Delux Cafe is a South End icon, stewarded these days by husband-and-wife owners who used to be regulars. The popular spot is tucked into a brownstone on the corner of Chandler and Clarendon streets, and the vibe can’t be beat: Year-round string lights and vintage kitsch set the mood in the narrow barroom, which is always packed on a Saturday night. Like other Boston dive bars, the Delux offers a few cheap beers, but it also deals in craft beer and creative cocktails like La Bamba, a spicy tequila sipper with carrot and ginger. The miniscule kitchen dishes up surprisingly great food, such as homemade pasta specials and a Grilled Cheese with tomato jam and crispy shallots. This spot is still cash-only, but the ATM fee is only 99 cents. Never change, Delux.
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Two universal truths about Boston are that it’s a big bar town, and also a city of neighborhoods. (It's also a metro area that includes distinctive cities of Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville.) So no matter where you are, you’re probably close to a watering hole that’s revered by locals. While it’s also true that gentrification has threatened and even killed some of our most beloved true dives (pour one out for Sligo Pub in Davis Square), there are welcoming bars and low-key places to go for a drink throughout the area. From Cambridge to Dorchester, here’s where to find Boston’s best neighborhood bars.
Hard to say whether it can be a true dive bar when it accepts reservations, but State Park is divey in the best ways. Just look at the shot-and-beer combos and pitchers on the bar menu and the vintage jukebox crammed with curated, Gen X tunes. There are even pool tables! State Park is a modern neighborhood bar from the team behind nearby Mamaleh’s and Vincent’s, with a nostalgic look that’s different from anything else in Kendall Square (and totally reminiscent of iconic local dive bars). It serves good food for lunch and dinner, including cult-favorite Nashville-Style Hot Chicken and bar snacks like Narragansett Beer Cheese and House-made Pickled Sausage. It has an awesome patio, validates parking, and frequently hosts free live local music.
We’d wager this sometimes-sports-bar is one of the liveliest spots in Boston. Meeting friends after work for dinner and drinks? Absolutely, here. Brunch? Any day of the week, my friend. Late-night cravings? The only question is pizza or wings. Open since 2012, the high-volume Lincoln Tavern is Southie’s standby, with a wide-ranging menu of casual American fare enlivened with fire. Wood Fired Pizzas are ringed in an airy, chewy crust and arguably Lincoln’s biggest draw; and the flame-crisped Spicy Wings are an elemental version of the requisite bar snack. The spacious place takes reservations, boasts a killer draft beer list and creative house cocktails, and shucks $1 oysters from 10 ’til 10 every Tuesday.
The winning formula at Trina’s Starlite Lounge blends a retro dive bar with gonzo comfort food. This Inman Square neighborhood spot, just over the Somerville line, is worth seeking out any night of the week. But to truly experience Trina’s, take a Monday off for brunch: That’s when you’ll find the rowdiest crowd reveling in plucked-from-childhood flavors like Pizza Bagels and House-made Pop Tarts, alongside a nationally renowned plate of Fried Chicken & Buttermilk Waffles. At all hours, Trina’s is an LGBTQ haven and one of the area’s best cocktail bars. Beyond the great food and drinks, excellent service is what makes Trina’s such a mainstay. Total bonus: Li’l sibling-sports bar Parlor Sports is next door with its own unique vibe and community.
The Sevens Ale House
The Sevens—and its beer stein above the entrance—has been a Beacon Hill fixture since the 1930s. Lively and unpretentious, the bar pulls perfect pints of Guinness and frosty craft beers, though it’s not just a beer pub with mixed drinks and hearty sandwiches also on the menu. Homemade food like roast beef and seasonal soups are easygoing and satisfying. But what makes this spot so enduring is the atmosphere—like an authentic, real-life “Cheers”—cultivated by friendly bartenders and affable clientele. This Charles Street pub is a beloved watering hole in the neighborhood for folks who live and work in this walkable, historic district, but also those just passing through.
The Banshee is a reliable haunt for fans of international soccer, especially the European leagues, because it keeps Premier League brunch-friendly hours on weekends with a breakfast menu of Salsa Verde Baked Eggs, Pulled Pork Breakfast Burrito, and more. The Banshee is a preferred spot for fans of rugby and most American sports, too—all with the welcoming vibe of a classic Irish pub. Needless to say, people don’t just visit this Dorchester sports bar to watch a game. The Banshee’s Wednesday night Pub Quiz is one of Boston’s best indie bar trivia nights. Along with an extensive beer list of imports and local drafts, the bar serves up cocktails and food until late.
This spot has set a high standard for beer bars since debuting in 2002 as the Boston area’s first gastropub. Inspired by Belgian beer traditions, The Publick House offers a deep cellar of bottled imports and also features an unparalleled selection of American craft beer on tap. (When Trillium brews a hazy IPA in a bar’s honor, beer lovers know they’re in the right place.) But there’s nothing pretentious about it: The P-house has become a Brookline classic by dishing up delicious mac and cheese, frites, burgers and veggie burgers, and enticing daily specials, with a huge bar and covered outdoor seating on Beacon Street.
The Quiet Few
Dimly lit, friendly, and full of whiskey and fries, this is the kind of bar that everyone wishes was in their neighborhood. In fact, that’s The Quiet Few origin story: A married couple of whiskey and wine experts opened the bar a few years after moving to Eastie and discovering something like TQF didn’t exist. Now, the Jeffries Point hole-in-the-wall boasts one of the best brown-spirits lists in the city, especially at the price point; plus seasonal frozen cocktails, craft beer, and natural wines by the glass. The tiny kitchen dishes out bodacious bar food like a Simple Smash Burger with whiskey in the spice mix, and an unbeatable option to add on high-quality caviar from the nearby EBO & Co. Grocery.
Brendan Behan Pub
This authentic Irish pub in Jamaica Plain is the type of neighborhood bar we always want to live near. It’s seemingly open all the time, cash-only, and pouring a rotating selection of craft beer along with other dive-bar essentials, like few-ingredient cocktails. The Behan doesn’t serve food besides chips, but takeout is welcome and the pub is close by to neighborhood staples like Blue Nile and places to pick up tacos and Dominican chimis. The Behan has a seasonal streetside patio and wide-open front windows, plus a covered, heated backyard that feels like the best-kept secret in JP. Pull up a bar stool or cozy up with friends around a table for a live Irish music session.
District 7 Tavern
A 40-plus-year Roxbury institution known as District 7 Tavern since 2018 is open every single night of the year—so it’s always there when you need affordable drinks, pool tables, and a jukebox. If there a Boston sports game on, you can bet the whole bar will be tuned to the TVs. On certain nights of the week, District 7 also hosts karaoke, trivia, and live music by and for the neighborhood. The 40-seat bar is sometimes called Boston’s “Black Cheers” because it’s a place for the community to meet up and enjoy each other’s company—for football Sundays, R&B Nights on Fridays, or anytime in between.