Speak to me, Boston speakeasy!
March 8, 2012 7:54 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find awesome fancy cocktails in Boston?

My boyfriend and I are visiting Boston for a few days and I'd love to find a delicious bar for us to check out. Due to my regrettable influence I fear we are becoming cocktail snobs. We've really enjoyed places like Clover Club in Brooklyn, Dutch Kills in Queens, and the Franklin in Philly, which feature drinks with interesting ingredients in a speakeasy type setting. Are there comparable places in Boston?

Also, I've heard about the Boston Shaker and am intrigued--worth stopping in if we have time?

Thanks for your input!
posted by mlle valentine to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Deep Ellum in Allston is all kinds of awesome.
posted by asterix at 7:59 PM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Drink in Fort Point and Eastern Standard in Kenmore are the predictable recommendations, but I think that Ned, the bartender at Hungry Mother in Kendall is the best in town, bar none. And (obviously) sit at the bar and have dinner there--it's a great place.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:00 PM on March 8, 2012

Response by poster: Admiral Haddock: I have been told repeatedly that Hungry Mother is awesome but looked at the entrees and they are a little out of our price range (which I know sounds silly if I'm looking for expensive cocktails but so it goes). Is it possible to go there just for a drink?
posted by mlle valentine at 8:05 PM on March 8, 2012

If you like the speakeasy type setting, go to backbar in Union Square (in Somerville). Delicious cocktails (I believe it's run by the same people who run Drink), and some really tasty snacks (though i'm not sure you can get a meal there). If they have the spicy caramel popcorn, I strongly recommend it.

Don't be fooled by the small drink menu on the website -- I'm pretty sure they'll make you whatever you want, or improvise if you'd like them to.
posted by cider at 8:08 PM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Green Street in Central Square is just what you're looking for.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:08 PM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding that Drink in Fort Point is really awesome, if a bit overpriced and swank-tastic.

I also really enjoy the quirky cocktails at The Friendly Toast in Cambridge, but that is more of a kitschy diner. You might want to try it out anyway for brunch, because the food is delicious and totally weird.
posted by araisingirl at 8:23 PM on March 8, 2012

Best answer: Some quick comments:

Hungry Mother is awesome, and you can totally just stop by for drink. The bar is small, though, so there can easily be a wait. They are very friendly.

Drink is very good, but also very pretentious. It's not everyone's cup of tea.

I like Green Street, but it's not super fancy/high quality. If you go, be sure to ask for the extended cocktail menu (probably 100+ drinks on it).

A somewhat out of left-field suggestion: Bergamot between Harvard and Union Square. Very friendly and high-quality stuff. The dining room is quite pricy, but if you can snag a seat at the bar they have a special menu which is very reasonable (a $10 lobster melt, for example, with a lot of lobster meat in it). Very good.
posted by AwkwardPause at 8:29 PM on March 8, 2012

Drink in Ft. Point is exactly what you are looking for. They make custom cocktails based on what you want, and they nail it. Just tell them what you are in the mood for. It is incredible. Their snacks are very tasty too.
posted by comatose at 8:34 PM on March 8, 2012

You will be underwhelmed with the Boston Shaker. Aside from a shockingly large assortment of special bitters and unique bar syrups (you have no idea how many flavors they make) it is just a place to pick up some bar utensils.

However, if you make it out to Davis Square to check out Boston Shaker, a new place called Saloon just opened with a speakeasy feel and a list of really good and very unique cocktails. Personally, I wouldn't make the trek out there if you have limited time.
posted by comatose at 8:41 PM on March 8, 2012

One not mentioned yet: Chez Henri is a tiny bar outside of Porter sq. but they have really solid drinks and a great Cuban-French fusion bar menu.

Craigie on Main (Central Sq.) had really good drinks but the food is pretty expensive (even the burger is something like $17.)

Deep Ellum is good for cocktails but better for beer. Same goes for Lord Hobo in Central/Inman sq.

If you go to Drink, get a meal at Sportello upstairs.

I have a soft spot for Highland Kitchen (Winter Hill) since it was my local for a while, but its not really near anything or worth a trip otherwise.
posted by modernserf at 9:17 PM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

HIGHLAND KITCHEN. YES. Half the reason I chose the house I'm renting now is that it's only a 10 minute walk away. OK not half, but at least 14%.

Saloon's pretty great, too.
posted by weaponsgradecarp at 9:31 PM on March 8, 2012

Cuchi Cuchi in Central Square. You might find it too kitschy, but it has several pages' worth of drinks, and many fun muddled ones.
posted by Lettuce_Leaves at 9:52 PM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

nthing Green Street, Lord Hobo, Deep Ellum, and Eastern Standard. Deep Ellum will serve you absinthe the traditional way, poured over a sugar cube and lit on fire. And their draft and bottle lists are A++, best in Boston, IMO. Eastern Standard will make you an Old Cuban if you ask (it's not on the menu)-- rum-based cocktail with a Champagne float. Their Mai Tai also happens to be the best I've tasted, super-almondy with homemade orgeat.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 10:16 PM on March 8, 2012

Best answer: Brick and Mortar. No sign on the door, no indication at all that up the stairs, above Central Kitchen, is the best damned cocktail bar in the greater Boston area. They will make ANYTHING. Their riff on the Old Fashioned is phenomenal, and most of their bartenders will cheerfully comply with nearly any oddly-phrased request. (The last time I went with friends, we ordered 'a Saints and Sinners, more saint than sinner', and later on, 'an Obituary with some kind of twist at the end'). Also, go to Craigie on Main, sit at the bar and ask for their off-menu cocktail flight. Four teenytiny cocktails for $20, every single one unerringly delicious and innovative.
posted by idlethink at 11:01 PM on March 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You really should try one at The Friendly Toast. The last time I went I had a cocktail where they rimmed the glass with PopRocks. You've got lots of good recommendations to satisfy the inner snob; get one for your inner child.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:26 AM on March 9, 2012

If by speakeasy you mean you want the thrill of walking into what feels like a secret location and finding a great bar inside, you want Green Street. It's totally nondescript and on a little side street, but nice inside. If you want retro-elegant decor and ambience, you want Eastern Standard, which looks great but is a couple blocks from Fenway Park, so it's anything but isolated. Drink is actually pretty bland as far as decor goes--everything there is about the mixology. Brick and Mortar is definitely the new hotness, but I haven't been yet.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:44 AM on March 9, 2012

Definitely backbar.
And I like the Boston Shaker - nice folks, and an interesting product selection.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:58 AM on March 9, 2012

Drink is definitely the high bar (no pun intended) of the Boston cocktail scene. It's also way out in the middle of nowhere.

In addition to Eastern Standard, there is also Island Creek Oyster Bar right next door (run by the same folks, actually). Cocktails are good, and if you like oysters they are the standard in the Boston area (Island Creek supplies... just about everyone around here).

I will also throw out a food and drink suggestion that might be a bit out of left field. Ken Oringer's sashimi bar Uni has started a late-night ramen menu that is fantastic and fairly inexpensive. They don't start serving ramen until 11, so what you want to do is show up early (9:30-10:00), put your name in for the ramen, and then sit at the bar at Clio and drink to your heart's content. Clio and Uni are in the same hotel on Comm Ave. (in fact, to get to Uni you have to walk through Clio) and the same host station works both restaurants - they'll come find you at Clio's bar when it's time for ramen.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:41 AM on March 9, 2012

Best answer: Admiral Haddock: I have been told repeatedly that Hungry Mother is awesome .... Is it possible to go there just for a drink?

Absolutely, but do order some of their small bites--they're great. There are a number of alternatives for dining in the area (like, across the street)--pizza, pub, etc. What sets Ned (in particular) apart at Hungry Mother is that he's steeped in cocktail lore and lots of forgotten recipes, but he does innovate (and not just the mad scientist stuff that passes for creativity). But the best thing is, if you know cocktails (or just want to talk cocktails) and you sit at the bar, he gives you a great running commentary. I think he's in a master's program somewhere.

Just a couple of other notes (YMMV):
Drink: It's expensive and pretentious, and Fort Point is not particularly convenient to anything (other than the ICA, which I find similarly expensive and pretentious). Drink make a big deal about the bartenders "crafting" drinks for you based on your whims--but I've had experiences there where I go in and ask for something herbal like a Toronto (rye, fernet, orange bitters), and their new twist on it is bourbon, fernet, and Angostura. I feel like Drink is a welfare-to-work program for Somerville hipsters whose hobby is making their own cilantro bitters.

Eastern Standard has some bartenders who really seem to care about making great drinks, and I've been in parties where someone orders an unusual drink and the bartenders call around to other bars to learn how to make it (which makes you wonder whether you should be going to the other bars that the ES bartenders are calling, but...). The catch is that ES is a meat market for the well-heeled. It's kind of like the most New York of our respectable bars.

Lord Hobo is fun. You could go for a couple of drinks at Hungry Mother and walk to Lord Hobo for some tasty burgers and not break the bank. Friendly toast is also right around the corner. It's kind of a kitschy diner, but the food is good. The bloody Marys are good. I never got a sense that the bartenders were great craftsmen/women, but the set drinks are fine.

Green Street is probably good when it's not peak. The do make good drinks, but it gets to be a zoo on Friday/Saturday nights. Afternoon pick me up, maybe?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:11 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel like Drink is a welfare-to-work program for Somerville hipsters whose hobby is making their own cilantro bitters.

Oh, snap!

I'd never heard of Backbar but I am so checking that out. Let me say that Bergamot is worth the price of the dinner (and not just for the drinks!)

I like Highland Kitchen, but it's one of those Big Room type places and suffers accordingly noise-wise when it's super busy.

Saloon is quite tasty.

Cuchi-Cuchi is definitely worth it for ambiance, but again, ay carumba, the noise.

But I admit to growing increasingly old, crotchety and wanting to hear my dinner companions.
posted by canine epigram at 6:40 AM on March 9, 2012

Nthing Drink if you're going for cocktails.

Now, if you're looking for Good Food + Good Beer + Good Cocktails + Good Prices + Good Atmosphere, then may I present The Independent.
posted by lemuring at 7:12 AM on March 9, 2012

Best answer: There's a good recent Chowhound thread on the topic here, largely mirroring what people have said in this thread.

My personal experiences, in descending order of awesomeness:
- Craigie on Main (super-inventive original drinks plus they're happy to work with you to figure out what to make for you)
- Rendezvous (more restrained program but Scott is a master)
- Brick and Mortar (new, still no sign; some really interesting original drinks)
- Green Street (ask for the 6-page A-to-Z cocktail list; solidly made but not the place to go for improvisation)
- Drink (supposedly all about the custom-crafting, but that slips when they're busy, which is always)
- Highland Kitchen (great vibe, bartenders' knowledge varies and many free-pour)
- Hungry Mother (food is awesome; drinks are excellent but it's so crowded I wouldn't come just for them)

Places I want to visit for cocktails (I've been to some as a diner)
- Backbar (sister bar to super-creative restaurant Journeyman)
- Hawthorne / Island Creek Oyster Bar / Eastern Standard (all part of the same group; Hawthorne is the new cocktail bar)
- Bergamot (heard great things and Paul was super at Craigie)
- Clio (apparently really inventive; their bar manager is leaving soon)
- Deep Ellum

Not interested:
- Saloon (fellow cocktail snobs were very unimpressed)
- Lord Hobo (great beer, though)

From all the responses here I think there needs to be a Boston Metafilter Cocktail Outing...
posted by dfan at 7:13 AM on March 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

From all the responses here I think there needs to be a Boston Metafilter Cocktail Outing...

Yes please. We should also do a whisky night.

One more idea--Trina's Starlight Lounge has some good bartenders, and they deserve some love. We had a meetup there a while back.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:20 AM on March 9, 2012

Response by poster: This is all so exciting that I can't wait to be in Boston already! We do love an entertaining bartender as well as exciting drinks--I hope we will be able to sit at the bar at Hungry Mother, as well as try some of these other fabulous-sounding options. I will report back once I have returned to the shores of NY.
posted by mlle valentine at 7:42 AM on March 9, 2012

It is done.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:46 AM on March 9, 2012

BTW, Boston does have a branch of LUPEC, though I don't know that they'll give you more info that the people in this thread have.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:47 AM on March 9, 2012

Drink would be the go-to place. The bartenders are knowledgable. We go there periodically to get cocktails or a custom homemade classic punch bowls made for birthday get-togethers with friends. They have some pretty good bar bites food as well. No large entrees though.

Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square is pretty good in Harvard Square. The lead bartender, unfortunately, left not too long ago.

Highland Kitchen and Starlight Lounge near Inman are fun to go places for food and drink, but I wouldn't go there strictly for drinks if you're visiting only for a few days.
posted by seppyk at 12:57 PM on March 9, 2012

Best answer: my $.02

Drink is fine, but it's way overexposed and it is a PAIN IN THE ASS to get in on a weekend, because you're usually dealing with a 30 minute line (if you're lucky). If you go, go between Monday and Wednesday (or late Sunday). Also, most of the original all-star team of Drink have since moved on, and all of those alums? They did not forget how to make crazy cocktails just because they're on the stick somewhere else.

Brick & Mortar is the new venture by Misty Kalkofen, who is ex-Drink, and it's my current favorite. The written menu is fairly brief, but you can shoot her the nerdiest of nerdy-nerd cocktails and she will not blink. Also, her co-pilot is Evan of Deep Ellum mentioned earlier in thread, and it's co-owned by a founder of the new defunct B-Side lounge, which was doing craft cocktails in Boston before it was cool. B&M is a new place, but the talent is old-school and solid.

Saloon is good to go to if you want whisky. It is also mobbed, and the talent is ... ok. Interesting bar backed up by having a well curated spirits list and ambiance. The south of the Charles equivalent is Citizen's Public House (and CPH has Fernet on draft if you think that's hot)

Green Street is a neighborhood standby. They have an "under-the-bar" hidden cocktail menu list that you can ask for. If you want to get crazy, ask them for a peanut butter flip.

Hungry Mother is also great but tiny. Ned (and Paul @ Bergamot) are amongst the most entertaining hosts at a bar counter.

Eastern Standard? Dependable, but a bit of a mixologist factory.

I haven't been to Backbar yet because they always seem to be randomly closed when I feel like getting a drink there, but I do mean to check them out some time.

but, yeah, Brick & Mortar would be my initial go to; but you're spoiled for choice in the city.
posted by bl1nk at 1:52 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you guys have plenty of awesome options already, but here are a couple more:

- Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston on Tremont has an awesome drinks-only bar area and a pretty extensive cocktail menu (and I imagine they would also make anything you like)
- The bartender at Sel de la Terre on Boylston is great (unless there are more than the one I have experienced there, in which case I have no idea).
posted by ghostbikes at 3:22 PM on March 9, 2012

This may be too late, but I finally got to try Backbar last night -- and it was great. In fact I think it would be perfect for what you have in mind.
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:39 AM on March 13, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you, Ask MetaFilter! I took many of your suggestions to heart.

For a large group dinner, I suggested we meet at the Friendly Toast, which was perfect for accommodating people with a wide range of eating habits/restrictions. I had pancakes for dinner and a rhubarb/mint cocktail. My boyfriend and I then ducked down the street to Hungry Mother where we unfortunately couldn't sit at the bar but enjoyed a cocktail each.

The next day we went to Deep Ellum, which was absolutely fantastic. We had their all-afternoon brunch, plus I finally got to try a milk punch, and my boyfriend got a tequila-based cocktail he was raving about.

In the evening we also went briefly to Brick & Mortar, where we got to sit at the bar and talk to the bartenders and it was a nice speakeasy vibe.

We did also manage to stop by the Boston Shaker (we were staying in Somerville, so it wasn't too far out of our way). Picked up some falernum and apple shrub to test out my home-bar snobbery.

I will definitely have to try more of your suggestions next time I am in Boston!
posted by mlle valentine at 2:18 PM on March 13, 2012

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