Just because the city has long ago cornered the fine art of lowbrow drinking doesn't mean that it can't flirt with upscale cocktail bars as well. After all, even the most die-hard IPA fanatic needs a proper old-fashioned once in awhile.
From subterranean cocktail bars with no menu and a laboratory aesthetic, all the way to recreations of pre-Prohibition saloons, our guide to Boston's best cocktails has you covered.
Shojo: Most places would settle for just one superlative, but Shojo somehow pulls off the trifecta of being one of the city's best cocktail bars, restaurants, and overall coolest spaces. You're eating the Shojo Pig Bao with smoked BBQ sauce, kimchi, and jalapeño, and washing it down with one of the many inventive cocktails, which range from the tiki-inspired (like Chairman's Painkiller, made with El Dorado 8 yr, pineapple gomme syrup, coconut creme, and orange) to Japanese-influenced (like the Yakuza Old Fashioned, which takes Nikka Coffey Grain whisky, bitter caramel, and bitters).
Drink: Regularly lauded as one of the best cocktail bars in the country, Drink is a subterranean bar that feels like a mix between a chemistry lab and a design porn loft. With no menu, the bartenders work with guests to tailor cocktails to their preferences, so come ready with a few ideas in mind. Or, just mention something you've liked before and let them work their magic. Trust—they know what they're doing here.
Saloon: Everything you need to know about Saloon comes in the simplicity of its name. It harkens back to an earlier time—pre-Prohibition saloons to be more exact—when cocktails and spirits, specifically whiskey, were taken seriously, and a meal was a meal. The design of the beautiful subterranean space, which is below their other restaurant Foundry on Elm, reflects the era, as well; all woods are dark, all lighting is dim. You'll want to start with something lighter like fried pickled peppers or devils on horseback before digging into a main like the grilled angus ribeye with seared jumbo shrimp, roasted fingerlings, asparagus, and lemon cream sauce.
Backbar: An early forerunner of the ongoing Brooklynization of Somerville (and Union Square in particular), Backbar would be one of the only cocktail bars you'd ever need in your life, if only it weren't so damn small. But, that's also a big part of the appeal. Literally the back bar for the experimental gastronomy restaurant Journeyman, the bartenders here are constantly putting out updated classics and out-there originals like a pineapple-infused daiquiri with a hint of tobacco.
Little Donkey: The latest from Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette has instantly become the hardest table, or bar seat, to get in Central Square. Called "global tapas," there are fancier offerings, like fois gras with plum jam, bee pollen, and nepitella, but the highlights here are the dishes you can really get messy with, like the pickle-brine fried chicken sandwich with green papaya slaw, jalapeño, and avocado ranch. And then at the bar, expect approachable uses of lesser-known ingredients, like Jelinek Fernet with iced tea, mint, and citrus, or a crisp, bitter mix of Amaro Montenegro, Gran Classico, and grapefruit.
Brick & Mortar: Here's another regular on best bars in the country lists. A dark space hidden above the Central Kitchen below, and booming with a post-punk or hip hop playlist, Brick and Mortar manages to maintain its edge, all the while putting out well-made craft cocktails. Who says drinking seriously good cocktails can't be really fun?
The Hawthorne: Cocktail bar elegance and refinement at its best, The Hawthorne is another regular honoree in national best cocktail bar lists and awards, and the attention to detail here shows why. Part of the sprawling Hotel Commonwealth collection, including Eastern Standard and Island Creek Oyster bar, The Hawthorne is the place to start, or end, a bar hop, with its wide and deeply-curated selection of spirits.