The days are getting longer and the air is warming—cocktail season is officially upon us. If you’re looking for an elevated, out-of-the-ordinary cocktail experience this spring, there’s no need to travel to Boston to find a world-class bar program. Some of the North Shore’s own serve up inventive drinks for delicate sipping or flavor profiles that pack a punch, and have a snack menu and ambiance to match. Here are a few of the top spots to grab a cocktail north of Boston this spring.
Baldwin Bar, Woburn
One of the region’s most exciting cocktail programs is tucked into an unassuming yellow Victorian right off 95 in Woburn. Named one of Esquire’s 24 best bars in America, Baldwin Bar serves creative cocktails with a tropical twist. The Baldwin Bar seats only 24, but the intimate, library-style lounge is actually one room of owner Ran Duan’s parents’ Chinese restaurant, Sichuan Garden, which serves some of the Boston area’s best Sichuan.
Wood paneling and candlelight cozy up the space, while playful wallpaper sets the stage for extravagant cocktails that play on old classics. The Fairchild Old Fashioned adds tropical fruit mangosteen and an absinthe rinse, and the Halo Halo is like an “ube piña colada.” Lead bartender Justin Ang, who invented the revitalizing blend of rum, ube, coconut milk, pineapple, and lime, notes that you can order it with crushed ice rather than in its dessert-like frozen form, and recommends pairing with Sichuan Garden’s cucumbers with garlic sauce, delightfully fresh garlicky cukes tossed in a bit of spicy chili oil. thebaldwinbar.com
Bar 25, Newburyport
This chic, cozy spot fits right into downtown Newburyport with its exposed brick walls and stellar food and beverage program—but it’s not like the other neighborhood spots. The menu highlights not seafood, but rather Persian cuisine, serving recognizable dishes (like hummus and shawarma) alongside Prohibition-era cocktails. “We want to offer something people can’t get anywhere else in the area,” says Sydney Wyman, general manager of Bar 25. The three-floor eatery has a little something for everyone: The first floor is walk-in bar space, the second floor is for the dinner crowd, and the third floor is an upbeat lounge.
The recently added B25 Sour is memorable yet unfussy—served over crushed ice, the tequila cocktail has notes of basil and orange and is topped with a splash of a Spanish red blend, so it “starts like a margarita but finishes like a sangria,” says Meaghan Greco, a bartender at Bar 25’s original Ayer location. The sour is easy to crush and even easier to pair with the street fries, a mouthwatering mound of crispy shoestring fries topped with black truffle, strips of tender rib-eye, shaved parm, and citrusy tzatziki. bar-25.com
All Souls Lounge, Salem
Classy old-school cocktails and tasty comfort foods converge at this Salem haunt. Opened in 2021, All Souls Lounge feels like it’s been there for ages, with friendly bartenders, reasonable prices, and a laid-back vibe. Don’t forget to play some tunes on the jukebox! The neighborhood bar is owned and operated by Salem locals, and they’ve put together an impressively comfortable yet elevated menu of drinks and snacks.
The vintage cocktail list includes the Lemon Drop, the French 75, and the Barbary Coast, complete with each drink’s year of origin. The Boston Sour (a whiskey sour with the addition of egg white) is a perfect hard-to-come-by classic, frothy and lemony yet grounded in caramel notes from the whiskey. It pairs well with the salty soft pretzels. Other menu highlights include inventive grilled cheeses, vegan hot dogs, chili, and corn dogs. The bar welcomes all who still have their souls—and even those who don’t. allsoulssalem.com
This chic lounge in downtown Andover does food well and nightlife even better, with a high-end bar program and DJs on the weekends. Located next door to sister restaurant La Fina, Privé means “private” in French—which is exactly the vibe at the intimate, sultry cocktail club filled with sparkling chandeliers, gilded accents, and a plush green banquet snaking along one wall. The spot boasts a long list of top-shelf liquors available straight up or in cocktail form, and mouthwatering food, including steaks, that take a page out of La Fina’s book.
You’ll have your choice of liquors as you order from their cocktail list, organized by spirit. Go for something complex like the Off the Rails bourbon cocktail with cocoa-infused Campari and espresso, or a delicately floral drink like the Snow Geisha, combining lychee-infused vodka with gin, sake, and Italicus, a bergamot liqueur. Pair with a bite from the Asian-inspired bar menu, like the Colossal Scallops, wrapped in bacon and served with watercress and crushed peanuts. theprivelounge.com
Joy Nest, Newburyport
The Joy Nest in Newburyport knows exactly what it does well—decadently exquisite cocktails and tasty Thai street food. The cocktails are almost more visually striking than the décor, full of plushy velvet furniture in feminine pinks and dazzling jewel tones, feather chandeliers, and chic exposed wood. They host lots of live music, especially jazz.
“Gin has such a complex flavor profile,” says owner Caroline Jolliffe, explaining the cocktail menu of delicate, gin-forward libations. The Cardinal’s Cauldron, served in a stylish coupe like many of their drinks, balances cherry, citrus, and bitters alongside pandan, a fragrant Southeast Asian herb that gives Thai tea its unique flavor, for a drink that’s subtly sweet, wonderfully complex, and impressively not bitter. The drink paired well with a simple mushroom spring roll. “The accessibility of the food and the elegance of the cocktails clash,” says Jolliffe, “but it makes people remember.” thejoynestrestaurant.com