Although the number has dwindled a good amount over the past decade or so, Boston remains a city with a lot of dive bars. You can often figure out which ones they are from the outside, but sometimes what looks like a dive really isn’t. Take Costello’s Tavern in Jamaica Plain, for example; the storefront of this Centre Street watering hole looks the part in some ways, as it is housed in a squat space with a brick front, has a simple sign above the door that is lit up from above by old-fashioned light, and includes a couple of windows that don’t seem to let a whole lot of light inside the place. But Costello’s is by no means a dive bar, instead being a friendly neighborhood drinking spot that attracts a diverse mix of people and has no real sense of danger to it (which dives often have). The spot also has some very good food, which some say disqualifies it from being a true dive. Whether you consider it a dive bar or not, one thing is for sure—Costello’s is a great place to go to if you like old bars and burgers (more on that in a bit).
Located in the heart of the main commercial strip in JP, Costello’s is one of a few drinking spots in this quirky Boston neighborhood that could be considered by at least some to be a dive bar (Galway Bay, the Jeanie Johnston, the Drinking Fountain, and the Fireside Tavern being a few others), with Costello’s being one of the least divey of the lot. The interior of the place feels a bit like the long-gone Nick’s Beef and Beer House in Cambridge, which was a legendary drinking spot that closed down approximately 15 years ago, and much like that place, eating at the bar seems to be at least as good an option as eating at one of the tables, especially if you’re in a chatty mood and want to trade stories with the bartender. The mix of booths and high-top tables, dim lighting, old-looking exposed brick, dark woods, and TVs showing the local games gives Costello’s a decidedly blue-collar feel, and while this remains true to an extent, you will also see everyone from artists to college students to young professionals to retired couples here.
Costello’s may look like a place to get a beer and a shot while forgoing a bite to eat, and while this is what some do, the place has some pretty decent takes on pub grub and comfort food. The highlight here is probably the charbroiled burgers, which have been mentioned by some over the years as one of the best bar burgers in the entire city of Boston, and familiar and less-common toppings such as bacon, mushrooms, chili, bleu cheese, salsa, roasted red peppers, guacamole, cheese sauce, jalapenos, and cranberries (for the turkey burger) only add to the goodness of these oversized hunks of meat. For those who are not in the mood for a burger, the pizzas (which lean a bit toward bar-style), hot dogs, steak tips, wings, and reubens are all good options, and the handcut fries are outstanding either as an appetizer or with a sandwich. The beer list at Costello’s will never be mistaken for one at an upscale gastropub or a boutique beer bar, but a few local microbrews are available along with the standard mass-market beers, while the fully stocked bar should satisfy those who are looking for mixed drinks or shots.
For those who like the concept of dive bars but aren’t crazy about the sometimes-scary aspect to them, Costello’s in Jamaica Plain may be a good place to check out. And for those who are burger lovers, this dining and drinking spot definitely needs to be on your short list of places to try. In a neighborhood full of old-Boston restaurants and bars (including the iconic Doyle’s, which isn’t too far away), Costello’s is one of the better ones and one that remains a hidden gem of sorts after many years in business.
COSTELLO’S TAVERN. 723 CENTRE ST., JAMAICA PLAIN.
Marc is the founder of @hiddenboston, a textbook editor, a hike leader for @AppMtnClub, and a food and travel writer and commenter for DigBoston, NBC/NECN, WBZ, WMFO and indie617.