The Boston-area club scene is multifaceted and constantly changing. As a rule, live music is more compelling than the dance-club scene by several orders of magnitude, but somewhere out there is a good time for anyone, regardless of age, musical taste, or budget.
Clubs cluster in the Theater District and on nearby Boylston Place, off Boylston Street near Boston Common. The center of the local live-music universe is Central Square in Cambridge. Rowdy college bars and clubs abound near the intersection of Harvard and Brighton avenues in Allston (T: Green Line B to Harvard Ave.). That makes club-hopping easy, but it also means dealing with swarms of teenagers, students, and recent college grads. To steer clear, stick to slightly more upscale and less centrally located nightspots. If you do like teenagers (or you are one), seek out a place where admission is 18- or 19-plus. Policies change regularly, sometimes from night to night, so check ahead.
The Wilbur Theatre books high-profile comics on national tours as well as music acts. The annual Boston Comedy Festival attracts big-name national performers, local up-and-comers, and films. The popular weeklong event takes place all over town in November; check ahead for schedules and venues.
The hip-shaking party that is Havana Club makes a great introduction to salsa dancing. Lessons—beginners are welcome—precede nightlong moves accompanied by a DJ or live band. The crowd consists mostly of dance fiends and curious novices of all ages and ethnicities.
Boston is one of the only cities where folk musicians consistently sell out large venues that usually book rock and pop performers. If an artist you want to see is touring, check ahead for Boston-area dates.
Coffeehouses are the area's main outlets for folk. Probably the best known of these, the Nameless Coffeehouse, regularly puts on shows at the First Parish Church, 3 Church St., Harvard Sq., Cambridge. The streets around Harvard Square are another promising venue -- Tracy Chapman is just one famous graduate of the scene.
Jazz & Blues
Jazz Week is an annual spring event held at multiple venues. Surf around the website for an introduction to the local scene.
The theater at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center becomes the Jazz Club at the Multicultural Arts Center at least a couple of times a month, year-round.
On certain summer evenings, the Boston Harbor Hotel sponsors free performances on the "Blues Barge," behind the hotel.
The Bar Scene
Bostonians had some quibbles with the TV show Cheers, but no one complained that the concept of a neighborhood bar where everybody knows your name was implausible. This tends to be a fairly insular scene -- as a stranger, don't assume that you'll get a warm welcome. This is one area where you can and probably should judge a book by its cover: If you peek in and see people who look like you and your friends, give it a whirl.
Cocktail Culture: All over town, devoted bartenders and adventuresome drinkers unite to combat the cosmopolitanizing of the American libation. A nationally renowned example of the hard-core cocktail bar is Drink, 348 Congress St. (near A St.; T: Red Line to South Station). Don't take our word for it—high-profile amateur mixologist Rachel Maddow of MSNBC says it's the best bar in Boston, if not the country. Drink has no menu, just bartenders who chat with you about what you're in the mood for and create something on the spot. Sounds crazy, works perfectly. It's pricey, but you're paying for an evening's entertainment and an enthusiastic guide. Other destinations where "genever," "elderflower," and "Sazerac" are more than just crossword puzzle answers include Eastern Standard; Hungry Mother; and Green Street, 280 Green St. (off Magazine St., 1 block from Mass. Ave.; tel. 617/876-1655; www.greenstreetgrill.com; T: Red Line to Central).
Hotel Bars & Lounges
Many popular nightspots are associated with hotels and restaurants; as a rule, these are the only watering holes in town where you don't have to shout to be heard. The following are particularly agreeable, albeit expensive, places to while away an hour or three.
Make Some Noise in a Museum: The Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., becomes a spirited nightlife destination at least once a month. It courts 20- and 30-somethings with live music, cocktails, food, and mingling; a visit is an equally good couple or group activity. MFA First Fridays take place on the first Friday evening of each month.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.