6 Boston Bars That Transport You To Other Places

There are myriad bars you can go to if you just want a decent atmosphere and drinks. On a recent trip to Boston, however, I learned there are many bars that are more than they appear on the outside. On your next trip to the city, make sure to check out some of these bars and restaurants that transport you to other places.

The Hawthorne
500A Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

The Hotel Commonwealth is a great home base for bar hopping, as it houses three of the best classic cocktail bars in the city. However, its newest venue, The Hawthorne, takes this one step further by creating an ambiance of sophisticated comfort. As you walk in, you’ll immediately be transported to an upscale urban apartment. Oversized couches, wingback chairs, highly curated art and photography and jam-packed bookshelves transform this cocktail lounge into feeling like a classy cocktail party. Look closer at one of the bookcases, and you’ll notice it’s not just books in there, but some of Bar Manager Jackson Cannon’s favorite things, like his favorite spirits line and personal glassware. You can tell they pay attention to detail at The Hawthorne, and this continues to the bar, where Head Bartender Nicole Lebedevitch and staff craft classic cocktails with the precision of a scientist. Expect international and hard-to-find spirits and ingredients.

What To Drink: A “Phil Collins,” which has cucumber vodka, lime juice, simple syrup, yellow chartreuse and dash of cranberry bitters, or a “Dutch Oven,” made with Barrel Aged Bols Genever, 2 sugar cubes, 3 dashes regans orange bitters and soda water.

Island Creek Oyster Bar
500 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

Also located at the Hotel Commwealth is Island Creek Oyster Bar (ICOB), which is a “collaboration joining farmer, chef, and diner in one space.” The restaurant brings elements of the Island Creek Oyster Farm in Duxbury to restaurant guests, without any mess. In fact, ICOB is designed in a pristine white, with Gabion cages filled with tens of thousands of oyster shells making the three-dimensional walls. Additionally, reclaimed Wyoming snow fence is used to create the shutters, and wood from a restored Vermont farmhouse has been refurbished to build the wainscoting. When ordering from the menu, you’ll notice the names of small farms, each specializing in aquaculture, carefully listed next to each dish. This bar also takes a classic cocktail way of thinking, but with a local and seasonally inspired twist.

What To Drink: A “Snug Harbor Mash,” featuring crushed lime, Rich Demerara and ICOB’s house 4 Rum Blend, or an “ICOB Pilsner,” an exclusive pilsner brewed with jasmine and orange peel, and designed to be the ideal accompaniment to fried fare and shellfish.

The Back Deck
2 West Street, Boston

At the Back Deck, guests are transported to a backyard barbeque, although with more polish than sitting at a splintered picnic table. The design of the venue brings the outdoors inside, featuring three distinct backyard-inspired deck spaces bordered by walls of sliding floor-to-ceiling windows. Chefs employ the use of three high quality grills, The Woodshow Broiler, the restaurant’s biggest grill, The Montague Charcoal Broiler, used for “low and slow” cooked items and Mt. St. Helens Shallow-Box Charbroiler, the professional version of the charcoal grill. Only Hardwood charcoal is used, as it gives the cuisine a rich, smoky flavor and also allows food to sear better and stick less. At the bar, refreshing punches and coolers will transport you to summer, no matter what season it is.

What To Drink: A “West St. Cooler,” which contains watermelon, Ragged Mountain Rum, a hint of Aperol and a splash of soda, or a “Ginger Arnold Palmer,” made with lemonade and iced tea spiked with Berkshire Bourbon and a touch of Canton ginger.

Uni Sashimi Bar
370 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

While most sushi restaurants can help give you a quick Japanese experience, Uni Sashimi Bar will immerse you in all the country has to offer and more. In an intimate space, guests can enjoy innovative sashimi, a range of traditional Asian street food items and late-night Ramen. In fact, their fresh seafood is shipped overnight from Tokyo’s Tskuji market. Diners can sample famous street food items like pork belly steam buns and vegetable tempura. While you can order typical Japanese dishes and chefs incorporate traditional sushi practices, they also put an avant-garde twist on many of the selections, like combining salmon with fermented black beans and ginger, or Japanese Striped Bass with chestnut ash, roasted Brussel sprout leaves and pickled kumquats. At the bar, expect an extensive Sake menu, with headings like “traditional,” “seasonal,” “rich” and “fragrant.” Sake cocktails, Asian-inspired drinks and fusion libations are also on the menu.

What To Drink: “Sun Rising,” a mixture of Yamazaki 12 whiskey, plum sake, pear sake, Cherry Heering, orange juice and lemon juice, or “Young’s Sangria,” made with plum sake, pear sake, Churchill white port, lime juice and orange juice.

Union Oyster House
41 Union Street, Boston

While you’ll still be in a restaurant, Union Oyster House leaves guests overwhelmed with nostalgia as they dine in America’s oldest restaurant in continuous service. Established in 1826 as a restaurant, the building itself has stood as an iconic Boston landmark for over 250 years. Diners can still enjoy Union Oyster House‘s heritage, and take a peek back in time with old-fashioned tavern decor, dim lighting, weathered wood, old newspaper clippings and photographs, timeless portraits and antique furnishings. You’ll get cornbread with every meal, lobsters right from the tank, heaping bowls of chowder and fresh seafood cooked just as it was years ago, without any fancy fusion or modern spinning. At the bar, they have an impressive selection of beers, which you can sip in a laid-back atmosphere while slurping back some oysters. This is where you’ll get the best service, and where you can watch shuckers in action while hearing their stories about life in Boston and the history of the restaurant.

What To Drink: The “Sam Adams Colonial Ale.” This American Amber beer has a malty flavor, notes of caramel and pairs well with seafood.

PARK Restaurant & Bar
59 JFK Street, Cambridge

Located in the Greater Boston Area, PARK Restaurant & Bar will make you believe you’re in an antique parlor. With vintage curios like antique typewriters, artwork and photography from the ’60s and ’70s, first edition books and local maps from the turn of the century, their cocktail den retains the atmosphere of your eccentric uncle’s sophisticated parlor room. The menu is comprised of “spirited interpretations of New American classics” like the “Meat Pie of the Day” and the “PARK Patty Melt.” To compliment the theme, the bar operates under a classic cocktail philosophy, using homemade syrups, infusions, tonics and bitters to make new and old favorites.

What To Drink: “The Fireside Poet,” which is a blend of Bulleit Bourbon, Creole Shrubb, Santa Maria del Monte and Marasche Syrup or the “Old Cuban,” which has Barbancourt 5 Star Rum, Lime, Simple, Angostura Bitters, Mint and Cava.

Do you have a favorite bar in Boston that transports you to another place?

Are Classic Cocktails Making A Comeback In The United States?

Gin martini, mint julep, manhattan, old-fashioned, sidecar – these classic cocktail favorites are nothing new in the world of libations. In fact, they’ve been around since Prohibition, standing the test of time, exemplifying a certain class of drinks that focuses on the spirit in a simple and honest way. While many modern drinks have been invented since then, incorporating exotic ingredients and high-tech machinery into the mixology, there has been a revival of classic cocktails in the last few years. But, how did this quality culture of cocktails begin, where did it go and why is it coming back?


According to Derek Brown of the classic cocktail bar The Passenger in Washington, D.C., cocktails are an American invention.

“There were many mixed drinks before, and these drinks such as Juleps, cups and punches have a very old pedigree, long before the United States,” Brown explained to Gadling. “But, the technical definition of a cocktail is first found in 1806 in a New York paper and it states that a cocktail is made of spirituous liquor of any kind, sugar, water and bitters. We exported that to the entire world and, in that way, a cocktail is as American as baseball or apple pie.”

That was during a time when Americans were making punches hot and in large quantities. The drinks were essentially composed of brandy, gin or whiskey and a bit of sugar. However, it was Jerry Thomas, often considered the “father of American mixology,” who started making individual drinks. He also introduced the notion of adding fruit and ice, helping to define a modern cocktail era. Thomas was the leader of what is thought of as the real golden age of bartending. This was between the 1850s and Prohibition, which is when Thomas wrote the first bartending guide titled “Bon Vivant’s Guide” or “How To Mix Drinks,” published in 1862.In the late 1800s and early 1900s, cocktail culture in America was really booming and beginning to expand. Bartenders began turning to famous cocktail venues all over the world for inspiration and knowledge. However, in 1920, congress introduced the Volstead Act, marking the beginning of Prohibition and forcing American cocktail culture to go underground.

Where’d They Go?

There are many opinions as to what the main cause of the classic cocktail’s decline was. For one, many people correlate the end of these quality craft cocktails with Prohibition. During this time, top mixologists moved out of the country, switched professions or retired. Moreover, the level of skill necessary to be a bartender has also declined in past decades.

If we look at culinary trends in the United States since the early 20th century, you also see less craft production,” says Brown. “Bartenders are no longer making their own ingredients, and bartending no longer requires the high-level of knowledge and skill it had during the golden age. Obviously, this and many other reasons lead to a decline of professionalism in bartending.”

Tim Stevens, bar manager of Seven Grand, agrees, although he also believed the 80s had something to do with it, as well. This is when artificial flavoring and sweeteners were introduced, and fresh squeezed juices and class liquors deemed “our Grandfather’s booze” were pushed to the side.

“In came high sucrose corn syrup and the fun game of engineering flavoring instead of using the actual source,” explains Stevens. “How could the American public fall for this? Well, we were in the middle of embracing convenience, microwave ovens, the first cellphones, and yes, canned cocktails. The faster we could get something became more important than what we were getting.”

And while, Edmundo Molina, bar manager at Andaz 5th Avenue’s The Bar Downstairs, agrees with all of this, he also cites vodka as a culprit. The spirit even began replacing former classics in well-known cocktails.

“By 1955, 4 million cases of Vodka were sold in the USA, and by the ’60s it had surpassed whiskey and gin, to become the country’s biggest selling spirit. Martinis were prepared with vodka instead of gin,” Molina states.

Making A Comeback

For those looking for high-quality libations, you’ll be happy to know classic cocktails are making a comeback. One reason for the revival is a few passionate bartenders who cared about the old days. For example, bartender Dale DeGroff, also known as “King Cocktail,” pioneered a method for recreating these timeless favorites and consults with various hotels, restaurants and bars.

Moreover, you can’t ignore the fact that there is hardly a city in the United States that isn’t currently promoting craft cocktail bars. Is it really a surprise, though? These classics are timeless, hence the name “classic cocktails.” They promote the spirit in a very honest way.

“It is like finding out that someone has been lying to you for years. What would you do?” asks Stevens, before continuing. “Rediscover where you were, embrace freshness, adjust your mind and tastes back to your grandmother’s cooking and toss the fast food in the trash. It was only a matter of time until Americans revived the romance.”

Additionally, it’s hard to ignore the physical proof in terms of sheer numbers and resources.

“There are now thousands of interested bartenders and tens of thousands of consumers interested in better drinks with carefully chosen ingredients and more of a story attached to them,” says Jackson Cannon of Eastern Standard in Boston. “Conferences like Tales of the Cocktail, which had 20,000 plus attendees in New Orleans this year, provide a platform for the like-minded to share information on this restoration of cultural ideals.”

And for some, these cocktails never actually left. Instead, the venues to find these quality drinks just became more difficult to find.

“Since the ’90s, cocktail bars in New York, San Francisco and London started to make a comeback and helped re-introduce the concept,” says Molina. “I think people forgot how amazing a well-made cocktail tastes, and thank God for those mixologists who never forgot about the history of the classic culture!”

Museum Of The American Cocktail

The Museum Of The American Cocktail, which was founded by Dale DeGroff himself, is the world’s first museum dedicated to educating the public on classic cocktails and preserving their heritage. Moreover, it also serves as an association of the country’s most accomplished mixologists. Visitors will have the chance to take part in mixology seminars, view multimedia presentations, experience rare Prohibition-era literature and music, see vintage cocktail shakers and gadgets and more.

Where To Get A Classic Cocktail In The United States

Want to know where you can try some classic cocktails for yourself? While myriad worthwhile venues exist around the United States, these are some of the best:

The Passenger (Washington, D.C.)- Says bartender and owner, Derek Brown, “We serve a lot of classic cocktails. That’s the base for all the drinks we do. Old-Fashioneds, Martinis, real Martinis with Gin and Vermouth, sours. People love them and, when they have great, balanced drinks, have trouble going back to syrupy crap.”

Seven Grand (Los Angeles and San Diego, California)- “We really have the roots on our menu. I refer to them as the Hard Five, an unwavering grip of tradition that stands the test of time. The Rye Manhattan, Whiskey Sour, Mint Julep, Old-Fashioned and the Sazerac,” explains bar manager, Timothy Stevens. “These are not only amazing representations of whiskey consumption, but some also date back to 1890, which sums up the point we are trying to make here. Learn from the past, embrace the future.”

The Bar Downstairs (New York, NY)- This bar dedicated a full menu page to classic cocktails. They carry a small selection of spirits, carry high-quality ice and make their own fresh juices everyday. “Guests favorites are: East Side, French 75, Sazerac, and of course the Manhattan and Martini,” says bar manager, Edmundo Molina. “We love to amaze our regulars with new tips, information and recipes each time they come in, and educate new guests about our classic cocktails and about the NYC cocktail scene in general.”

The Cure (New Orleans, Louisiana)- On their website, this bar states, “Inspired by the historical period when cocktails grew out of medicine and home remedies, our idea at Cure is to reintroduce our guests to another time where the experience of having a cocktail and a bite to eat was both healthful and enjoyable.”

The Violet Hour (Chicago, Illinois)- This place is classy and tasteful, and goes to great lengths to give you that old world ambiance. Some of their house rules? No use of cellphones in the lounge, no reservations, no Jager bombs or bombs of any kind, no Grey Goose, no Cosmopolitans, no light beer, no Budweiser and no bringing anyone to the lounge that you wouldn’t bring to your mother’s house.

Eastern Standard
(Boston, Massachusetts)- When asked about how their classic cocktails, Whisky Smash, Jasmine, Pegu Club and Pisco Sour, reinforce classic cocktail culture, beverage director, Jackson Cannon states, “They are tried and true and appeal to a wide-ranging palate. Their stories are evocative yet succinct, and they can be ordered in a growing number of fine bars with slight variations to them but still maintain their own obvious identities.”

Herbs And Rye (Las Vegas, Nevada)- This dark, leather-adorned bar captures the spirit of a speakeasy and is truly dedicated to making quality classic cocktails. At the top of their menu, they state, “Equal parts quality and simplicity, with a dash of controversy! Every truly classic cocktail is a study in exquisite simplicity, both in recipe and presentation.”

Mouton (Columbus, Ohio)- While the city is filled with trendy bars, Mouton delivers a cozier experience that pays homage to Prohibition-era classics. The drink menu has a strong focus on classic cocktails, like Manhattans, Mary Pickfords, Sazeracs, Aviations and Negronis. Pours are strong, smooth and perfectly crafted.

[Images via walknboston, Jessie on a Journey, Mr. T in DC, Museum of the American Cocktail, TheCulinaryGeek]