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Great Places to Drink Beer in Boston (That Aren't Necessarily Beer Bars)

From neighbourhood pubs to taquerias, Boston boasts plenty of bars with well-curated beer selections that complement the rest of their mission

There's no doubt that Boston is a beer town at its core. Always has been, and probably always will be. But where some modern beer cities such as the two Portlands, San Francisco and, more recently, Chicago are defined by their breweries, Boston has long been far more about its bars.

Oh sure, there are and have been breweries, like the long-gone Commonwealth Brewing, the still-outstanding Cambridge Brewing, newcomer Night Shift in nearby Everett and, of course, the now-iconic Boston Beer Company, makers of the Sam Adams line of beers.

But far beyond those and Boston’s other past and present brewing operations, there has always been the city’s bar scene, filled with a solid if changeable core of fine beer bars. The present standouts are fairly well established: The Publick House, a Belgian-leaning institution in Brookline; Lord Hobo, a stellar stop for beer, wine and cocktails in Cambridge; the Bukowski Tavern, a somewhat worn but lovable beer den with locations in the Back Bay and Cambridge; and, out in Allston near Boston University, the admittedly frat party-ish but 112-draft-tap-strong Sunset Grill & Tap.

Bukowski Tavern

Having trouble choosing a beer? Spin the Bukowski Tavern's 'wheel of indecision'

What’s more interesting than the traditional beer bars, however, is the Boston area’s far larger grouping of splendid taverns, sports bars, Irish-style pubs and other assorted watering holes that just happen to embrace flavourful beer as a part of a larger overall concept. Here are a few of our picks for places for the beer lover to eat and drink while in the Boston area. 

Row 34

Located near both the Convention Center and local favourite Trillium Brewing, Row 34 was built in an expansive warehouse space with high ceilings and ample natural light. The mostly-seafood restaurant’s core philosophy is laid out quite concisely on the first page of its website: “If we could eat oysters and drink beer for every meal period, we probably would.” Hard to argue with that, particularly when the selections range to nine or more different oyster varieties and two dozen smartly chosen taps.

For those not quite so bivalve-inclined, the menu also features standards like a burger and fish and chips, and not-so-standards such as a daily whole fish and made-in-house bucatini (tube-shaped pasta) with clams and rapini, while the drinks list offers 15 wines by the glass. What is sure to tempt the free-spending beer lover, though, are some of the hidden gems on the bottled beer list, including vintage magnums of Abbaye de Saint Bon Chien from the Swiss brewer BFM and rare treats from small overseas breweries like De Dochter Van de Korenaar of Belgium.

Row 34

Worden Hall

Only slightly further afield in South Boston is another recent arrival to the city’s beer scene – although, like Row 34, Worden Hall is more of a bar and restaurant that happens to carry good beer than it is a devoted beer destination.

With 40 taps spanning an impressive array of styles and origins, Worden is part of the ongoing renaissance of “Southie,” as the district is universally known, and while beer is obviously given pride of place, the tavern’s 100-plus strong whisky selection and solid, gastropub-esque menu are nothing to sneer at, either. Still, the visitor needn’t spend long in the brick-walled tavern to recognize that, rather than beer or food or whisky, the real focus here is on the creation of a comfortable gathering place for the community – or in other words, a public house in the truest sense of the term.  

Worden Hall

Lone Star

On the other side of downtown, in Cambridge not far from Lord Hobo, another relatively new arrival is proving that community oases and good beer destinations take many different forms. The Lone Star is far from your usual taqueria, with 14 taps pouring domestic and imported beers chosen specifically for their taco-friendliness – including delights like the seldom-seen Schlenkerla Helles and Andechs Vollbier, both of Germany – a clever cocktail list and a laundry list of tequilas and mezcals, all in a setting that is about as unassuming and unpretentious as you can get. (There’s a second location in Allston.)

Lone Star

Coda Bar + Kitchen

Skip back to the Back Bay and pay a visit to Coda Bar + Kitchen, the kind of unassuming place you might not expect to boast a lot of beer savvy, but which will surprise you with a well-chosen selection that reflects both style diversity and seasonality on nine draught taps. And if that’s not enough to convince you to get out of the grungy beer bar rut – no offence, Bukowski, you know we love you – then the Italian grinder sandwich with truffled fries should do the trick.

Coda Bar + Kitchen

J.J. Foley’s Café

Finally, if you want to drink good beer and still get a taste of historic Boston, head over to the South End and J.J. Foley’s Café, a 107-year-old institution that is and always has been family-owned and operated. You won’t find the latest offering from that hot new brewery you’ve been hearing about, but you will get to pick from a handful of local options, including session beer specialists Notch, in a place with an atmosphere that’s about as archetypically Boston as they come.

Stephen Beaumont has been writing about beer for longer than most people have been drinking it! He is the author of The Beer & Food Companion and co-author of the brand new, fully revised and expanded second edition of The World Atlas of Beer.

Published Thursday, January 12th 2017

Header image credit: The taps at Worden Hall



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