21 Best Bars
The smoke has cleared on the tobacco wars and the truth is everyone wins. You can finally savor some of the great food that bars have been serving up all along. Every good bar is more than just a place to drink.The bartender is knowledgeable and personable, the atmosphere is lively, and the food is good — especially here in New Hampshire where drinking establishments must serve food. We searched the state for bars that excel in their niches and have become go-to places for a stop after work, a gathering with the gals or an evening of music and satisfying food — maybe even all of the above. Looking for a place where everybody knows your name? Start with one that knows how you like your steak.
Hanover Street Chophouse
[Manchester] If you were new to Manchester, you might think the Hanover Street Chophouse is where the owners of the mills once gathered at the turn of the century to drink whiskey and make promises, but they didn’t. Just nearing its third year in business, the Hanover Street Chophouse is wrapped in warm mahogany, romance and upscale sophistication. Here is where you’ll find cocktail classics, like a bourbon old fashion ($5.25) made with just the right amount of bitters (Karen, one of the bartenders, takes pride in her perfect pour). Though a pianist tickles the keys every Wednesday and Friday, one can still whisper sweet nothings in another’s ear with privacy. Popular bar menu choices include; the Chophouse burger, American Kobe beef, aged Vermont cheddar and French fries ($12); calamari ($11); ahi tuna sliders with sesame seeds ($16); shellfish fra diavlo ($14); and Maine lobster roll, served with grilled potato roll and slaw ($19). For a fun nibble ask for the truffled tator tots ($5).
Hanover Street Chophouse, 149 Hanover St. Manchester, (603) 644-2467
Best Place to Be Seen
[Hampton]Fortunately Bontá is in Hampton, but this restaurant package could easily be unwrapped in the oh-so-trendy Hamptons. Here you’ll find a sophisticated, stylish 30-to 40-something crowd. Jetsetters here can watch their weight, thanks to the spectacular dinner menu “sides” that Al, the bartender, enthusiastically points out. Options include: lemon garlic asparagus, garlic spinach or the signature baked lobster mac ’n cheese: all priced at $5 each. Interesting small plates ($4–$7) include warmed marinated olives, duck confit and apple wontons and a tenderloin of beef carpaccio with warm wild mushrooms. Comfy upholstered bar stools, exquisite décor, extensive wine list, seductive lighting. Convivial and casual clientele make Bontá the place to be and be seen.
Bontá, 287 Exeter Rd., Hampton
(603) 929-7972, www.bonta.net
Best Historical Setting
Black Trumpet Bistro and Wine Bar
[Portsmouth] Old World ambiance combined with fresh modern international cuisine makes for a memorable night upstairs in this wine bar overlooking the twinkling lights of Portsmouth’s harbor (drinks $5–$12). Once a ship’s chandlery in the 1800s, today chef-owner Evan Mallett caters to a discerning and adventurous food-savvy clientele. Take a chance and order the Chef’s Meze Plate, a trio of small dishes left up to Mallett’s culinary whim. Our artistically-presented trio included a mild seafood sausage, seared foie gras with rhubarb jam and gravlax with a white bean purée ($12). The carrot and sunchoke soup with North African spices and nettle-walnut pistou tingles with warmth and wakes the taste buds ($8). Come early — savor the flavors, the view and Old World charm.
Black Trumpet, 29 Ceres St., Portsmouth
(603) 431-0887, www.blacktrumpetbistro.com
The Green Monkey
[Portsmouth] Throw the pitted olive a pity party. Martinis ($10 each) at the Green Monkey are funky, fun and typically, olive-free. This artsy bistro garnishes martinis with colorful plastic monkeys that hang on the lip of the martini glass. Signature martinis include The Green Monkey (Van Gogh Pineapple vodka, Midori, splash of soda), Wild Blueberry (Stoli Blueberi Vodka, wild blueberry purée and fresh-squeezed lemon juice) and Espresso Hazelnut (Van Gogh Espresso vodka, Frangelico and cream). Better yet, let Joe, the bartender (a tanned Clark Kent look-alike) mix his own love potion. Bar nibblies include Fuji apple and pork wontons ($9), fried oysters ($12), porcini mushroom ravioli ($10) and a nice grilled Asian pear salad with blueberry soy dressing, macadamia nuts and Vermont goat cheese ($8). Hip, diverse and conversational crowd.
The Green Monkey, 86 Pleasant St. Portsmouth, (603) 427-1010
Best Bar to Get Wild
[Portsmouth] Walk past the unknowing tourists and head upstairs to find perhaps the state’s only authentic ice bar — half the width of the bar is all ice. But it’s the flat-screen televisions tuned to whatever Boston team is playing that’s the magnet. Depending on the season, you can watch the Bruins and the Red Sox play at the same time without missing a sip of your long-neck ice-cold beer. When Boston scores, out comes the shot glasses and Anarita, the bartender, goes to work. The night we were there a group of polo-shirt-wearing men ordered Irish car bombs — a shot of Jameson’s and Bailey’s dropped into a mug of Guinness ($8). Red Bull and Vodka is another bar favorite ($7). Half-pound to one-pound create-your-own burgers ($8.25–$11.95) come with a mound of hand-cut French fries or sweet potato fries. The velvety clam chowder is full of clams and crunchy bacon and perfect on a cool night ($5.25 cup).
Fat Belly’s, 2 Bow St., Portsmouth
(603) 610-4227 www.fatbellysgrillandbar.com
Best Sweet Treats
[Peterborough] Desserts here get more oohs and ahhs than a Fourth of July fireworks display. This is where the lights stay on late at night for the after theatre or music concert crowd looking for a sugar splurge and a night cap. Pastry Chef Lee Newton gives new definition to culinary art with her confection creations nestled on beautifully-painted plates (all $8). Choose from an ever-changing menu that might include raspberry and white chocolate crème brûlée, rhubarb and pistachio genoise trifle (layered with crème anglaise and fresh in season berries), warm apple crisp with cinnamon gelato, bittersweet chocolate cheesecake or a chocolate ganache with a blackberry and mango coulis. Try a nice Courvoisier or warm coffee drink from the dessert drink menu and enjoy the breeze on the intimate outdoor patio.
Acqua Bistro, 18 Depot Square
Peterborough, (603) 924-9905
Best Local Bar
Blue Trout Grill
[Keene] The new Blue Trout Grill is not really a secret in the Keene area. The locals have been flocking in to enjoy the hip ambiance in the space of the former 176 Main St. — soft jazz, exposed brick walls and lively metal sculptures of freshwater fish. In the bar, tender Jen Prather creates potent potables such as the Patio Punch with a raw-sugar rimmer, lemongrass-infused vodka and her homemade key lime sour mix. Or adjourn to the charming and private patio and sip her fresh white sangria or mint mojito with fresh, muddled raspberries on the bottom. Prather always has vodkas macerating on the back shelf and uses fresh fruits, lemongrass, vanilla beans and more as a base for her ever-expanding list of martinis. Chef/owner Amy Miller builds her own Lemoncello as a perfect after-dinner drink and recently sautéed up spices for a spiced rum. The perfect base to line your stomach is the dry-rubbed baby back ribs ($19).
Blue Trout Grill
176 Main St., Keene, (603) 357-0087
Best Reason Not to Go Straight Home
[Manchester] This isn’t your ordinary pizza parlor, it’s hot (an open brick oven) and it’s the place to go in Manchester right after work because if you wait any longer you’ll, well, wait. The renovation of this old mill building is exquisite; the wall behind the room-length granite bar is exposed brick and granite rock. The cathedral ceiling with exposed beams gives the room dimension. The draw is the wood-fired brick oven Neapolitan pizza and the bakers who throw the crust high in the air. Pizzas are enough for two or maybe three (if being shared by women wearing size 6) and range in price from $13–$14.50. All orders come with chewy hot bread, and don’t forget to pour the seasoned olive oil on your pie. Martini combinations are tempting and popular; wines by the glass come in both 3-ounce. ($3.25 up) and 6-ounce pours ($5.95 up). Sunday afternoons there’s live jazz from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Great bar camaraderie.
900 Degrees, 50 Dow St., Manchester
(603) 641-0902, www.900degrees.com
Best Après Hike
[Littleton] The 4,000-footers may make you a bit winded, but delirious? That’s how you might feel the moment you pick up the menu at this above-the-notch hideaway. Located downstairs at the Historical Thayer Inn, Bailiwicks is a burst of urbane energy, with its art, warm copper hues, cozy leather seating, crisp linens and city sophistication. Bailiwicks is where the hip go after hiking or skiing — and that includes Bode. Try the Island mussels, one pound of steamed mussels served in a spicy coconut milk with fresh seaweed salad ($10.95). The wasabi-sesame crusted tuna, served with a sake edamame risotto, with snow peas, avocado cream and finished with a maple soy reduction is a work of art ($24.95). Sunday brunch features build your own Bloody Mary bar and champagne cocktails.
Bailiwicks, 111 Main St., Littleton
Best Kept Secret
Granite Restaurant & Bar
[Concord] We honestly don’t think the regulars want you to know about this hidden treasure in the newly refurbished Centennial Inn. Located in one of Concord’s oldest neighborhoods and just minutes from Concord Hospital, the upscale clientele is somewhat protective of this find for good reason. The décor is luscious, comfy and restful. A glass partitioned room offers extra privacy. Just days before our visit a young man got down on his knees to propose to his beloved. She said yes. For special anniversaries the kitchen sends well wishes on a plate painted in chocolate (call ahead). Try the signature drink, the 96 Pleasant — Effen black cherry vodka, Skyy citrus vodka, Grey Goose orange vodka and fresh lime ($9). Dreamy. Crab cakes ($12) are plump and tasty, Lollipop lamb chops ($12) moist and full of flavor. But shhhh.
Granite Restaurant & Bar, 96 Pleasant St. Concord, (603) 227-9000
Best Place to Get Jiggy
Salt Hill Pub
[Lebanon & Newport] You may just be doing the jig when listening to live music at the Salt Hill Pub in Lebanon or Newport. Brothers Joe and Josh Tuohy have given the residents of the former mill towns a reason to get out of the house. Live music from blues to classic rock to Irish music are on tap for Fridays and Saturdays. The Lebanon location has music on Tuesdays, too. The crowd profile, young or boomer, depends on who is playing that night, says Josh. The band Acoustic Truffle is scheduled for June 13 — this unplugged version of the famous Portsmouth-area band plays rock music that doesn’t rattle your bones. The half-pound burger ($6.99) and a draft beer are the perfect accompaniment.
Salt Hill Pub, Newport and Lebanon
58 Main St., Newport, (603) 863-7774
2 West Park St., Lebanon, (603) 448-4532
Best Recession Buster
The Gas Lighter Restaurant
[Concord] No frills, no kidding. You won’t break the bank stopping here for a burger and beer ($2.25 draft). This family-run restaurant (the Maloutases for more than 30 years) is how America used to eat before restaurant chains popped up. Today everyone still comes in, from governors to gas station mechanics. If the beer were a degree colder it would be frozen. Wear your sweats, don’t wear makeup and bring your “soccer-worn-out-kids,” you’ll be right at home and probably know someone in the place. A no-fuss menu keeps the Gas Lighter affordable. Look for grilled hot dogs in a toasted buttered bun, lots of pickle slices and chips ($2.75). Burgers are juicy and tasty, the gyros burst with flavor and the liver and onions (a must for one Concord lawyer we know whose wife refuses to make it) can’t be beat ($7.99).
The Gas Lighter, 204 N. Main St.
Concord, (603) 228-8854
Best Sports Experience
The Patio at the Hilton Garden Inn
[Manchester] Grab a baseball glove and be on time for batting practice which starts a couple of hours before game time (check out nhfishercats.com for their schedule). Boston has the green monster, Manchester has the Patio. The Fisher Cats love to pop a ball or two over to the patrons at this one-of-a-kind outdoor bar and patio (several good hits have broken the glass table tops so heads up). No ticket needed to sip, nibble and watch the Cats but don’t park in the hotel lot, it’s reserved for overnight guests. Expect good cold beer, fun martinis and nice Sangria sweetened just right. The Patio menu will be changing, but look for ballgame classics like chili dogs ($4) and pizza ($6 to $8) as well as more substantial fare, including Delmonico steak ($22) or maple-glazed salmon ($18).
The Patio at The Hilton Garden Inn
101 S. Commercial St., Manchester
(603) 669-2222, www.patiomanchester.com
Best Bar with a View
[Meredith] Dine in or out in this lovely rustic Italian Trattoria overlooking the stunning views of Lake Winnipesaukee in Meredith. An inviting place for old lovers to reconnect and reminisce about old wooden boats and playful days at summer camp while lingering through a menu that tempts you to use an Italian accent. Begin with a Lago “Gotchya Ball,” a soft-boiled egg wrapped with a breaded deep-fried meatball ($7) or try the filetto Cotto del Porco (char-grilled pork tenderloin, roasted red pepper relish, figs, goat cheese aioli, rosemary garlic mashed potatoes is a pleaser ($17). Lago is amore.
Lago, 1 NH Route 25, Meredith
(603) 279-2253, www.thecman.com
Best Jazz Bar
[Nashua] Twelve years ago Michael Timothy’s Jazz Bar was the place to go in downtown Nashua. Despite new upscale venues blossoming like weeds on Main Street, MT’s is still the place to go for grown-up music, a sophisticated crowd and the best gourmet pizza ($14–$17) in the state. Boston-based jazz trios or quartets play on Friday and Saturday evening and more conversation-friendly acoustic music on Wednesday and Sunday evenings. And no cover charge! The entire bistro menu is available in the bar until 10 p.m., and pizza until 11 p.m. Sample a flight of wines from the featured vineyard or create your own flight from any of the 35 or so wines available by the 2-ounce or larger pour. Sip slowly, close your eyes and enjoy the moment.
Michael Timothy’s Urban Bistro Wine and Jazz Bar, 212 Main St., (603) 595-9334
Best Irish Bar
[Nashua] The Irish know how to have a good time. And you can too, with a few simple trips to downtown Nashua. Pick up a pint of Guinness, enjoy the hearty Irish-inspired food and wear a big smile on your face. This renovated former bike shop looks like it has always been there, with high ceilings, scuffed wood floors and Celtic signs galore — all in good taste. Seating outside on the Riverwalk extends the space over the Nashua River on warm summer evenings. Live entertainment offered Wednesday through Saturday.
The Peddler’s Daughter, 48 Main St.
Nashua, (603) 821-7335
Best Sushi Bar
[Nashua] If monkfish liver (the foie gras of the sea), uni (eggs of sea urchin) and toro (fatty tuna belly) are music to your palate, then the artful presentations of raw fish at the Zen-like Takumi in south Nashua will be a complete sensory symphony. At the sushi bar just say “omakase” and Chef Michael will plate up his freshest and most unique fish of the day. Find tangy sardines from Japan and sweet shrimp from Maine offered up on pristine plates along with the exotic fish of the day. Pair with a glass of cold sake (eight labels on the menu) or a vodka oyster shooter topped with a raw quail egg. Really.
197 Daniel Webster Hwy
Nashua, (603) 891-1717,
Best Date Ambiance
The Bedford Village Inn Tap Room
[Bedford] Maybe it’s the low lighting or the plush upholstery or perhaps the soft music playing in the background, whatever it is, there are plenty of couples hand-holding, laughing and enjoying the food and drink in the casual, yet elegant Tap Room at the Bedford Village Inn. A popular menu item is the trio of mini Angus burgers with different toppings (a foie gras aioli and red onion marmalade, Italian mustard fruits with cheese and balsamic marinated Roma tomatoes and Great Hill blue cheese) served on an herb roll with herb parmesan hand-cut French fries ($13). On our recent visit we spied a young couple stopping in to share a dessert, a dark truffle tart with passion fruit caramel, banana ice cream and candied macadamia nuts ($9). The wine list is extensive here, so why not try a few, with a 3-ounce pour ranging from $3–$9.
The Bedford Village Inn Tap Room
2 Olde Bedford Way, Bedford
(603) 472-2001, www.bedfordvillageinn.com
Best Live Entertainment
The Press Room
[Portsmouth] There’s something to be said for reliability and consistency and that is what you’ll find at this Portsmouth landmark nicknamed “the room.” Since opening in 1976, the focus is on folk and jazz, blues, bluegrass, rhythm and blues and Latin jazz. A nice selection of import beers and micro-brews on draft. A full menu from appetizers to entrées features something for everyone. Regulars swear by the fish ’n chips, which is always fresh (never frozen!) haddock beer-battered and deep-fried ($9.95). This is the place where those on the music scene in the ’70s return with their grown-up kids to kick back a pint or two.
The Press Room, 77 Daniel St.
Portsmouth, (603) 431-5186
Most Impressive Décor
Giorgio’s Restaurant and Meze Bar
[Milford] Tastefully dramatic, artistically mesmerizing, Giorgio’s is the complete package for a lingering evening at the bar with good friends. Blue granite, Grecian art and hand-blown glass, low lighting calming colors and a Mediterranean menu infused with temptation, make this a go-to destination. Begin with the beri-licious martini, full of floating raspberries, blackberries and blueberries while you feast on a head-turning appetizer of Saganai— imported Greek cheeses served on fire ($6.99)! The wild mushroom carbonara is rich and full of guilt ($15.99) as are the luscious desserts which include warm lemon pound cake with a cranberry compote ($5.99) to put you in dreamland.
Giorgio’s, 524 Nashua St., Milford
(603) 673-3939, www.giorgios.com
Best Local Vibe
The Pearl Oyster Bar
[Peterborough] Hip-hopping fun where you might come in as a stranger but you’ll leave having friends. Here is where the locals gather for great food, terrific service and a kitchen show to beat anything on the Food Network. From the bar, watch as the chefs bring to life an Asian fusion menu with a dash of theatrics. Nothing on the menu is over $18 and wines by the glass average $7, which makes this a “go-to-twice-a-week” kind of place. Foodies love the half roast of chicken (Misty Knoll Farm) with lemon grass and a contrasting chili caramel glaze with a hint of coriander that gives this dish fragrance and flavor ($16.95). It may get loud in this strip mall eatery but that’s just part of the total package which is worth shouting about. NH
The Pearl Restaurant & Oyster Bar
1 Jaffrey Rd., Peterborough, (603) 924-5225
We’ve no doubt omitted a worthy bar or two (or more), and your comments are welcome. E-mail letters to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org