never made to feel left out in the cold, uncomfortable or unwelcome — it’s hospitality at its finest.

It’s not just the atmosphere that makes Trina’s stand out. Their cocktails are out of this world. The Inmanhattan, and the Green Goblin (mezcal with chartreuse) are super stellar, but you can’t really go wrong with any of the options on the menu. The food is equally delicious, like the ultra-crispy fried chicken and waffles, or the Southern corn fritters with a lavender-honey dipping sauce.

If you find yourself in Somerville, this is one spot you absolutely have to check out, especially if you like good drinks, good food, and good people.

16. Rebel Rebel

orange bottle of wine

Another Somerville mainstay is Rebel Rebel, a wine bar you can find at Bow Market. This spot focuses on natural wines, some of which you won’t find at other bars around Boston. There are countless options available — tell the staff what you usually look for in a wine, and they’ll figure out just what you’re going to be into. Even if you don’t want to commit to a whole bottle, they have plenty of prime wines to pour you a glass from. If you’re looking to expand your wine knowledge, you can check out one of the classes or tastings they hold on a regular basis.

But don’t stop at the bar. Go upstairs, and you’ll find yourself at Wild Child, Rebel Rebel’s in-house bookstore. Grab a bottle and a book to take with you, or simply pick out something good to read while you hang out at the bar for an hour or two. Grab some olive oil-fried chips (they arrive imported from Spain), and relax. Rebel Rebel is the combo you need in your life.

17. Brick & Mortar

black bar at Brick & Mortar

One of the absolute best cocktail bars in Boston is found in Cambridge Central Square. Brick & Mortar is the name of this unmarked gem, and you’re going to hear it before you see it. The bumping music may lead you to believe that the inside of this establishment boasts a dance party more catered to the local student population than the professors that teach them, but that isn’t really the case. Despite the top-notch soundtrack, the overall feel of the bar is relatively cool and laidback. The majority of the room is centered around the massive bar, so it’s easy to scan the area and meet other guests if that’s your prerogative.

From the beer to the bubbles, just about everyone will be able to find a drink they love at this location. Still, Brick & Mortar is primarily known for its incredible cocktails, all of which look as good as they taste. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a great place to start, and you’ll probably keep turning the dial back to the Mexican Radio (tequila, pomegranate, lime) again and again. Don’t be afraid to chat up the bartenders if it’s not too busy — they’ll tell you all about their creative concoctions while giving you advice on what to order next.

You won’t find a full restaurant menu at this place, but the bar bites are delicious. The antipasto skewers are an easy order, and vegetarians will love the roasted Asian mushroom tartine.

18. Gray’s Hall

Gray's Hall with wine bottles

Natural wine lovers need to make their way to South Boston’s Gray’s Hall. Wine director Mira Stella, already well-known in the Boston area before she started at this spot, concocts a fantastic wine list sure to please even the most discerning of natural wine-soaked palates. The list may not be the longest in all of Boston, but we love the fact it’s restrained enough that you don’t have to wade through pages of options before you settle on the right one. Wine is the name of the game here, but you can find a solid selection of beers as well.

The small, shareable plates are perfect for a night out with friends. The chickpea Panisse (chickpea flour fries, per Saveur) is a favorite, as is the braised short rib. The menu may seem simple and understated, but believe us when we say that pretty much everything on it is mouthwateringly good. When you’re looking for a calm, relaxing night out, Gray’s Hall should be at the top of your list.

19. Shore Leave

tiki cocktail with purple flower

Boston’s winters are notoriously long and harsh, and sometimes no matter how much you want to, you just can’t escape the season to spend the coldest months of the year on a beach in Mexico. You can, however, get a taste of the tiki bar life by taking a trip to the South End to visit Shore Leave. It has the feel of an old-timey tiki bar, with plenty of bamboo and palm fronds. It’s a weird mashup of different food and drinks, but somehow, it all works when you put it together.

Of course, Shore Leave is best known for its classic tiki cocktails, but you’re not limited to stuff that was popular in the ’80s — there are several inventive, creative options to choose from. Pair your drink of choice with sushi or burgers (this bar is known for both), or just stick to the bar bites if you’ve already eaten dinner. To be fair, the tiki cocktails are back in style anyways, so you can feel trendy ordering a sweet punch or citrusy Mai Tai.

20. Spoke Wine Bar

Spoke Wine Bar

Davis Square in Somerville has a lot of culinary gems, but Spoke Wine Bar may be one of our favorites. The classy New American dishes are beautifully presented, so everything that comes out to your table feels like something special, from the sunchoke donuts to the panna cotta mochi. Here, the wine list is short but fantastic, with several natural wines to indulge in. The cocktails are also great, even the Copy Cat, which is an alcohol-free offering that tastes just as complex as any other spirited beverage on the menu.

The intimate, focused vibe of Spoke feels careful and attentive, making it ideal for when you want to consider your food rather than just dig in without much thought. We love bringing family and friends with us so they can experience all that this beautiful wine bar has to offer. Though, it’s also a special place for a solo date with yourself.