Fifteen Cheers for Boston’s Top New Bars
One for every watering hole on this list. Inside the hottest speakeasies, cocktail lounges, sake clubs, and more.
Since the world recently turned upside down, we begin this article with its logical conclusion: Boston’s new bar landscape is stellar and absolutely worth checking out.
In fact, not since Backbar, Brick & Mortar, and the Hawthorne arrived in rapid succession in 2011—joining the cocktail-scene godfather, Drink—has there been a more prolific and inventive batch of newcomers joining the scene. Why? Well, while we were busy cycling through fleeting sourdough fixations and the five stages of hate-watching Emily in Paris, some of the city’s most inventive bartenders were making the leap from behind the bar to ownership (Daiquiris & Daisies, the Koji Club, Farmacia) and are now piloting a once-in-a-decade rewrite of Boston’s cocktail menus. If this new crop has some pronounced trend lines, they are: mezcal, skulking in dark alleys, Negronis, legit food courts, edible smoke, gin, secret entrances, education, athleisurewear abandonment, and talking to strangers. (Note: Every bartender is bored by your vodka and soda order, but only Hecate explicitly prohibits it.)
Now, given that we collectively just experienced the world’s first 36-month year, designating Boston’s “new” bars requires that we agree to a sliding scale of time. If, like most of us, you spent a good portion of that year(s) avoiding human contact at all costs, let’s be generous with what we consider new—in this case, about a year and a half—while we dust off our desire to gather in close proximity, drink, and relearn the art and etiquette of connecting.
So, now that you are awake and have cleaned up a bit, let’s go get a drink.
Make no mistake: Coquette is French! True to its name, this spot in the Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport is frilly, flirty, and by no means uptight. Upon opening, it immediately joined Contessa as one of Boston’s most beautiful resto-bars, and with the Midas touch of COJE Management Group (Yvonne’s, Mariel, Ruka), it was swiftly adopted into the most select echelon of Boston nightlife. Bold, red, lacquered chandeliers and wild floral arrangements accent the sassy elegance of the place and serve as a whimsical backdrop to its French-er than French cocktails. Très amusant!
WHAT YOU’RE DRINKING: The Biarritz—essentially a G&T with the addition of charentais melon.
Tucked away beneath Shaking Crab’s Boston Common location, Colette Lounge is the seafood-boil chain’s less-bib-necessitating sanctum of smaller bites and bigger cocktails. With names like Bourbon Street, Cajun Storm, and Louisiana Express, the elaborate drink menu hews closely to the restaurant’s Cajun theme while joyfully resembling the colorful and Instagram-ready presentation of a tiki bar. A mere elevator ride down from Emerson College’s dorms, the lounge is destined to become a favorite among Boston’s young partiers.
WHAT YOU’RE DRINKING: Down the Rabbit Hole: rye whiskey, maraschino liqueur, orange, Peychaud’s bitters, and absinthe.
Phillip Rolfe is like the witty, cool, laid-back teacher we all wish we had in school— except the subjects at Farmacia, his nine-seat North End bar/lecture hall, are centered around rotating spirits and ingredients. Given the intimate space and depth of knowledge imparted, reservations are highly encouraged for this entertaining and educational 80-minute experience, which includes four themed cocktails enhanced by a cast of fresh-pressed juices and hand-crafted garnishes. If this concept seems foreign, just think of it as a pre- or post-dinner omakase menu of drinks in Boston’s most Italian neighborhood. Class dismissed!
WHAT YOU’RE DRINKING: Whatever Rolfe dreams up. This month, it’ll include the flavors of apple, cinnamon, and pumpkin spice.
North End, farmacianorthend.com.
Rack your brain: How many trends have started with the AARP set and worked their way back to take hold with the post-collegiate set? The list kind of begins and ends with pickleball, America’s easier-on-the-joints racket-sport craze that is defiling area tennis courts and satisfying millennials’ inner oldster in equal measure. PKL in Southie is what would happen if some enterprising local wandered over to Black Falcon Cruise Terminal and absconded with the promenade deck from a docked cruise ship: With a couple of bars serving cocktails named for pop culture luminaries surrounded by five pickleball courts, four shuffleboard courts, and a smattering of cornhole boards, it’s definitely not your grandma’s rec center.
WHAT YOU’RE DRINKING: The DMX(ish): blanco tequila, lime, Aperol, and citrus.
South Boston, playpkl.com.
This cheekily named champagne and wine bar from Tiffani Faison’s ever-flourishing Big Heart Hospitality Group hints at suggestive frivolity and delivers the fizz at High Street Place. Under the tutelage of BHHG beverage director Charlie Gaeta, Bubble Bath has a healthy by-the-glass list, but it’s the Moët & Chandon champagne vending machine (one of only a few worldwide) that steals the spotlight. Just purchase a gold coin from the beverage concierge, feed the machine, and say cheers.
WHAT YOU’RE DRINKING: A champagne split from the vending machine to pair with Bubble Bath’s gourmet hot dogs and popcorn.
Like Ran Duan (Blossom Bar, the Baldwin & Sons Trading Co.) and Tim Maslow (Strip T’s, Ribelle) before him, Jason Doo grew up at the feet of his restaurant-owning parents. Also like those two, Doo took the straightforward concept of his parents’ place (in this case, a Chinese/American restaurant) and amplified it. With its splashy Polynesian décor, entering Wusong Road is a little like living in the title sequence for The White Lotus—a feeling that’s amplified by the tiki bar’s updated and cleaned-up versions of last century’s kitschiest cocktails: Zombies, Painkillers, mai tais, and, now that we’re once again sharing with friends, scorpion bowls.
WHAT YOU’RE DRINKING: The Aku Aku.
A delightful little wine bar that sits physically and spiritually between Harvard and Porter Square, Dear Annie’s socially conscious proprietors raised a number of interesting questions while establishing their concept, including “Can one space encompass our values, dreams, and hopes for the future?” While that question may fall decidedly into the TBD column, one can take solace in the certainties Dear Annie provides: a beautifully curated wine list, a delicious and locally sourced menu, and Monday-night pizza.
WHAT YOU’RE DRINKING: Wine—lots of wine.
Daiquiris & Daisies
The daiquiri is a pretty well-established classic. The Daisy, on the other hand, is a bit less familiar in the modern drinker’s parlance: Featuring any primary spirit, it may be pedestrianly mistaken for a _____ sour. Located in High Street Place, Joseph Cammarata and Daren Swisher’s casual-chic bar is an excellent showcase for both of these libations.
WHAT YOU’RE DRINKING: The expert-recommended pineapple daiquiri and apple brandy daisy.
Next Door Speakeasy & Raw Bar
You are one reservation, secret password, and hop-step away from opening a mechanized hidden door through the back door of Pazza on Porter—an otherwise unassuming-looking neighborhood Italian joint just down the block from Santarpio’s in Eastie. Once inside, it takes a moment to readjust to the dim light as well as the complete change of environment, as the performance of the bartenders conjures something akin to a magic show—one with edible citrus smoke bubbles and mysteriously misty lock boxes featuring exotic beverages.
WHAT YOU’RE DRINKING: The Lock & Key, a rum-based drink made with pineapple, coconut-cream syrup, and clarified milk.
East Boston, nextdooreastie.com.
Beyond the place where Public Alley 442 becomes Public Alley 443—just past the dumpsters and the vaping kitchen staffers on break—lies a secret door bearing only a symbol of the Greek goddess of witchcraft, Hecate. Hecate is legendarily vengeful, so once you’ve opened her door and passed through the beaded barrier to her exclusive, well-appointed 24-seat lair, woe to thee who dare attempt to capture her image with flash photography, steal her beautifully illustrated menu, or order a merely mortal vodka and soda. You’ve been warned.
WHAT YOU’RE DRINKING: In the illustrated, wordless menu, point to the one with the picture of the snail, fruit rind, and bamboo stalks.
Back Bay, hecatebar.com.
Across the great Gloucester Street divide, in Public Alley 442, lives another barely marked bar shrouded in slightly less mystery and wrath than Hecate: Bar Pallino, Jodie Battles’s cavern-esque paean to Negronis, mezcal, and vino. Situated below Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette’s new coastal Italian restaurant, Faccia Brutta, Bar Pallino is, by design, very much its own entity and atmosphere. After your first drink, you may well feel transported to the Parisian wine bars after which it
WHAT YOU’RE DRINKING: A white Negroni.
Back Bay, facciabruttaboston.com/bar-pallino.
LTD Bar at Cusser’s
Legendary mad-scientist bartender Todd Maul has set up his new laboratory downstairs at Mooncusser in the Back Bay. In Maul’s case, laboratory is not metaphorical: He literally employs his own Snapchiller (one of only six in existence and the only one being used for cocktails), centrifuge, rotary evaporator, and blast freezer. Suffice it to say you need a Ph.D. in chemistry to follow Maul’s TED Talk–level explanation of harnessing thermodynamics in service of the ultimate cocktail experience, but you will not argue with the result.
WHAT YOU’RE DRINKING: The #17”: white rum, dark rum, blackstrap rum, fassionola, clarified lime, grapefruit, and coconut butter.
Back Bay, cussersboston.com.
The Bluebird Bar
Sometimes, cool just needs to get the f*&# out of the city for a while. In this case, it hopped on the Pike, veered off in West Newton, and settled in at the Bluebird Bar. With a provenance that includes vaunted cool spots such as Blossom Bar and the late, great B-Side Lounge and East Coast Grill, the Bluebird Bar is that place you imagine when your friend says, “Don’t you wish there was a great neighborhood bar where we could just sit and get a drink?” Well, friend, your prayers have been answered.
WHAT YOU’RE DRINKING: A Manhattan.
West Newton, thebluebirdbar.com.
The Koji Club
Another golden acorn from the O Ya tree, former manager Alyssa Mikiko DiPasquale parlayed her years at Boston’s finest food mecca into her passion project: demystifying the complex and wonderful world of sake to those who still imagine it as merely the shot at the bottom of the beer glass. As one of only a handful of advanced sake professionals in America, she’s more than qualified to do so. From the cozy confines of the Koji Club, DiPasquale’s plotting a hybrid strategy of online educational courses and in-person tastings to enlighten us all, one curious bottle/flask/glass at a time.
WHAT YOU’RE DRINKING: Sake (leave which variety up to the pro behind the bar).
The primary focus of many of Boston’s best new bars is “the art of the cocktail”—and nowhere is that more apparent than at the Four Seasons One Dalton Street’s Trifecta, where each drink on the menu is literally inspired by a specific piece of art in the Boston area. The hotel bar’s charm is reminiscent of its currently shuttered crosstown cousin, Bristol Lounge, and how that space has been used for more than a decade after the Boylston Street Four Seasons closed its flagship fine-dining restaurant, Aujourd’hui. In other words, it manages to be effortlessly elegant while inviting you to be casual.
WHAT YOU’RE DRINKING: The Elixir: reposado, kiwi, lime, agave, coconut, and activated charcoal foam.
Back Bay, fourseasons.com/onedalton.
What the Bartenders Like to Drink
Alyssa Mikiko DiPasquale, the Koji Club
“My answer is easy: A carajillo at Barra in Somerville! It’s like a vacation to Mexico City without the plane ride. In fact, I am headed there shortly for exactly that.”
Todd Maul, LTD Bar at Cusser’s
“I’m a very big fan of Trina’s Starlite Lounge, and everything Josh Childs and Beau Sturm do. I pretty much walk in and leave it in their capable hands. I’m sure it’d start with gin and, like I said, they can take it from there.”
Phillip Rolfe, Farmacia
“If I had to go one place for one drink, it would be the bar at Pammy’s in Cambridge. Bar manager Rob Ficks would probably already have a Trinidad sour working for me as soon as I walk in. He is just that good.”
Glenn Castillo, Bar Mezzana
“I’m not in much of a cocktail mood after a night of making them, so we generally head to J.J. Foley’s for a shot and a beer. Or I’ll order something simple like a Paper Plane from Brick & Mortar. I don’t want to ask too much from my fellow bartender.”
These upgraded bar bites will do more than pad your stomach.
Hickory-smoked wing flats
Longfellow Bar at Alden & Harlow
For the wing connoisseur who knows that flats are better.
Handmade crab rangoons
We all love the good-bad kind, but wait until you try the good-good kind, made with real crab and served with pineapple-sambal duck sauce.
Like the sword of the same name, these duck-fat fries unite the people with spicy mapo tofu and lots of “kimcheese.”
Okonomiyaki tater tots
Now that Shore Leave has a patio, you no longer have to go deep underground for the best tot dish—laden with spicy mayo, katsu sauce, and jalapeño cheese—in Boston’s ever-competitive tot market.
the Quiet Few
Visit the best little bar in Boston’s easternmost neighborhood for a delicious spin on the good old trashy southwestern staple, made with adobo-stewed pork drizzled with wiz (naturally) and served in its namesake bag.
Cocktails, Hold the Booze
Don’t want to be that guy—you know, the one dancing embarrassingly at the bar? You’re
in luck. Alcohol-free drinks have blossomed in Boston’s bar culture.
Bistro du Midi
An early adopter of the mocktail menu, Bistro du Midi offers a range of choices, but its Espressotini is a standout in both execution and presentation—the perfect before- or after-dinner treat.
Trifecta similarly puts its full efforts into presenting the mocktail on equal footing with its artisanal cocktail menu. Case in point: The Amethyst, a surprisingly balanced citrus-and-ginger concoction that allows one to get to their post-power-lunch meeting refreshed and not the least bit clouded.
This spot’s inventive approach to cocktail-making has always left the door wide open for alcohol-free beverages, so rather than recommend one drink in particular, we’ll let the professionals behind the bar guide you toward your happy place.
Daiquiris & Daisies
It’s located at the bottom of an office tower, so we think it’s wise that the team behind Daiquiris & Daisies leave the top shelf on the top shelf for their “spirit-free” menu. Give the pineapple-and-lime-forward Nah Bird a go, then go back to your desk and think about the poor bastards who don’t have a food hall of delicious bites at the bottom of their elevator.
Lolita’s aguas frescas are a refresher that go with or without optional booze. The tamarind soda, in particular, will remind you of that delicious concoction you had after yoga boot camp in Tulum, but in this case, without all that physical exertion.