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Paint the Town Blue and Brown: Exploring the Boston Bar Scene

Off Campus | April 12, 2010

Students party at a Boston night club

A funny thing happened while I was studying abroad: I turned 21. I returned to Tufts gung-ho about exploring a new nocturnal world suddenly available to me. But where to begin? I had so many questions. What is this fabled “Kong?” How expensive are cocktails in this city, and where can I meet a sexy Harvard econ major that will pay for said cocktails?. With these questions in mind, I embarked upon an investigation of Boston’s 21-and-over nightlife scene.

Boston faces a peculiar identity crisis; it is both the birthplace of American Puritanism and a heady center of university-driven Bacchanalia. Some uptight council of denizens circa 1700 must have decided that the only way to subdue Boston’s lusty young folk would be to shut down the city at an unreasonably early hour. This legacy means that the T closes at 12:30 and most bars will be mopping under your feet if you stay past 1:30.

But don’t let this unfortunate fact deter you. Start by taking baby steps into Harvard Square, where you can have your choice of swanky bar or basic pub. Had a rough day? Head to Om for an aromatherapy cocktail like a Lavender Cosmo and relax amidst gorgeous Buddhist art. Another option is Noir in the Charles Hotel, which, as its name suggests, is a sultry, boudoir-like spot. If you are going for a more down-to-earth vibe, check out various Irish pubs like Tommy Doyle’s, Queenshead Pub, and Grendel’s Den. One of the most popular nighttime destinations near the square is Hong Kong, which has three floors (restaurant, bar, and club in vertical succession). Lightweights should beware of the Kong’s notorious “scorpion bowl,” a glass vessel filled with a mysterious pink liquid that groups of friends drink from out of two foot straws.

Continuing right along Mass Ave., we find Central Square, where there is a fabulous semi-concentrated cluster of bars, clubs, and live music venues. Past the glass doors, adorned with a red elephant (bull’s-eye, Jumbos!) and up the stairs, you will find a nubile crowd of bespectacled hipsters and/or Marc Jacobs-sporting socialites chatting over drinks in the Enormous Room. Contrary to its name, Enormous Room is quite cozy so get there early to grab a comfy couch, savor delectable drinks like the Pomegranate Margarita, and shake it to a great DJ. If you have a ridiculously high IQ or simply a passion for local lager you should head straight to the Miracle of Science, a favorite among MIT students. In this miraculous establishment you can order delicious food off the Periodic Table menu chalked on the wall and maybe even witness the use of the pick up line “I wish I was DNA helicase so I could unzip your genes…”

For live music and beautiful people, check out TT the Bear’s, The Middle East, and Paradise Cafe. If you are in a dancing mood, wander over to Phoenix Landing where a fabulous ’80s music mix regularly spawns outrageous dance parties.

Across the Charles is where the club scene really commences. On the edge of Boston Commons, near the Boylston Stop lies “The Alley,” which is home to some intriguing bars and clubs. Gypsy Bar is among the chic-est spots in Boston, with a bougie tapas menu and generally attractive clientele. A no-nonsense dress code bans everything from “excessively baggy clothing” to “polo shirts.” Venu is a hit-or-miss dance club, more often frequented by Snookis than Giseles. Gay Latin night on Wednesday, however, would certainly fall under the “hit” category. Suite, a self-proclaimed “boutique nightspot,” features a red carpet and massive chandeliers but may also have an abundance of creepers. Estate really ups the ante on nightlife in the Alley. It is an elegant 700 person, two-story venue, with a wrap-around balcony that makes for superb people watching. Rumor delivers a similar ambiance, but make sure to give your wallet a pep talk while waiting in Rumor’s humungous line. If you are looking for something a bit less wanna-be-classy, mount the mechanical bull at Liquor Store and let the good times roll.

Also on the fringes of Boston Commons but closer to Park St. station lies Mojitos, which features live salsa and merengue bands on Thursdays and reggaeton and bachata on Friday. Though it may be a borderline grubby pick-up pit, it is a good option for those weary of Lady Gaga’s overwrought tunes. Near Downtown Crossing lies Felt (it has pool tables, get it?), one of Boston’s greatest nightspots if only by the virtue of its impressive celebrity patronage. Anywhere Entourage star Adrian Grenier goes, I’ll go.

Having discovered so many possibilities for after-hours excitement off campus, I encourage Tufts students to stride bravely down the hill and into the vivacious, albeit brief, nocturnal metropolis that is Boston. Though cover charges, coat checks, and expensive cab rides are certainly limiting, it is definitely worth getting off campus once in a while to mix and mingle with people you won’t awkwardly encounter in the campus center the following week.

Under 21 section:

Want to partake of Boston’s nightlife but still under 21? Don’t be shy! If you don’t mind having huge Xs written on your hands, many of the shows at concert venues like as TT the Bear’s and The Middle East are 18 and up. Club Passim, a live music joint in Cambridge that plays bluegrass and world music, is alcohol-free but has terrific juice! Six nights a week, Hong Kong hosts the Comedy Studio on the third floor at 8 p.m., which features fresh comedic talent from around Boston and beyond. And of course, there’s always bowling: during the week (Sun-Thurs). Lucky Strike, a billiards, restaurant, bowling megaplex, is an 18+ establishment.