Boston was founded by Puritans and some might say that its nightlife retains an echo of this heritage: unlike clubs in New York, the city that never sleeps, Boston establishments close at 2:00 a.m. That may seem early, but you can pack a lot in before last call—and Boston might surprise you in just how much it has to offer.
Bars and light-night nibbles
Saint, in the Copley Square Hotel, is among the city’s swankiest, most exclusive bars—something that its indifferent bartenders will lord over you. Although you’ll pay less for a martini here than in New York, the prices are high enough by Boston standards to keep the college-aged kids at bay. Within the same building is the Oak Bar. An erstwhile men’s establishment, this joint now welcomes both sexes with plush leather seating, velvety curtain swags, high ceilings... and high prices to match, but the yummy belinnis are worth it.
Also popular among a mature crowd is the City-Bar, an intimate, darkly-lit space in the lobby of the historic Lenox Hotel. The martinis here are infused with fresh fruit and the generously sized martini glasses chill on a rainbow-light block of ice like a work of art. Munch on tappas, prepared by chef Robert Fathman, or strike up a conversation with the very friendly—and very good-looking—male bartenders.
If you prefer a bar with a view of the city, head to Top of the Hub, on the 52nd floor of the Prudential Center in Back Bay. This restaurant and lounge offers 360-degree views of Boston: from the lights in Fenway Park, to the planes coming into Logan Airport. It’s especially popular with couples around sunset—when the light is at its most romantic and a live pianist provides the perfect musical accompaniment—so it doesn’t hurt to call ahead for reservations.
Back on street level, this time in Boston’s South End, The Butcher Shop wine bar is popular with a trendier but still fun-seeking crowd. In addition to its extensive wine list, if you’re feeling hungry the bar serves a small but very tasty menu of antipasti freshly sliced from its counter full of cheese, foie gras, and other meat cuts. And, despite its name, The Butcher Shop also offers homemade chutneys, brioche and other veggie-friendly items.
Cuffs, in the basement of the Jurys Hotel, bills itself as an Irish bar. Technically this is true, as the hotel is owned by an Ireland-based company, but the drink selection contains more martinis than you’re liable to find at the average corner pub—and the food is a gourmet take on American standards like the hamburger. If you’re a hotel guest, you stand a good shot at slipping past the bouncers, otherwise there’s often a line to enter.
This is Boston, which boasts one of the largest Irish-American communities in the nation, so if you’re looking for an Irish pub there are plenty of more authentic places. Although it’s only 15 years old, Mr. Dooley’s Boston Tavern, in the Financial District, bills itself as the place to go for “a pint and a chat”. In addition to traditional pub fare, like shepherd’s pie and Irish beef stew, Mr. Dooley’s serves up live Celtic music, string bands, and the like.
Clubs and music venues
If you’re looking to bust a move in Boston, check out Aria and Rumor, cozy sister clubs in the South End that play house and techno music, with the occasional gay night. The Roxy, in the Tremont Boston Hotel, is larger and louder—a Boston mainstay featuring everything from Chippendale nights, to Latin music, and the obligatory trance and techno.
But if you only have time for one dance club in Boston, let it be Avalon, located at 15 Lansdowne Street: an address that old-timers might recognize from the 1970s. The club was first opened as a disco in the 1970s by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, the pair who later created New York’s famed Studio 54. Today, several generations of owners and name changes later, the cavernous space hosts everything from circuit parties to rock concerts—and dance nights on weekends.
For live jazz music, check out Regattabar at the Charles Hotel and Scullers Jazz Club, which between them boast more “Best of” awards than you can shake a stick at. Regattabar, located in Harvard Square, offers a diverse line-up that ranges from musicians in the style of guitar great Django Reinhardt to Brazilian Bossa Nova devotees. Scullers, in Boston’s Doubletree Guest Suites Hotel, pulls in the big acts: pianist Marian McPartland, crooner Harry Connick Jr., and drummer T.S. Monk Jr.
A much smaller venue, which many would argue is a more authentic one, is Wally’s, located in the South End at the corner of Mass Ave and Cambridge Avenue. Open since 1947—the first nightclub in New England to be owned and operated by an African American—Wally’s offers something different each day of the week: from blues on Monday nights, to Afro-Cuban Latin jazz, to bebop and swing. Most of the acts are local talent, which Wally’s likes to nurture.
If indie rock is more your style, you must make a pilgrimage to the Middle East, located just north of Central Square on Mass Ave in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Any band that goes through the Boston area stops here and a single evening’s line-up can include four bands. The club almost defies description. A ground floor restaurant named Zuzu offers a full menu of Middle Eastern cuisine—think vegetarian falafel, hummus, and grape leaves, served to the accompaniment of belly dancing—while rooms on the second floor and in the basement serve up acts like Death Cab for Cutie, Pretty Girls Make Graves, and the recent cult favorite, Harry and the Potters.