Boston is a lot of things. It’s patriotic, historic and hardworking. It’s also delicious. As you romp through Beantown’s array of culinary choices, you’ll no doubt notch up favorites in every category, but there is nowhere in the world like an authentic New England tavern for a great beer and a little “chowdah.”
The Green Dragon Tavern was first built in 1654, and while the original building is gone, and the location has moved slightly, the spirit of the Sons of Liberty lives on in the continuation of this iconic watering hole. There are lots of old taverns in Boston, however. Bell in Hand, built in 1795, is another. The establishment created by retired town crier Jimmy Wilson saw the likes of Daniel Webster and also Paul Revere, who, by the way, seems an awfully popular figure around historic Boston bars. The Bell is one of Boston’s red-hot night spots these days, with two floors and five bars, just steps from Faneuil Hall. The Warren Tavern in Charleston, built just after the Battle of Bunker Hill, boasts beams salvaged from old boats at the Navy Yard. Get breakfast, lunch or dinner here where George Washington himself used to sit.
The most famous Boston bar by far is the one featured on the popular TV sitcom of the same name, Cheers. Located on the edge of Boston Common, it stands ready to serve you up a brew and a Norm Burger for your star fix. If you’re seeking celestial bodies of another kind, you may find Strega Waterfront a good choice for both visiting and home team sports superstars. Plus, you’ll get to hang out at a glitzy seaport bar with good food and drinks.
Looking for a little Irish? Boston’s got that. James’s Gate in Jamaica Plain has an entry modeled after the Guinness gates in Dublin. Enhanced pub ambiance with your pour comes from the rustic wooden tables and a huge stone fireplace. Seeking a pre- or post-Fenway mug? Try La Verdad early and the Yard House late.
Perhaps you’re hoping for a little Kelpie with your haggis? Head to The Haven on Jamaica Plain for a heaping helping of tartan plaid, mounted antlers and Scottish memorabilia. For one of Boston’s finest brew pubs, pull up a chair at Cambridge Brewing. Since 1989 they have cornered the market brewing a beer called Triple Threat, a Belgian-style beer with a loyal local following. Fancy something monkish or Trappist? A good bet for you, my friend, would be The Publick House in Brookline. It’s where all the other beertenders send folks when they can’t fill a request for an obscure pick.
If you’re seeking a little status, Boston’s got that, too. Consider the quiet retreats in one of the upscale hotel bars. The Avery Bar in the Ritz-Carlton is outfitted like a plush den made ultra stylish with elegant cocktails. It’s a nice break in Boston’s lively bar scene. The Hawthorne at the Hotel Commonwealth treats you to craft cocktails mixed by Jackson Cannon’s talented staff in homey, upscale digs.
Boston is famous for a number of specific foods, not the least of which are Boston baked beans, for which the city has earned the moniker “Beantown.” There’s also Boston cream pie, along with a pretty strong preference for clam chowder, and almost any kind of local seafood.
There are lots of ways to cook local fare, and everyone has a favorite, but finding yours will make this a super tasty trip. Start at the iconic Union Oyster House. They’ve been shucking oysters right in front of their diners since 1826, and pride themselves on doing seafood right. It’s old, charming and right downtown. Also claiming 1826 status, Durgin-Park at 4 S. Market near Faneuil Hall, serves huge portions of comfort food in the old-school, sassy-crabby way only Boston can pull off. It is truly an experience, with a well-executed menu.
Given its predilection for history, there are some surprising newcomers on the Boston food scene as well. Just 27 years young, Hamersley’s Bistro is an impeccable French establishment with a handful of James Beard nominations under its belt. Owners Gordon and Fiona prepare local, seasonal plates, like grilled quail, or monkfish and mussel bourride, with a deft hand and artistic eye. They also know how to select wine, so prepare for an exquisite treat. Grill 23 is a 30-year-old steakhouse at 161 Berkeley that serves dinner only. Classy, without any hint of snobbishness, Grill 23 supports its outstanding mains with great sides and wines. Downstairs can be a bit busy, so if it’s solace you seek, choose an upstairs table.
Even younger, the 7-year-old Strip-T’s does a wicked simple menu of phenomenal quality and creativity. Straight from from Ssam Bar to Strip-T’s kitchen, top chef Tim Maslow will please you with skills that leave you smiling and satisfied. Another young’un, T.W. Food in Cambridge will simply knock your socks off. The menu reads well throughout, with an excellent selection of early and middle plates, but the finale? Oh. My. Goodness. Beignets with tobacco ice cream and Macallan 12 scotch syrup or Valrhona chocolate ganache give you just a hint. You should see the jazz brunch menu.
Other worthy mentions include Sorellina Italian in Back Bay for sexy, swanky, black and white elegance from Jamie Mammano, and O Ya, outstanding Japanese in the Leather District, for gorgeous orchids with even more memorable Kumamoto Oysters, Legs and Eggs lobster and caviar, and vanilla cremeaux aged sake gelato.
You are probably getting a little hungry right now after reading all this luscious literature, but do try to hold off on your present feast until you book your reservations for Boston. It will be worth it. Promise. And face it, this is just something you can’t try at home.
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