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FOOD AND DRINK

5 MIN

The 9 Best Irish Bars in Boston, Ranked

Boston is America's most Irish city. Here's where the conversation and Guinness flow best

While the Boston continues to diversify, what you see in the movies is true: The city remains home to the highest concentration of Irish-Americans in the United States. According to the 2015 census, 15.8% of area residents claim Irish heritage.

Of course, with Irish ancestry comes the prevalence of pubs – and Boston has many. A decade ago, most of the traditional Irish bars were located in the suburb of South Boston, endearingly known as “Southie” (you’ve seen it in all of the stereotypical Boston movies). But as gentrification took hold, most of these classic Irish institutions were sold and turned into something more modern.

Among those that remain, many are just copycat theme bars. Thankfully, there are older bars that remain true to form. Few places in the United States can offer a traditional Irish pub experience as authentic as you can enjoy in Boston (mind you, many of the details – such as table service, and a kitchen that stays open late – are touches more American than Irish).

Just what is an Irish pub, anyway? (Must it be Irish-owned? Does it employ Irish bartenders? Does it show football on the telly, and play live Irish music?) The reality is there’s no definitive answer. It all depends on your personal preferences. That being said, we prefer friendly watering holes with a high standard of service and a friendliness that gives customers a destination where an intelligent dialogue can be enjoyed.

With so many Irish bars to choose from in the Boston area, many did not make this best-of list, but you’ll be happy to know the ones that do appear here were corroborated by Irish-American barhoppers as well as a few of our favourite Irish bartenders. So, from good to greatest:

9: The Black Rose

Now in its 40th year of operation, The Black Rose has long been known as one of the most popular Irish pubs in downtown Boston. While the large space remains relatively quiet during the day, its proximity to the Waterfront and Faneuil Hall helps pack the place to capacity at night. Open 365 days a year with live (mostly) Irish music every night, the Black Rose makes for a terrific escape from all the rowdy tourist traps nearby. The menu serves traditional Irish cuisine coupled with New England seafood favourites. In the winter nothing compares to slurping some clam chowder next to the fireplace.

www.blackroseboston.com
160 State St, Boston, 617-742-2286

Nolan Gawron / Billy

The Black Rose

 

8: Phoenix Landing

The Phoenix is a bit on an anomaly when it comes to your traditional Irish bar: At night, the venue transforms into a nightclub, featuring drum and bass, throwbacks, house and hip-hop – making it almost unrecognizable from its daytime Irish pub vibe. During the day, expect the clientele to be clad in football jerseys cursing live televised European football and rugby matches on nine televisions. As far as drinks go, there are British Isles favourite for the football crowd, and local microbrews for the nerdy Cambridgians. 

www.phoenixlandingbar.com
512 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-576-6260

7: Doyle’s Cafe

This Jamaica Plain institution opened way back in 1882 and ever since it has become the go-to Irish bar for politicians. Mayor Thomas Menino ate and drank here. So did the late Ted Kennedy, who was on hand to help dedicate one of the dining rooms to his grandfather John J. Fitzgerald. Movie crews love it, too, thanks to the artifacts that adorn the walls. Several scenes in the Oscar-winning Mystic River were filmed here. Not only is Doyle’s a neighbourhood hangout, but the tourists now come here as well. Besides stocking traditional Irish brews, Doyle’s was the first place in the world to sell Sam Adams. The brewery is just down the street, and today there is even a daily free shuttle that brings curious beer drinkers back and forth. 

www.doylescafeboston.com
3484 Washington St., Jamaica Plain, 617-524-2345 

Nolan Gawron / Billy

Doyle's

6: The Field

The Field does old country kitsch just right, featuring old Irish street signs, photos of the homeland, Guinness memorabilia, posters quoting famous Irish-isms and framed sports jerseys. The bartenders are friendly, many are Irish, and most importantly there’s a nook in the back that houses a pool table and darts (two things hard to find in a decent bar in the area). In warmer months, the fenced-in back patio summons the masses.

www.thefieldpub.com
20 Prospect St., Cambridge, 617-354-7345

5: The Burren

This Somerville destination has plenty of seats and two rooms, both with live entertainment. Irish session players congregate in the middle booth at nightfall to create a mood made for the old country, while bartenders sling the favourite flavours and perfect of pints from the Emerald Isle. It’s comfort food with Irish leanings and a bar that blocks out all of the real life stress that lies just outside those doors. As for the location, the Red Line will take you from downtown to The Burren’s doorstep in about 10 to 15 minutes.

www.burren.com
247 Elm St., Somerville, 617-776-6896

Nolan Gawron / Billy

The Burren

4: J.J. Foley’s Cafe

J.J. Foley’s has two locations, and each has its place in hip local history. The Berkley Street destination in the South End opened in 1909 and has always been a go-to for politicians and newspaper reporters (Boston Herald’s headquarters was once a few blocks away). In 1919, the Boston Police union met here and voted to go on strike. There’s a plaque on the wall commemorating the event.

J.J. Foley’s second location, which opened 50 years later on Kingston Street, has long been a haven for Boston’s after-work and post-concert crowd. Joe Strummer hung out here after his show. So did Shane MacGowan. Reporters from the Boston Globe often choose this location over the other one. And, a few years back, when a prestigious rock reporter held his retirement party there, Bono showed up to give a speech. The once-stellar jukebox has changed, but the old tiled floor and many of the bartenders remain the same. Its proximity to South Station makes it a popular destination for daytime train delays, and while it’s not the bustling bar it once was, you never know who might show up. 

www.jjfoleyscafe.com
117 E Berkeley St., Boston, 617-728-9101 and 21 Kingston St., Boston, 617-695-2529

Nolan Gawron / Billy

Foley's

 

3: Brendan Behan Pub

The Behan has long been the place in the nearby suburb of Jamaica Plain. Named after the Irish Republican poet, novelist and playwright, this dimly lit, cosy neighborhood spot is quaint, friendly and increasingly hip. There are no TVs, but there is a fishtank. There is no kitchen, but you can BYOF. You can even bring your dog. If you’re looking for a pint amongst the locals and without the multitudes of tourists, stop by the Behan. Few places are as comfortable and as welcoming.

www.brendanbehanpub.com
378 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-522-5386

Nolan Gawron / Billy

Brendan Behan Pub

 

2: Mr. Dooley’s

Located in the otherwise culturally barren sector known as the Financial District, Mr. Dooley’s has an amazing reputation among both the Irish and the post-work downtown business crowd. Here you’ll find your whiskies – a wide selection of Irish, as well as those from that other British Isle. Known as a friendly meeting place, Mr. Dooley's gives you an earful of Irish colloquialisms and comic banter from the bartenders. In the heyday of Irish-themed bars, one of their barkeeps was known for saying, “If ye want a theme park go to Disney, if ye want a pint come to Dooley’s.” It’s classy enough for table linens during lunch and dinner service, casual enough for a friendly conversation, and traditional enough to host live Irish music seven nights a week.

www.somerspubs.com
77 Broad St., Boston, 617-338-5656

Nolan Gawron / Billy

Mr. Dooley's

 

1: The Druid

With an all-Irish staff delivering an overwhelming back-home hospitality, this independent, Irish-owned establishment provides the consummate across-the-pond pub atmosphere. All bartenders here hail from County Clare. Some land up staying for years while others eventually head back home (and get replaced by some brother or cousin). It’s a cosy venue with a small bar and an even smaller kitchen, but the food has long been the toast of the town. 

Nolan Gawron / Billy

Step inside the best Irish pub in Boston

 

The fish and chips come wrapped in newspaper and the chicken soup is known locally as remedy for curing that winter cold. The Druid has one of the best (and heftiest) burgers (and veggie burgers) around. The oxtail soup, Guinness stew and shepherd’s pie [real shepherd’s pie, featuring lamb! – ed.] are famous among the clientele, and The Druid is just as busy at brunch as it is at last call. Sunday afternoons and Tuesday nights you can catch a local pickup session packed in the corner booth playing traditional Irish music featuring flutes, fiddles and accordion.

The mood is always lively in this comfy and quaint establishment. And of course it pours the best Guinness in town.

www.druidpub.com
1357 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-497-0965

Nolan Gawron / Billy

It's black, it's cold and it demands a little patience …

Published Friday, March 10th 2017

Header image credit: Nolan Gawron / Billy

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