It’s no secret that we humans have a long-standing relationship with the mixed drink. The choices we make—rocks or salt, gin or vodka, lime wedge or twist of lemon—say something about who we are, and perhaps more accurately, who we’d like to be. But come the weekend (and yes, sometimes prior), the focus shifts from what should we drink to the more complex question: where should we drink? Lucky for you, we’ve got answers to both of these burning questions. We took to the streets to find the best of the best, and many miles and martinis later (research, people, research), we came up with plenty of options to fill up your itinerary. The North Shore bar scene has a mix of swanky clubs, exotic drinks, live music venues, and plenty more in between. And there’s no question that these muddled fruits and creative infusions will snap you into weekend mode. Be ready to mingle, sip, and shed responsibility at the door.
Best Muddled-Fruit Martini
Mandrake Bar and Bistro
The Mandrake’s creative list of fruit infusions gives you plenty of reasons to squeeze in those daily servings of fruit. Try the Dragon Berry Tini or the Blueberry Boot. If you’re having trouble making your choice, drop in on a Thursday night. They’ll be serving martini flights so you can sample three of your top picks. 252 Cabot st., Beverly, 978-922-0663.
Best Mojito Infusion
Soma stays true to its namesake—both a Hindu hallucinogenic ritual drink and the intoxicating pill from the classic novel Brave New World—with an impressive array of mixed drinks . The winning pick is the House Infused Mojito, made with Myers Platinum Rum infused with the best fruit in season, fresh mint, and soda water. Also try the Espresso Martini. Snag a seat at the exotic bar made from West African Zebrano wood and enjoy the live music for a truly unique drinking experience. 256 Cabot st., Beverly, 978-524-0033, somabeverly.com.
Best Place to be Seen
Seeking fame? Come to Glory. This upscale hotspot has it all: a spacious mahogany bar, a decadent menu, and a swanky lounge complete with live entertainment. Sip the Asian Pear Martini, made with Absolut Citron, apple puckers, and cranberry juice, while you scan the room for the “who’s who” around town. For best results, plan your visit on the night of a fashion show, when guests’ photos often wind up in the papers. Simply stir up conversation and then keep an eye on the photographer to position yourself for the shot. 19 Essex st., Andover, 978-475-4811, gloryrestaurant.com.
Best Pick-Up Scene
It’s no secret that the bar here is a big draw for the upscale adult drinking crowd. On any given night (but especially Thursdays), moms in hot jeans and guys dressed to the nines pack the bar to capacity. The drink of choice? It’s the Boston Green Teani. Just be sure not to spill it—there are some pricy shoes in this joint. 145 Turnpike st., North Andover, 978-688-5600, burtonsgrill.com.
Best Vodka Bar
Venetian Moon’s martini bar practically screams Italy, but with over 200 in-house vodkas, they’ve earned the status as the best place to order the smooth Russian liquor. If the pages upon pages of specialty martinis leave you overwhelmed, try the Mardi Gras. This light purple blend of coconut vodka, coconut rum, Alize rum, and a splash of pineapple is just the right drink to get you in the mood. And while the posh white couches and leather cushioned seating at this downtown Reading restaurant and nightclub seems miles away from Bourbon Street (or even Moscow’s Red Square), the party atmosphere and flashes of colorful lighting aren’t too far off from a wild Mardi Gras parade. 640 Main st., Reading, 781-944-3633, venetianmoon.com.
Best Hedonist Escape
If it weren’t for the ghouls and goblins strategically placed throughout Strega, you might mistake this Salem nightclub for a hotspot in the Back Bay. The tables in the front clear out to make way for the dance floor, but watch out for what happens once the sun goes down. Strega’s signature shooter, the Love Potion (Malibu rum, citron vodka, Coco Lopez, and fresh lime) will leave you vulnerable to your wildest desires. And for true hedonists out there, the Coco Tini is the only way to go. This blend of vodka, Coco Lopez, and a splash of pineapple is garnished with sweetened toasted coconut that will leave you licking the rim. 94 Lafayette st., Salem, 978-741-0004, stregasalem.com.
Best Drink in a Shell
Situated at the edge of Salem Harbor, it’s no wonder Finz blends fresh seafood with select liquors to play on the perfect intoxicating mix. The raw bar offers up wild creations like the Finz Wasabi-Stoli Oysters (oysters topped with wasabi caviar and splashed with Stoli Raz) and their signature oyster shooter, which is dressed with sake, ginger, and cucumber. Move on to the drink list, and you’ll find more ocean-inspired blends. Try the Seafoam Martini made with Olifant Orange, Olifant Citrus, and Midori. Add just a dash of lime, lemon, and orange juice, and you’ll be ready to set sail. 76 Wharf st., Salem, 978-744-8485, hipfinz.com.
Best After-Work Scene
Tavern in the Square
Nothing cures a grueling day of spreadsheets and conference calls like a draft beer at Tavern in the Square. Choose from their wide selection of local brews or the major draft staples to bring you back to life. They’ve got plenty of bar snacks (including three French fry varietals) and a full dinner menu. Stop in on Mondays for 25-cent wings, on Tuesdays for trivia, or any day to just sit back, relax, and watch a game. And don’t worry about fighting for a seat by the TV; with flat screens in all directions, nearly every seat is prime real estate. 189 Washington st., Salem, 978-740-2337, taverninthesquare.com.
Best Place to get your Irish on
The Port Tavern
Grab a pint at the Port Tavern and get in touch with your inner Irish (we all know it’s there). They’ve got all the staples, including Guinness, Smithwicks, and Murphy’s Stout. But to truly prove your heritage, order a Poor Man’s Black Velvet (not on the menu). Similar to a Black and Tan, this drink blends Magners Cider with Guinness (which settles on the top) for an authentic taste of the old country. For added effect, try pub favorites like the Guinness Beef Stew and Shepherd’s Pie, or better yet, stop in for authentic Irish music each Wednesday and Sunday night. 84 State st., Newburyport, 978-465-1006, theporttavern.com.
Best Twist on a Classic
Classics like the Knob Creek Manhattan and the Alchemy Cosmopolitan can be found on Alchemy’s cocktail list. But their Mango Collins substitutes the gin for Grey Goose Vodka, Mandarin Napoleon Liqueur and mango nectar, and then blends in the traditional ingredients (lemon juice, simple syrup, and soda water) to bring this age-old classic back to life. Pair it with the unique plates on the menu—most of which are made with locally grown produce, fresh seafood, and hormone-free meats—for a refreshing night of simple pleasures.
3 Duncan st., Gloucester, 978-281-3997, alchemybistro.com.
The Best Place to Romance
10 Center’s cozy pub is the perfect place to keep warm on cold nights, but if you’re looking for bar-chic and a little romance, you’ve got to head upstairs. Blazing fireplaces keep the copper tabletops aglow, and the exposed brick and wide-plank oak floor make for a sensual ambiance that’s hard to find this far north of Boston. Squeeze into a high-top cocktail booth, and try the Pom-Mosa. This mix of Champagne, Pama Liqueur and pomegranate juice evokes a VIP status and has the taste to back it up. Or go for the Blackberry Margarita for a smooth take on a classic. And you’ll want to dress to impress, if for no other reason than to compete with your fabulous-looking cocktail. 10 Center st., Newburyport, 978-462-6652, tencenterstreet.com.
Best Mexican Fiesta
If the economy has crushed your hopes for that Mexican escape, Agave’s margarita list will snap you into vacation mode. Grab a cocktail table inside, or better yet, venture up to the third floor bar and lounge. The U-shaped bar is the perfect place to try a specialty margarita, or sample one of over 70 tequilas on hand. Our choice is the Pink Cadillac Margarita on the rocks, with Milagro Añejo tequila, Emular, lime juice, and house margarita mix. Also try the Michael’s Habanero Margarita for something with a little more kick. 111 State st., Newburyport, 978-499-0428, agavemexicanbistro.com.
Best Live Music Bar
Red Rock Bistro
This Swampscott hotspot wins the prize as the top rock-out destination, with live bands booked regularly on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The steady mix of jazz, blues, and rock brings in an older crowd that’s ready to let the good times roll. Pay homage to a rock legend and order the Purple Haze Martini, made with Ciroc Vodka, Curaçao, grenadine, and soda. If that’s not enough, Red Rock offers beautiful views of Nahant Bay and the Boston skyline. 141 Humphrey st., Swampscott, 781-595-1414, redrockbistro.com.
Best Liquid Dessert
Jumbo goat cheese-stuffed dates and sesame-crusted ahi tuna are among the tapas selections available at Bistro 45. And while the menu and bar are also on the smaller side, they make up for it with big flavors. The Tiramisu Martini snags the prize for best liquid dessert. The martini—made with Svedka Vanilla, coffee and white chocolate liqueurs, and amaretto—is served in a chilled glass, drizzled with chocolate. 45 Wingate st., Haverhill, 978-469-9700, bistro-45.com.
Best Kept Secret
The Red Door
That The Red Door is somewhat of a secret—known mainly to martini mavens and underground music fans—only enhances the cool factor of this bar. Try the innovative Tigerlily, made with Phillips Union vanilla whiskey, Malibu rum, and pineapple juice. And if that’s too basic, order the Japanese Sun Flower with sake, Van Gogh pineapple vodka, and a splash of lime and ginger ale. 107 State st., Portsmouth, NH, 603-373-6827, reddoorportsmouth.com.
Best Place “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”
For years, The Landing (owned by one of the former owners of Boston’s Bull and Finch Pub) has truly been the place “where everybody knows your name,” and they make sure of it by placing brass name plates of pub regulars on the backs of their stools of choice. And from serving the sailors of Marblehead, the signature drink here is the Dark and Stormy. “Just don’t sit in the wrong seat,” says General Manager Robert Simonelli. 81 Front st., Marblehead, 781-631-8439, thelandingrestaurant.com.
Best Neighborhood Pub
The Barking Dog
The wide draft selection is certainly part of the draw here, and the menu’s authentic pub favorites are partly responsible, too. But it’s the bartenders who make you feel right at home, offering up a friendly hello as you walk in the door. Order a Turbodog on draft, one of Abita’s (New Orleans) flagship brews. This Barking Dog favorite is dark brown in color, and has a slightly smoky flavor with hints of toffee and chocolate. Smooth and rich, it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “man’s best friend.” 21 Friend St., Amesbury, 978-388-9537, barkingdoggrill.com.