Boston, as a city, likes to imbibe. Mass Art types and Cambridge intellectuals gather at inventive restaurants to try science-backed creations. Hordes of college students stampede into Allston or Mission Hill for fishbowls and buckets of booze. Hardworking financiers and construction workers pop into a bar for a 5 o’clock pisco sour or pint. Even in an era of the dwindling dive bars, we still protect our Model Cafesand Corner Pubs. We down boozy shakes in Somerville, pitchers of Guinness in Southie, craft beer in Brookline. Even in a city as culturally diverse as Boston, we come together to get our drink on.
But how do we do that? Does a bargoer in Somerville knock back Jameson like a drinker in Dorchester? Are Brookline’s bartenders shaking more martinis than the North End’s? We decided to do a little research. Craving Boston called, emailed and visited 66 bars in the Boston area, asking bartenders, beverage directors and restaurant owners how their neighborhood likes to sip, shoot, and guzzle booze. Here’s what we found:
And the big winner cocktails are... Manhattans and old fashioneds: No matter who we called, from the restaurants in the South End to the Allston dives, we found two drinks come up again and again. Manhattans — whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters — appear all over the GBA. However, the old fashioned — whiskey, bitters, sugar, orange, and perhaps a brandied cherry — blew past the Manhattan as the big winner of most popular drink. "A rule of thumb is that simplicity sells,” says Ashish Mitra, bar manager at Cambridge’s Russell House Tavern. “The most popular drinks we've featured on the ever changing menus here have always been those with no more than 3 or 4 ingredients, and an instantly recognizable flavor profile."
In fact, we can’t get enough whiskey: We drink a lot of whiskey, but the pricier the neighborhood, the more Manhattans you see. If you’re a slumming-student or a straight-shooter in Southie, you’re sticking to the Jameson on the rocks. “We’re in Allston, so I’m not making many Manhattans,” says Kyle Reiss, a bartender at college hangout The Avenue. He does spot his fair share of whiskey in a different form: the cinnamon-candy flavoredFireball. But in Brookline, you can spot more craft labels. "Bourbons and ryes have really surged in sales in the past few years,” says Damian Dowling of The Abbey in Brookline. “With easier access to small batch distilleries, brown liquor lovers are getting to try loads of spirits that we never could get our hands on."
Give us a twist on a classic
The most common phrase we heard from our sources was “our twist on.” The South End's Estragon has a twist on an old fashioned infused with mission fig. The Abbey’s most popular signature is a twist on a mint julep. At Downtown Crossing, Merchant’s signature is a twist — excuse me, a “riff,” — on the French 75. This comes as no surprise to Carl York, beverage director at Somerville’s The Kirkland Tap & Trotter. "There's a continuing upward momentum of awareness for classic cocktails,” York says, calling from Chef Tony Maws' popular watering hole and eatery. “We've been seeing this for the last four or five years, but now I think it's extended to almost all drinkers." You can even spot an old fashioned on his menu - and yes, it’s their most popular classic cocktail.
We like our local beers… The big winner brewery was Harpoon, so it’s clear we’re loyal to our roots here in Boston. The local runner-up, Jack’s Abby, is based in Framingham, and Sam Adamscame in third. In terms of brew styles, IPAs unsurprisingly are on the up-and-up, from Harpoon’s to California’s Lagunitas.
...But we’re a sucker for a good Guinness and domestic. Then again, Boston’s Irish population stood strong, tying with Jack’s Abby as runner-up. Bud Light and the Dublin stout dominated in Southie and Dorchester, while the chugging favorite Pabst Blue Ribbon popped up at dive bars in Allston (The Silhouette’s pitchers of PBR dominate around the pool table).
3 notable trends in Boston neighborhoods
1. Allston/Brighton: This college-and-artist neighborhood drinks a lot of domestic beer and knocks back heavy-hitters, from whiskey and Grateful Deads at the dives to strong margaritas and fishbowls at the louder spots (Sunset Cantina and Tavern in the Square). Overall, the winners are the best-bang-for-your-buck drinks, often spotted at Allston’s many watering holes. "Allston and dive bars go hand-in-hand,” says Chris Harrell at the Model Cafe on a Monday night. “They're for students, musicians, artists, because you know we can't afford anything else."
2. Cambridge/Somerville: Across the river, experimental drinks get the most attention -- but those scientists and academics still love to party. No bar represents this trend better than Cafe ArtScience, the restaurant next to MIT’s art and science museum-meets-galleryLe Laboratoire. Bar director Todd Maul utilizes the fascinating Le Whaf carafe, which turns mixed drinks into an inhalable vapor. But even he says that a good cocktail isn’t necessarily fancy. “Drinking should be fun,” Maul says, burning a house-made bitters sugar cube onto an orange slice. “Everything I do here has a purpose.” His cocktails often go through several trials, so each chemical reaction goes off without a hitch. The result: exciting tiki cocktails and easy-to-drink old fashioneds.
3. Dorchester/Southie: Of all the bars we called in Southern Boston, half of them described themselves as “whiskey and beer bars. Southie is Bud and Guinness Territory, with a shot or two in between - mostly Jameson. The Irish booze hits hard down Dot Ave, as well, because, in Harp & Bardbartender Matthew Fagerberg says, “This is Dorchester, after all.”
To see how your neighborhood drinks, click through our interactive map, complete with quotes from bartenders and pics of favorite drinks.