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The best speakeasy bars in Boston
Even though American Prohibition hasn’t been around since 1933, the forbidden intrigue of alcohol still holds a certain allure, even if it’s not actually illegal anymore. Once defining the unlawful underground bars that cropped up during America’s dry days, today’s speakeasies offer up a taste of the excitement that made these bars infamous all over the world. From subterranean saloons to password-secured back alleys, we take a look at the best speakeasy bars in Boston.
It’s easy to miss the dimly lit ball 10 feet above ground that marks this Davis Square bar. Tucked away under street level, Saloon is a throwback to an iconic pre-Prohibition era. Think dark panelling, studded leather chairs and warm red rugs, not to mention the enormous, elegant bar to belly up to. While rare whisky is its strong suit (the list is over 120 labels-strong), there are also a few bespoke cocktails served up in chunky, old-fashioned glassware, such as the Drugstore Cowboy of Rye, made with Benedictine, Campari, lime, honey, and Pale Ale.
If walking down a nondescript back alley makes you question being in the right place, you’re in the right place. A tiny red glowing sign is all you get at Backbar – open the door and you’re still not sure, as you stroll through a hallway to the actual entrance. Inside, clever cocktails are mixed with a magical eye and a creative hand, with favourite libations including Queen’s Park Swizzle (rum, lime, sugar, mint and bitters) and Smoke & Mirrors, a balance of Gran Classico bitter, scotch and lime. With graffiti, industrial light fixtures, repurposed beam tables and the original 1920s concrete floor, this is one of the most popular speakeasy bars in Boston.
Modelled after a “New York City-style tavern reminiscent of days of yore,” this bar features chesterfield banquettes and high-top seating, dark wood finishes, antique frosted mirrors and brass accents, an ironic homage to the building’s former incarnation as a police department. Brass Union’s wooden gargoyle mascots watch over guests as they order drinks like the B’s Knees (Ford’s Gin, honey, lemon, St. George Spiced Pear, basil, and cucumber) and the D.I.D. (lemongrass-infused Diep 9 Old Genever, white peach puree and lemon).
Hiding in the back of burger joint JM Curley’s, Bogie’s Place is marked by an “Adults Only” sign beside a closed blackout curtain. If you don’t know it’s there, you won’t find it. Push back the curtain to an intimate reservation-only 20-seat steakhouse drenched in touchable wine-coloured velvet walls. Music turns from Jazz to The Beatles as the bartender changes records (yes, we said records). The sneaky speakeasy feel, complete with a bar actually under JM Curley’s staircase, offers old-fashioned libations like the Boston Sidecar of white rum, brandy, dry curacao and lemon, the Improved Champagne Cocktail of cava, angostura, lemon, and Aperol “pill,” and the famous Ward 8 (bourbon, house grenadine, orange and lemon).
The Hawthorne is a bit hush hush (it’s below ground without a visible sign), but if you do manage to find your way here you’ll be rewarded with some spectacular cocktail making. There isn’t really a set menu. Instead, pick your poison from a bookmark of featured revolving cocktails, mixed to order by the talented bartenders. As for signature drinks, try the Dutch Oven (Bols Genever, sugar cubes, Peychaud’s Bitters, Regan’s Orange Bitters, and St. George Absinthe) or the Sherry Cobbler, a drink mixing sherry with peak-of-season ingredients.
Brick & Mortar
Even Google has a tough time finding Brick & Mortar, listing it on its maps as a “classy bar in an unmarked building.” Just head blindly up the stairs next to Central Kitchen and you’ll eventually get to the dark, cosy bar known for its array of creative drinks and sleek space. It’s full of communal high tops and a giant C-shaped hammered-copper bar, and serves a selection of sassy drinks like the Last Word, Sweet Baby Dave and Duck You Sucka. One of the most unusual speakeasy bars in Boston, consider this a typical neighbourhood joint dressed up in a nice sweater. (567 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge).
Wink & Nod
The only way you’ll know you’ve arrived at this ‘20s style cocktail lounge is when the impeccably dressed doorman greets you. Descend to the lower level of animal print carpet, tin tile roof, dimly lit chandeliers and velvet damask wall coverings ornamented with framed vintage posters and you’ll find yourself in the atmospheric surrounds of Wink & Nod. Serving up Pre-Prohibition beer brands and big cocktails in big heavy crystal, including the popular Cattrall (Montelobos Mezcal, Cocchi Americano, grapefruit cordial, lime juice, soda water) and the Ivana (vodka, blood orange liqueur, raspberry lemon syrup and Prosecco), the cocktail menu here makes for some great reading, and sampling. They infuse their own vodka, make their own ginger beer, and freshly squeeze their juices – and for added intrigue, they change chefs every six months as part of a pop-up culinary program.
It has won The Improper Bostonian’s Best for Neighbourhood Bar in Fort Point and InStyle called it “a den of cocktail cool,” but that doesn’t mean this basement spot is tooting it own horn. The anonymous brick building boasts little signage and a subterranean vibe. Inside Lucky’s Lounge are high-back chairs, large vinyl booths and mosaic tiles, warmed up with some gentle lighting. Sip on favourites like the Double Down (gin, St. Germain, muddled cucumber, mint, and Prosecco float), the vintage Sazerac (rye whiskey, simple syrup, Peychaud’s bitters, and an absinthe rinse), or a refreshing Pimm’s cup.
Written by Cheryl Fenton