Known for its traditional Irish pubs, Boston has recently become a haven for beer nerds, a self-described group for whom one kind of lager or stout is not enough. The journey to find the next great craft beer can occupy an entire weekend (or a few hours at work stalking a bar’s Twitter feed), and there are plenty of destinations from which to choose. Today’s beer bars are an eclectic group offering everything from hopped-
up, West Coast IPAs to rare Belgian and German brews. And local brewers from the Bay State and New England are represented all over town. The bars themselves range from dark, subterranean hideouts to pizza restaurants, but the common thread is an emphasis on tap and bottle lists.
Here are the things to look for in a good beer bar: selection and rotation, ambience, service (bartenders aren’t just pouring your brew, they also need to be able to talk about it), food (Buffalo wings are not good enough), and pricing. Other issues inevitably crop up, of course, but this a good place to start. I’ve limited my selections to the metro Boston area.
I consider these to be the 10 best beer bars in Boston.
1 The Publick House
1648 Beacon St., Washington Square, Brookline
Focused on Belgian beers, The Publick House has a well-curated tap list that features rare pours from both “there” (that’s how it describes beers such as D’Achouffe La Chouffe from Belgium), and “here,” which includes Brooklyn Brewery’s Brown Ale and others made in this country. Pours come in tulips, pilsner, and pint glasses, a different shape for each beer. Patrons look a lot like they spent time in Vermont or Brooklyn, N.Y. — many with beards and plaid shirts. You can sit at the dimly lighted bar or in what might be the most warm and inviting dining room in the city. The mac and cheese is a standout, and traditional Belgian fare like moules frites pairs well with that country’s slightly sweet, slightly spicy beers. The Publick House may not have the most beer, but it has the best beer.
2 Lord Hobo
92 Hampshire St., Inman Square, Cambridge
In a space that used to house the B-Side Lounge, Lord Hobo is easy to miss from the street. Located in a residential area off Inman Square in Cambridge, the bar is cozy and unassuming. A curtain at the door keeps out drafts, artwork by local artists hangs on walls, and a horseshoe-shaped bar surrounds a nondenominational altar of draught lines in the center. There are 40 rotating taps, and, boy, do they rotate. I’ve found rare beers here, such as Hill Farmstead offerings from Greensboro, Vt., and Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, aged in bourbon barrels. The bottle list is just as much of a treasure trove, with about 30 selections of rare beers, including sour beers from the renowned Cantillion Brewery. Food here is less traditional (confit croquette with spicy aioli). Staff is knowledgeable and welcoming.
3 Cambridge Brewing Co.
1 Kendall Square, Cambridge
When you think of local brew pubs, you may think of average beer. Not here. Brewmaster Will Meyers is extraordinarily experimental. For a festival celebrating saisons last summer, Meyers brought in seven beers. The CBC’s Great Pumpkin Festival in October featured 40 varieties of beer made with the orange squash. Despite being a local brew pub, Cambridge Brewing competes nationally; CBC’s Heather Ale recently took home a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival. The bar itself is near the Kendall T and the area’s labs and offices, making it a good hangout for techies. Short rib poutine and a pizza topped with local foraged mushrooms are different from the usual pub fare, and when the weather is warm, an outdoor patio offers coveted seats. Servers will happily discuss what you’re sipping — all beers are made on the premises — and how it was brewed.
4 Sunset Grill & Tap
130 Brighton Ave., Allston
Sunset is your best option for the biggest, best selection of beers on tap (there are more than 100), and the 350-bottle list is nuts. Tap lines are cleaned often. If you’re looking to expand your palate and try as many new beers as possible, this is the place. Alas, the food is standard beer fare: burritos and Buffalo wings. This is not a cozy bar. It feels and functions like an informal restaurant, with neighboring students its population.
5 Deep Ellum
477 Cambridge St., Allston
Deep Ellum is another 20-something hangout, but offers a completely different experience. It’s cramped in a good way. While it may be tough to get a seat at the bar on weekends, once you’re snugly inside, you’ll appreciate rubbing elbows with others and keeping warm. There are 30 or so beers on tap, but the list is exceptionally well-curated with limited edition brews such as seasonal offerings from locally made Pretty Things, Mystic Brewing, and rare German selections like Arcobräu Gräfliches Brauhaus Zwickl Lager, an unfiltered Kellerbier. There’s an extensive cocktail list, and the food — pork belly, deviled eggs, charcuterie — is worthy of pairing with great beer. If you’re looking for the hipster scene, this is it.
4 Cambridge Center, Kendall Square, Cambridge
Filled with techies flicking their fingers up and down their iPhones, Meadhall is Cambridge’s answer to Allston’s Sunset, with more than 100 beers on tap. This is a big space with a clean, industrial feel, but somehow it manages to be comfortable. Service is terrific and the food (local oysters and housemade bratwurst) is eclectic. My one gripe is that tap selections don’t seem to change as often as at some of the smaller bars. There are fewer
super-rare selections, which is a quibble only a beer geek could come up with. Share a bowl of mixed nuts roasted with brown sugar and rosemary or Parmesan-sprinkled fries with your friends.
7 The Lower Depths Tap Room
476 Commonwealth Ave., Kenmore Square
I’ve spent a lot of time here. Maybe too much time. I can’t help liking this place. Located a couple of blocks from the main drag of bars near Fenway Park, the Depths is a subterranean beer sanctuary. Portraits of literary “low-lifes” line the walls, and 17 taps and more than 100 bottles (including 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor) provide plenty from which to choose. Work your way through the list (bartenders keep track of this) and you get your own mug. Beer here is expensive compared with other spots in town (chalk that up to ballpark proximity), but the hot dogs ($1 each) and tater tots are pre- and post-game staples.
8 Bukowski Tavern
1281 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge
50 Dalton St., Back Bay
Sticking with the literary theme, the two bars named for author Charles Bukowski serve up some of the best craft beers in the city. I’m partial to the Inman Square location and the big garage door at the front of the bar that opens in nice weather. Not sure what you want? Spin the beer wheel, cross your fingers, and hope that you land on Port Brewing’s Shark Attack or Ommegang’s Duvel Rustico, rather than Coors Light. You’re stuck with whatever the spinner lands on. Both bars are just the right kind of dark, perfect for day-drinking, though neither is the first place you’d take your mother or girlfriend. Food items include a White Trash Cheese Dip and chicken and waffles.
9 Local 149
149 P St., South Boston
Located a couple of blocks from Castle Island, Local 149 is the epitome of the changing neighborhood that is modern-day Southie. Snazzy with a stainless steel bar, brightly colored bottles on the wall, and house-made pickled vegetables on the menu, this place is constantly packed with both Southie lifers and newcomers. There are more than 20 taps offering brews like Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA and Delirium Tremens, and seasonal rotation happens often. Food choices range from oysters to charcuterie to an exceptionally delicious tuna burger.
10 Stoddard’s Fine Food & Ale
48 Temple Place, Downtown Crossing
A stylish, metropolitan bar with a New York vibe might not seem like a haven for craft beer, but Stoddard’s has emerged as a theatergoer’s destination. More than 20 oft-rotating taps might feature Troegs Nugget Nectar from Hershey, Pa., or High & Mighty Beer of the Gods, from Holyoke. There is usually an interesting beer on cask, such as Rapscallion Honey Ale. You can order cocktails, items such as pork loin and scallops from the dinner menu, or a cheese plate for snacking. On weekends, the place can be a bit of a scene; Stoddard’s fills a downtown void.
@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @globegarydzen.
Clarification: The bar top at Local 149 is made of stainless steel.