The Best Irish Pubs in Boston

In the mid-19th century, Boston was flooded with Irish immigrants fleeing their famined homeland. Life was tough. Unemployment, boredom and depression led to a whole lot of drowning sorrows, and whoever it was that opened the first proper Irish pub was a downright mastermind. Today Boston offers a host of beer bars, cocktail bars and dives, but the Irish pub still holds strong. If you’re a tourist visiting town, stopping into one is a no-brainer—but choose your stool carefully. Steer clear of the mess of overcrowded pubs that clog the financial district and Fanueil Hall (though worry not if you find yourself downtown and thirsty, because our number one choice is also there). You’ll be better served to travel a few stops on the T, where the pubs are filled with locals and the Guinness is poured proper. —Jennifer Cacicio 

  • 1

    Brendan Behan

    The Behan is a no-fuss, no-muss kind of pub. You won’t find flat-screen TVs, a credit card machine, hordes of Sox jerseys or even a kitchen. No, The Behan brings it back to basics, back to what bars were always meant to be for: drinking and talking, with maybe a touch of hell-raising. This is fitting, of course, since the place is named after the famous Irish writer known for exactly these things. Come here to hang with indie and punk rockers, old dudes telling stories and regulars from the hood who bring their own pizza or greasy Chinese into the bar to make an evening of it.  

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    KNOWN FOR

    • day drinking
    • live music
    • craft beer
  • 2

    J.J. Foley’s Bar & Grille

    Owned by the same Foley clan as J.J. Foley’s Cafe—Jerry runs the South End, and this one is run by his cousin Jim—this Irish pub has a decidedly divier feel. For many years, the only spots on this block were Foley’s and a homeless shelter, and it’s possible there was some serious overlapping in the clientele.  But there’s something to be said for consistency. For more than half a century, Foley’s has remained friendly, bright and cheap—the kind of a place where you’ll find yourself drinking alongside cab drivers, bankers and Bruins fans.  

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    KNOWN FOR

    • jukebox
    • day drinking
    • cheap date
    • sports
    • full menu
  • 3

    J.J. Foley's Café

    Just a few blocks from the stretch of cocktails and small plates that dominate the South End, J.J. Foley’s Café offers a step into the days of yore. The Foley family has been pouring perfect pints of Guinness since 1909, and they’ve been donning crisp, white shirts and ties behind the bar long before mixologists took to wearing suspenders and vests. The walls are peppered with Boston memorabilia, and the tables are populated by politicians, police officers and locals. This cozy, pre-Prohibition bar is the real deal.  

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    KNOWN FOR

    • jukebox
    • cheap date
    • historic
    • day drinking
    • full menu
    • games
    • sports
  • 4

    James's Gate

    James’s Gate is divided into two halves: the restaurant and the pub.  It’s probably no surprise that you should stick to the half devoted to drinking, where the bar stools are populated by local JPers, the fire roars warm all winter and you can still get a great bowl of bangers and mash. The bartenders might have traded Irish accents for full sleeves, but the vibe is still authentic and homey.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • day drinking
    • sports
    • full menu
    • craft beer
  • 5

    Matt Murphy's Pub

    With its creative cocktail list and fresh flowers, Matt Murphy’s is a bit of a fancied up Irish pub--but this is Brookline, after all.  Not to worry, though: the fish and chips are still wrapped in yesterday’s paper and the only legal tender accepted is cash. Stop in here if you’re looking for the warming combo of Irish accents and properly-made cocktails.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • day drinking
    • full menu
    • craft cocktails
  • 6

    The Druid

    Tucked into an old mercantile building in Inman Square and surrounded by vintage stores and coffee shops, The Druid is a tiny room of a bar that feels about as magical as its namesake.  On busy nights—or game days—the party threatens to spill out onto the sidewalk and into the street, and that’s exactly how it feels inside.  Like a lot of Boston pubs, The Druid has endured new ownership but maintains its classic, welcoming and well, Irish, feel.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • live music
    • day drinking
    • full menu
    • sports
  • 7

    The Plough and Stars

    Tucked along the stretch between Harvard and Central Squares, The Plough and Stars—named after the 1926 play by Irish playwright Sean O’Casey—aptly offers a rich literary history. The bar opened in 1969 at the height of Cambridge counterculture; over the years the likes of Philip Roth, Seamus Heaney, David Mamet and Lawrence Ferlinghetti have all knocked a few back here. Ownership has since changed hands, but that spirit remains. Stop in for a pint to listen to live music and rub elbows with a mix of devoted regulars, new school literati, local singer-songwriters and Harvard PhDs.  

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    KNOWN FOR

    • live music
    • full menu
    • sports
    • day drinking
  • 8

    The Squealing Pig

    This pub manages to feel simultaneously modern and old school. During the day it’s bright and airy, but when the sun sets it’s time for some serious drinking. From behind the 50-foot bar—which boasts an above-average list of craft beers—the bartenders will woo you with their lilting Irish accents, beer knowledge and delicious selection of toasties.  

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft beer
    • day drinking
    • full menu
    • live music
    • oysters / raw bar

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