The best of 2012: Culture and nightlife

A bartender mixes up a Saloon Sour at Saloon.

All week long, Metro will be highlighting our selections of the city’s best — from dining spots to health and beauty oases — of 2012. Check back tomorrow for our picks in retail and fashion.

Easiest bar not to be able able to find, but worth it when you do: Backbar

9 Sanborn Ct., Somerville

617-718-0249

www.backbarunion.com

And just like that, the coolest bar in the city opened, with this cocktail-nerd/Somerville hipster spot!

Most likely place to make Harvard Square hip again:The Sinclair

52 Church St., Cambridge

617-451-7700

www.sinclaircambridge.com

OK, so Harvard Square isn’t totally unhip. It’s home to some of Boston’s great independent shops and restaurants, but its status is increasingly threatened by bland national chains. (Did we really need another Panera?) Luckily, last week’s opening of this upper-mid-level rock club, booked by independent agency The Bowery Presents, is a shot in the arm for the Square’s cool, which will be ratified when Mission of Burma plays the venue in January.

Bar you most wish was actually your apartment: Hawthorne

500 A Comm. Ave., Boston

617-532-9150

www.thehawthornebar.com

The third entry in the Hotel Commonwealth cocktail takeover opened this year, and the inside lounge looks cozy enough to live in — if just to put your feet up on the nice furniture!

Best bar to listen to vinyl and drink the equivalent in cocktails: Brick and Mortar

569 Mass. Ave., Cambridge

617-491-0061

www.brickandmortarbar.com

Old-school cocktail classics meet old-school vinyl jams at this instant success that — we sort of hate to say it — has already made us forget about the dearly departed Enormous Room.

Least Chinatown-y Chinatown restaurant and bar: Shojo

9A Tyler St., Boston

617-423-7888

www.shojoboston.com

Craft cocktails in Chinatown? It’s an idea so crazy it just might work. It does, actually, at this hip-feeling oasis in a sea of rough-around-the-edges authenticity.

Best place to drink and throw heavy objects: Lanes and Games

195 Concord Tpke., Cambridge

617-876-5533

www.lanesgames.com

We’re talking about bowling balls, of course — any other heavy objects you throw here are your own problem. Lanes and Games isn’t the only restaurant/bowling alley in the Boston area, and not the swankiest either, but it does feature a relative rarity: the New England tradition of Candlepin bowling, which uses smaller balls and pins, making for a more challenging game. But you’re up to the challenge, right?

Best place to stand in line all night to get inside: Lincoln Tavern

425 West Broadway  Boston

617-765-8636

www.lincolnsouthboston.com

Who knew that a decent bistro-style restaurant would be popular in one of the densest 20-something neighborhoods in the city? Be prepared to stand in line. People are hungry for this sort of thing over there.

Best bar for pretending you’re a writer: Bukowski Tavern

1281 Cambridge St., Cambridge

617-497-7077

www.bukowskitavern.net

Any bar is a good place to pretend you’re a writer, but this is the only one in town whose patron saint is the king of literary functional alcoholism: Charles Bukowski. Forget that he was from L.A.— his grizzled straight talk is totally compatible with the Bostonian mind-set.

Best bar to meet a real, living writer: The Middlesex

315 Mass. Ave., Cambridge

617-868-6739

www.middlesexlounge.us

Not only will you probably see a Metro writer behind the bar here, but with so many different types of dance and live music nights, you’re bound to run into writers from the Globe, the Dig and the Phoenix, too. Some will be spin-ning in the DJ booth, but many will just be kind of lurking in the dark corners, with their noses buried in a cocktail and/or a Twitter feed. Proceed with caution.

Best reason to actually go to Magoun Square now: Daddy Jones

525 Medford St., Somerville

617-690-9095

www.daddyjonesbar.com

All the way over to Medford? Is this even Medford or Somerville? Do you need a helicopter to get there? If so, book a flight: This is instantly the cutest and most fun bar in the area.

Establishment with the best signature drink that seems way too easy to make: Rosa Mexicano

155 Seaport Blvd., Boston

617-476-6122

www.rosamexicano.com

Yes, this new arrival in Boston is but a link in the Rosa Mexicano chain, with 15 locations in the most reliable metropolitan areas in the country. And yes, to make the delicious pomegranate margarita, the bartender simply pulls a lever on the same type of swirling frozen-drink machine that has made 7-Eleven famous. But dang if that drink isn’t worth every penny you spend on lots more food than you need after the bewitching combination of silver tequila, pomegranate and lime juices ruins your judgement. If you have more than one, you might want to book a room at any of the nearby hotels before you made another bad decision.

Best place to feel like you’re on Cape Cod without crossing the bridge: City Landing

255 State St., Boston

617-725-0305

www.citylanding.com

Never mind the fact that chef Bill Brodsky is known for making cuisine worthy of membership fees at the Wequassett Resort and Golf Club in Harwich, but when he and his crew moved into the space formerly occupied by Sel de la Terre, they brought a welcome Cape Cod flair to the waterfront. The cuisine, the decor and the drinks will almost make you feel out of place if you’re not wearing boat shoes. That said, beware of the Docksider, because the combo of New England Corn Whiskey with cherry, lemon and honey mixers tastes like the shoe it was presumably named after. But the staff is so friendly that they offered us something different and didn’t charge us for trying. Yeah, it was a little tough not to feel like a tourist.

Great drinks, but too dim to take a proper Instagram of them: Lone Star

477 Cambridge St., Allston

617-782-8226

www.lonestar-boston.com

Everyone wants to take pictures of their cocktails now, but at this tiny, low-lit, cramped extension of the popular Deep Ellum, it’s so dark you’re just going to have to be content to drink all the tequila and mezcal like a normal person.



Best place to get really bitter: West Bridge


One Kendall Sq., Cambridge

617-945-0221

www.westbridgerestaurant.com

No, not get bitter, like angry about the NHL not happening or something, but bitter in a good way. The best new cocktail bar in the Kendall area (and the cuisine is pretty amazing as well) isn’t afraid to put something bitter in your glass.  

Best place to do karaoke while sipping a killer cocktail: Highland Kitchen

150 Highland Ave., Somerville

617-625-1131

www.highlandkitchen.com

The Courtside Lounge in Lechmere has the biggest book around, and they do have an amazing PBR pitcher and pizza deal, but the scene at the Highland with The People’s Karaoke is more consistently uproarious. Every Wednesday, beginning at 10 p.m., you’re likely to see the delicate balance of participants having a blast and goofing around and singers who will legitimately impress you. Plus, the Highland’s Mark and Stormy cocktail (Maker’s Mark, ginger beer and some spicy jalapeno concoction) will easily prime you to step up to the mic.

Best Saturday Night Fever: ZuZu

472 Mass. Ave., Cambridge

617-864-EAST

www.mideastclub.com

ZuZu’s longtime dance night Soulelujah is still the hottest ticket in town to get your boogie on.  White three-piece suit? Entirely optional.

Best place to get your flapper on: Noir

One Bennett St., Cambridge

617-661-8010

www.charleshotel.com

Ah, the hooch, the Charleston or whatever it was those dapper flappers did on the dance floor. Time to make like Nucky Thompson and one of his floozies. Noir’s Prohibition night is all about the roaring, scoring ’20s.

Best place to get poetry slammed: Lizard Lounge

1667 Mass. Ave., Cambridge

617-547-0759

www.lizardloungeclub.com

Central Square’s Cantab Lounge has the more serious weekly slam each Wednesday, but that’s exactly why we like the Lizard Lounge’s alternative on Sunday nights — no reason you can’t go to both! The atmosphere here is cooler, the crowd more intimate, the drink selection much better and there’s a live jazz band backing up the feature act. But be ready to participate — you might just get roped into being a judge!

Best place where the toilet (almost?) outdoes the main attraction: Mary Baker Eddy Library

200 Mass. Ave., Boston

888-222-3711

www.marybakereddylibrary.org

The terra cotta-tiled loos at the Mary Baker Eddy Library are a work of art and almost beat the Mapparium as a stunning installation. Every toilet should be this lucky.

Best reason to actually go downtown: jm Curley

21 Temple Pl., Boston

617-338-5333

www.jmcurleyboston.com

Every bartender you know drinks here. What else do you need to hear?

Best new neighborhood for nightlife/bridge and tunnel crowd: The Waterfront

While it’s been in the works for years, this year saw the completion of Boston’s Waterfront into the premier dining/peacocking destination, with a new oversized, overpriced tourist trap opening every other week.

Best new local spirit to get burnt by: Grand Ten’s Fire Puncher Vodka

www.grandten.com/makes/firepuncher.php

Vodka is so not hot right now, unless we’re talking about this habanero-infused concoction from Boston’s newest micro-distillers.

Best bar for pretending you’re a robber baron:Saloon

255 Elm St., Somerville

617-628-4444

www.saloondavis.com

With its leather-seated, wood-paneled decor, 19th-century newspaper-looking menus with items like Roasted Cornish Game Hen and Duet of Rabbit and a staggering 120 varieties of whiskey, this bar beneath the Davis Square Theater is a time machine straight back to turn-of-the-century New York City saloons, only with much better sanitation policies. It’s a great place to express your views on the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine, pretend social Darwinism is still a good, untested idea or just shout “I drink your milkshake!” in your best Daniel Plainview voice.



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