For a hot spot on the New Hampshire Seacoast, look no further than Portsmouth: It boasts a great downtown shopping scene, comfort-food joints and high-end dining, and lots of live entertainment and outdoor events — all in a beautiful oceanside, small-city setting. But if you’re making a day trip or weekend getaway to the area, you’ll want to be sure to sample the Portsmouth nightlife as well. While there are countless places to dine out in Portsmouth, if you’re specifically looking for a top-notch watering hole you can’t go wrong with the favorites we’ve compiled here. And they all have different vibes, so — whether you’re up for a night out with lots of friends and live music or a solo trip for a cocktail and some reading — you’re bound to find a place that suits your mood at one of the best bars in Portsmouth, NH.
If you’ve got your dancing pants on, head to Fat Belly’s: In the upstairs cocktail lounge (home to New Hampshire’s first “ice bar”), a DJ keeps things hopping Thursday through Saturday nights. On the main floor downstairs, you can enjoy a drink at the second, smaller bar or dig into some of the best comfort food in the city.
Founded in 1991, the Portsmouth Brewery has grown to become a downtown staple — the kind of place that can accommodate any type of night out on the town. There’s the brewery, where many of the on-tap beers are created (take a look through the glass to see where all the magic happens). There’s the Jimmy LaPanza Lounge, a more intimate basement space that’s ideal for happy hours, game nights, and live entertainment. Rounding things out: a beer garden, a main dining room, an upstairs bar, a “sky bar,” and a “fish bowl” (the best place for people-watching).
A tough day might well call for an adult milkshake, which is exactly what Brgr Bar serves up — in addition to some really tasty food. Choose one of the signature burgers or build your own with fresh, local ingredients, and then go ahead and pair it with one of those aforementioned shakes (think bourbon and maple syrup, crushed Oreos and espresso vodka, spiced rum and coffee brandy). Beer, wine, liquor, cocktails, and nonalcoholic drinks are also available.
Casual and unassuming, Daniel Street Tavern — more commonly known as D Street — is the place to go for affordable drinks and good fun, whether it’s a game of pool or a round of karaoke. Catch the game on the TVs or some live music in this bar, and you’ll leave feeling like a local.
There’s actually a pair of wine bars here — a street-level option and a “wine cave” — both with a selection of 50-plus international wines poured by the glass. The vino selections pair nicely with Cava’s extensive selection of tapas: Choose your own or opt for the chef’s choice of tapas for the whole table. In the summertime, you can enjoy your meal and drinks outside next to Cava’s striking “vertical garden.”
For sports and a wide selection of beer (we’re talking 116 tap lines) in a casual, lively atmosphere, the Thirsty Moose is the place to go. Catch the game and indulge in some American-bar-and-grill cuisine upstairs, or head downstairs for some live music in a cozier setting.
Started as a nanobrewery in 2013, Earth Eagle Brewings has grown into a full (and very popular) brewery/gastropub. It features an always-changing selection of its own brews on tap, plus some guest beers, cocktails, wine, and nonalcoholic beverages to accompany an array of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, bowls, and sweets.
Enjoy elevated pub grub and a full menu of beers, cocktails, wines, and whiskeys in this classy bar, housed in the oldest bank building in the United States. The interior has been restored to mimic the atmosphere of a 19th-century Dublin pub (even featuring materials from Ireland), and they say that tippling here is like being transported to another era.
Looking to hang out with just friends or family? Unfamiliar with the area or just plain unsure where to go? You can’t go wrong with British Beer Company, where the vibe is laid-back, the menu has something for every palate, and the drink selection features everything from hyperlocal craft beers to aged single-malt scotch. Events are always happening at BBC, too, including trivia, live music, and karaoke.
Sometimes a night out is best spent quietly — perhaps just with a good book and a beverage. Located in the c. 1860 Custom House and Post Office, Portsmouth Book & Bar features shelves upon shelves of hand-selected used books for browsing or purchase, plus a full menu of small plates and an extensive drink menu. Be sure to check out the live music, events, and readings, too.
This Congress Street bar has brought live country music to Portsmouth, but its breakfast and dinner food, build-your-own bloody marys, and signature “Goat-tails” are worth a visit in their own right. There’s a large central bar with open seating in the front of the restaurant for diners, plus multiple big-screen TVs on which to watch the game.
Every city has its “townie” bar, and for many Portsmouth locals the Rusty Hammer is that place. Founded in 1978, this bar and restaurant has undergone significant renovations over the years but retains the original relaxed attitude and “grab a burger and two beers for under $20” commitment that helped make it a local landmark.
If you’re walking down Market Street on a summer night and overhear great live music and lively conversation, it’s probably coming from the Deck — the city’s largest courtyard venue — at the Portsmouth Gas Light Co. Lunch, dinner, and drinks are served here in warmer months; for sheltered, year-round options, check out the other drinking and dining spaces: the Grill, the Pizza Pub, and the third-floor nightclub.
What do you think are the best bars in Portsmouth, NH? Let us know!
This post was first published in 2017 and has been updated.