Ask anyone around the country what comes to mind when you say “Boston” and undoubtedly the preponderance of bars is going to come up on the list, shortly after schools and how much everyone hates the Patriots. But what we should really be talking about when we talk about Boston bars is Cambridge.Outside of a handful of favorites, admittedly some of the best we have to offer, all of the bars I’d ever want to go to myself can be found in the People’s Republic, from dives to cocktail nerd outposts.
Fortunately for our purposes here, and for every such list-like bit of published content in the history of Cambridge culture, the city is broken up into squares, which provides for a convenient jumping off point for highlighting some of the best. Here are a small portion of some of the newest entries in each neighborhood, plus some old favorites.
Although it’s getting a run for its money from Union Square in Somerville of late, Central Square has long been the most efficient neighborhood for a quality bar crawl. Brick and Mortar (567 Massachusetts Ave., 617-491-0016) is the perfect balance of loud, brash, hip and on point with cocktails, and the new Viale (502 Massachusetts Ave., 617- 576-1900, www/vialecambridge.com) is on the way up.
But for the best combination of service, technique and ingredients that go into the glass, you can’t beat Craigie on Main (853 Main St., 617-497-5511, www.craigieonmain.com). Most of the spirits, and bartenders for that matter, you see percolating around the city spent time here before they gained wider popularity. Of late they’re doing low-alcohol cocktails, like the classic sherry-based Bamboo and Sherry Cobbler, or mixing with vermouth bases, which is good, because you’ll want to be able to have a lot of them. Then again, if that all sounds a bit adventurous, you can just try The Cantab (738 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-354-2685) a few blocks up, for one of the last true dive bar experiences around.
I always liked the feel of the room, not to mention all of the history involved, at The First Printer, but something wasn’t clicking. The space has been taken over by the recently opened Kennedy’s on the Square (15 Dunster St., 617-497-0900), which hasn’t changed much besides adding about 300 percent more JFK paraphernalia. Cocktails are fine, but it’s more about the coziness of the room here and ducking away from the fray on the side-street locale.
Around the corner, Park (59 JFK St., 617-491-9851) with its collegiate library feel, is quietly doing some of the better cocktails in the area without much of the hype.
Porter Square proper… eh, not so much. But just outside, the second offering from the folks behind the Brookline spot The Abbey (1755 Massachusetts Ave, 617-714-4944, www.abbeycambridge.com) fits in well along the strip with the like-minded Temple Bar. Dark, brick-walled and quaint, the cocktails skew toward the populist-adventurous, with a fine beer selection, and enough hard-to-turn-down bar bites to fuel you through the drinks list. The West Side Lounge (1680 Massachusetts Ave., 617-441-5566) is still the most comfortable and coolest-feeling place in the area.
They take the name pretty literally here at the new Cafe ArtScience (650 Kendall St., 857-999-2193, www.cafeartscience.com). You won’t find anywhere else blurring the lines between drinks, science, and art as well as they do with the veritable chemistry lab behind the bar, putting out drinks like a sherry and swedish punsch cocktail served in a glass treated with the smoke of hungarian oak roasted on a grill.
The much smaller, but no less ambitious, Belly Wine Bar (1 Kendall Square, 617-494-0968, www.bellywinebar.com) balances out their selection of cured meats and cheeses with expertly chosen wine selection, including many you’re probably not familiar with, like orange wines.
Bukowski’s (1281 Cambridge St., 617-497-7077, www.bukowskitavern.net/cambridge) has been a staple of the Inman scene for years, but this past month they completed revamped the entire look and overall concept. The focus is still beer, with one of the better selections around, but now they’re attempting to bring the elevated bar food up to snuff with the crafty brews.
Trina’s Starlite Lounge (technically in Somerville: 3 Beacon St., Somerville, 617-576-0006, trinastarlitelounge.com) is another dive-cum-craft cocktail joint that every neighborhood deserves.