NFT Boston Nightlife

Boston / Nightlife

It's not quite the city that never sleeps, but Boston's nightlife is vast and varied, catering not only to teeming masses of college students but eager yuppies and disaffected hipsters alike. Since this is a city founded by people that were so uptight the British annoyed them (Pot paging kettle...), we are still stuck with the blue-law mentality that anything that might be fun has to be completely controlled at all times. Thus, all of our bars shutter for the evening at 1 or 2 a.m. This would be fine for most people if the MBTA, you know, the way the majority of people get around in a city with little parking, didn't manage to close BY TWELVE F*@KING THIRTY. After-hours joints do exist, but are for members-only, so when those lights come up and you are doing your best Last Call Shuffle to get a number -- keep in mind cabs are as easy to get after closing time as Red Sox-Yankee ticks are on opening day. Despite these best efforts, though, the variety of bars, dance clubs, and live music venues keep growing, so you'll be able to find just the right spot to be seen, be picked up, dance, throw some Red Sox-Yankee darts, or sit and share a pint with a friend while you catch a live band. Remember that clubs are always in flux, so it makes sense to call ahead and confirm what's up before rounding up your crew and hitting the town.

A wave of craft beer fanaticism has swept Boston, and while you can still get a Sam or a Harpoon just about anywhere, many bars now stock more unusual stuff. Meadhall (Map 26) is the holy grail for beer lovers, with over 100 beers on tap -- none of them Coors, Miller, or Bud products. Nearby, Lord Hobo (Map 28) caters to the budding hipster beer snob. Allston's rowdy student hangout Sunset Grill & Tap (Map 19) serves yards of beers, while more refined Allstonians head to Deep Ellum (Map 19). Two solid options in the Back Bay are Bukowski Tavern (Map 5) and the Pour House (Map 5) -- the selection isn't the best at the latter but no one's complaining about the dirt cheap 22 oz. drafts. Brendan Behan Pub (Map 14) pours the smoothest Guinness in the city, but if you insist drinking your pint among Irish accents, head to the Blackthorn Pub (Map 10) in Southie. Gastropubs Canary Square (Map 14), the Squealing Pig (Map 15), and the Publick House (Map 17) all have extensive beer lists. Fenway's Tasty Burger (Map 15, 20) pays homage to the art of the canned beer. If you're curious to investigate the brewing process, take a tour at either the Sam Adams (Map 14) or Harpoon (Map 11) breweries. Hop on the trolley after the Sam tour to be shuttled to Doyle's (Map 14), the first bar in America to serve Sam Adams. Want to get really adventurous? Buy a spin on the beer wheel at Redbones (Map 22), and cross your fingers that you'll like your pick.

Almost every bar in Boston becomes a sports bar when the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, or Patriots are playing -- just try to find a bar where the game isn't on. The best Sox bars are Jerry Remy's (Map 15), Cask 'n' Flagon (Map 16), Game On! (Map 16), Bleacher Bar (Map 16), and The Baseball Tavern (Map 15). Head to The Four's (Map 1) or the Greatest Bar (Map 1) for hockey and basketball. Football fans should check out Stadium (Map 10), McGreevey's (Map 5), Tavern in the Square (Map 19), or Stats (Map 10). Coolidge Corner Clubhouse (Map 19) is Brookline's resident sports bar, and Orleans (Map 22) is Somerville's. Brighton's Cityside (Map 18) is a relaxed, anything goes spot with a killer patio, while Champions (Map 6) is a sports bar for the preppy set.

Elegant and Nice
If you feel like getting gussied up and playing socialite for a night, Clink (Map 1), Bond (Map 4), Towne (Map 5), and City Bar (Map 6) are some of the trendiest spots in the city. Sonsie (Map 5) has the sophistication of a Parisian café, while Eastern Standard (Map 16) pours expertly mixed drinks in a lavishly elegant room. Sip a calm glass of wine at Parker's Bar (Map 3) or Upstairs on the Square (Map 20), or if a craft cocktail is more your speed, stop by Local 149 (Map 11). Relive the roaring twenties at Cuchi Cuchi (Map 27). Franklin Southie (Map 12) proves that Southie isn't all rough edges. While a bit pricey, Top of the Hub (Map 5) offers a birds-eye view of the city skyline from the top floor of the Prudential Center. Saloon (Map 22) is a modern day speakeasy with an exhaustive whiskey list.

There are two types of dives in Boston: fun and quirky holes in the wall where college students ironically chug PBRs, and seriously run down places full of lotto scratching regulars. Punter's Pub (Map 15), the Silhouette Lounge (Map 19), and the Midway Café (Map 14) all fall in the first camp. Those who'd like to leave the safety net of the college crowd can pull up a bar stool at the Beacon Hill Pub (Map 1), J.J. Foley's Fireside Tavern (Map 30), or the Galway House (Map 14). An Tain (Map 4) and the Sligo Pub (Map 22) attract a good mix of the young and old.

Live Music
Boston has a thriving live music scene, its local community of musicians nurturing each other and able to get lots of exposure in a wide array of venues. The Cars, The Pixies, Jonathan Richman, J. Geils, Passion Pit, Mission of Burma, and Aerosmith are just a few decent names to come out of this town. The homegrown bands get as much attention as the national acts mostly due to the sheer number them kicking around artist boroughs Allston, Somerville, and JP. Whether you're in the mood for rock, blues, roots, punk, folk, rockabilly, jazz, or yes, even bluegrass, somebody in Boston is playing it. If you're looking for country music—Rhode Island is south of here. Go find it.

While huge national acts play at the Garden and Comcast Center, many also opt for smaller venues like the 2,800-seat Orpheum Theater for its great acoustics. Berklee College has graduated the likes of Branford Marsalis, Quincy Jones, and Diana Krall, and at its Berklee Performance Center (, 617-747-2261) you can catch performances by big names and famous alumni or cheap concerts by teachers and students. Who knows? You may be watching the next John Mayer. Another place to catch national acts in a club atmosphere is the incredibly awesome House of Blues (Map 16) that has eaten the club corpses of Axis and Avalon. If it's summer, the best venue in all of Beantown is the Bank of America Pavilion (Map 11) right on the waterfront, and Bostonians come out in droves to see the Pops' famous Fourth of July Concert at the Hatch Shell (Map 6).

For jazz, you can grab dinner and a show at the classy Regattabar (Map 20) or Scullers (Map 19). Both in Cambridge, they host world-class performers. If you're on a budget, check out smaller venues like Ryles (Map 28) in Inman Square, Good Life (Map 4) in Downtown Crossing, and Wally's (Map 5) in the South End, a tiny neighborhood bar where you'll sometimes find Berklee students sitting in with the evening's combo. Get some scat along with your eggs at The Beehive's (Map 7) jazz brunches.

Rock ‘n rollers head to Paradise Rock Club (Map 19). If the downstairs is packed, go upstairs for a bird's-eye view of the band. If you get tired of moshing, the adjoining lounge features smaller bands and food in a more relaxed setting. In Central Square, lines form out the door for T.T. the Bear's Place (Map 27). At next door's Middle East (Map 27), one of the coolest clubs on the planet, you can grab some grape leaves before heading to one of its three rooms of music. Brighton Music Hall (Map 19), the former Harper's Ferry, has continued its predecessor's legacy of rock, blues, and New Orleans funk. Punk and garage bands frequent JP's Midway Café (Map 14).

If you're pining for some old school blues and rock, head to the Cantab (Map 27) on the weekend for the still standing Little Joe Cook and the Thrillers. Smaller bars to catch a good groove include O'Brien's (Map 19), P.A.'s Lounge (Map 24), and Church (Map 15). Great Scott (Map 19) has epic DJ dance nights in addition to underground bands. Johnny D's (Map 22) in Somerville reigns supreme for the older blues crowd.

Folkies and singer-songwriters worship at the altar that is Club Passim (Map 20), a 40-plus-year-old landmark dedicated to promoting independent musicians. Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Muddy Waters have all graced its stage. Craft beer and wine is now available for purchase along with a wide array of vegetarian snacks. And if you're dying to dust off that old banjo of yours, return to the Cantab (Map 27) on Tuesday nights for its bluegrass pickin' party.

You can find reggae, hip-hop, and Afrobeat at Western Front (Map 27). Latin music and salsa dancing heat up Green Street Grill (Map 27), Mojitos Lounge (Map 3), and Bella Luna (Map 14), which has a dedicated lesbian following.

Can't decide what mood you're in? The Lizard Lounge (Map 20), a laid-back neighborhood hang in Cambridge, hosts an eclectic mix of music and performances seven nights a week, ranging from punk to acoustic, rock and roll, experimental, and poetry slams. Dueling piano bar Howl at the Moon (Map 4) is a novelty in Boston, and bachelorettes slinging cocktail "buckets" abound. Pianists play requests exclusively, so you'll hear "Piano Man" to the Backstreet Boys and everything in between.

Many pubs and bars feature local bands or musicians, often for free or a minimal cover charge. It's a great way to get to know the scene. Check weekly listings for schedules. Some worth paying a visit to are The Plough & Stars (Map 27), the Green Briar (Map 18), The Asgard (Map 27), and Atwood's Tavern (Map 28). Probably the best of these is Toad (Map 23). The room is small, and you usually have to sneak past the bass player to get to the bathroom, but the wide variety and high quality of bands make this a popular gathering place.

Whether you're into breaking a serious sweat or just delicately nodding your head to the beat, there's a club in Boston where you can get your preferred level of groove on. Fist pumping bros flock to Joshua Tree (Map 19). Don heels and a slinky dress to fit in at District (Map 4), Venu (Map 3), or Rise (Map 6). Kick it old school at Storyville (Map 6). Tommy Doyle's (Map 20) and Good Life (Map 28) have a jolly middle school dance vibe, and the varied DJ nights at Phoenix Landing (Map 27) draw in a different crowd every night. Hipsters who deign to dance do it at Middlesex Lounge (Map 27). A booming LGBT scene can be found at dbar (Map 32), Club Café (Map 6), and Machine (Map 15).

You get enough booze into even the shyest person, and suddenly repressed desires for superstardom bubble up. Grab a mic and quell those urges at the popular karaoke nights at Tommy Doyle's (Map 20), The Purple Shamrock (Map 2), The Asgard (Map 27), King's (Map 5), or The Hong Kong (Map 2). The gay and lesbian crowd heads to JP for Queeraoke at the Midway Café (Map 14). Belt your heart out at the Jeanie Johnston Pub (Map 14) or Flann O'Brien's (Map 15), and you're sure to get some cheers no matter how off-key you are. For hardcore karaoke junkies, Limelight Stage and Studio (Map 3) applies pitch correction technology so you can finally nail that high note from "Don't Stop Believin'" in front of a large crowd or in a private studio. Do Re Mi (Map 19) rents private rooms for those who aren't up to performing in front of strangers. While they technically have a no alcohol policy, the owners tend to look the other way as long as you're not ostentatiously ripping shots.

On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Charlie O'Brien
Photo:  Charlie O'Brien

J.J. Foley's
JJ Foley's is the oldest, continually family run Irish bar in the city of Boston. It was here almost 100 years ago that the Boston Police decided to unionize. Although there are 2 locations throughout the city (with the other location in between the Financial District and Chinatown), this bar has retained it's character and personality through the revamp of the South End. Don't be fooled by the fact that they now serve food and have a restaurant (with great pub grub) attached to the bar. You'll still find a variety of people huddled up to the bar ranging from young and swanky, to old and toothless. Whether you are one of the ol' regulars that has been a patron for 50 years, or a new addition to the South End, JJ Foley's promises to deliver one of the best dive bar experiences around.

Posted By:  Emily Doutre
Photo:  Emily Doutre

Lord Hobo
I'm ashamed to admit, I never had a chance to visit the fabled B-Side Lounge before it closed its doors last year (nevermind that I lived in Inman Square. I said NEVERMIND!). But its recently opened replacement, Lord Hobo, has got to be an adequate proxy at the least. I know it's not the cheapest place and the long, high top tables aren't always the greatest if you don't want to be social with strangers and yes, it does get crowded and loud, but that's only because it's so awesome, everyone wants a piece! And the beer list seems to have been plucked from my very dreams: Green Flash, a long list of Belgians, Founder's Breakfast Stout (perhaps the Holy Grail of beers!), and 27 other beer snob-approved brews. The booze list could stand on its own as damn near perfect (along side the 39 wines and 24 cocktails), but as if it were not enough, the fries--your choice of truffle, curry, or gravy--are fabulous and this Lord Hobo sure does know his way around a cheese plate--a nice surprise coming from a hobo. I know LH has some big shoes to fill from B-Side, but I think it has succeeded. It just doesn't wear sneakers anymore.

Posted By:  Emily Doutre
Photo:  Emily Doutre

Delux Café
Delux Cafe has been the best kept secret in the South End for years. With great food on a menu that rotates every 8 weeks, awesome music, low, low prices, and an old school ambiance (wood paneling covered in old record albums, Elvis memorabilia, and other assorted chotchkies; ladies room covered with pages from the children’s book Eloise), this place is like a mirage in comparison to its location, especially in terms of price. But recently I saw a blurb about Delux on the Phantom Gourmet and my first thought was, "Shit. They know." The fact is, it's not a very large space and now that Phantom went and told all the yuppies, it's only a matter of time before it becomes the "in thing" and all the tables are taken up by a bunch of squares in suits. The only thing that might stave them off is Delux's cash only policy. Just in case, my fellow hipster, I suggest you head down there right now and eat up the delicious Blueberry cobbler before the turf war begins.

Posted By:  Patrick Hellen
Photo:  Patrick Hellen

The Happy Swallow
When you grow up with a Grandfather from Ireland, you tend to have a different view of Pubs than the average American kid. For example, I used to spend many a Saturday popping into the Happy Swallow in Framingham to play the various arcade and pinball games they had while my Grandpa grabbed a beer, chatted with the regulars, and watched whatever game happened to be on. I still go, and it's still a great quiet pub 364 days out of the year. That other day? We call it the Boston Marathon. The Happy Swallow sits right along the Marathon route, so it always fills up to the gills with people excited to see the runners pass by 10 feet from their local watering hole. The best part is that as the race day wears on, the runners start coming in, to grab a beer in some cases, and to use the bathrooms in others. If you're in Framingham, and you're looking for a casual relaxed bar, with darts, pinball, and a amazingly friendly group of pub goers, you'll do no better. Tell them I sent you, and a relative of mine just might buy you a beer. Mayyyybe.

Posted By:  Emily Doutre
Photo:  Emily Doutre

Bella Luna Restaurant and Milky Way Lounge
Ladies and germs, it is my sad duty to report to you my prediction that the new incarnation of The Milky Way is not long for this world. I wanted to love it, really. When The Milky Way closed its Centre Street location earlier this year and said they were ditching the candlepin bowling for skee ball, I was fully ready to embrace it. But my heart broke when I checked out their new digs at the Brewery Complex. First of all, there was ONE skee ball alley (the old location had TEN bowling lanes). And the skee balls kept getting stuck, and a few times it neglected to acknowledge my earned points. The dance floor was still there, though unimpressive and small compared to its earlier counterpart. The Bella Luna dining aspect consisted of 95% two-person tables, which can be a problem if there are four of you. And despite the overabundance of wait staff, they weren't very productive. In its current state, I can't say the Milky Way has any saving grace that separates it from the 10,000 carbon copies in this city. And the impending Pac-Man/Galaga game isn't going to keep the ship from going down.

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