The best of 2012: Culture and nightlife
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.