It isn’t Commonwealth’s fault that it has the single-most worst view of any bar in the city. Entirely fronted in high glass walls, it overlooks the ghastly architectural blight of DC USA, the single-most worst looking development in the city. Billed as a “gastropub,” that British trend of sexing up the old-school pub with better food than the usual slop, it splits the gastro to one side and the pub to the other, making for a bar area that seems an afterthought. However, even with those three design strikes against it, so far I quite like Commonwealth.
As far as the pub section goes, once you get over the view it’s quite cosy, with small tables and a long leather-bound banquette. It’s been an accommodating space for both large groups and small duets. The beer list has selections from the U.S. commonwealths of Pennsylvania, Virginia and Massachusetts in addition to United Kingdom brews. This makes for seemingly strange bedfellows for the eleven drafts, like Michelob and Bellhaven Twisted Thistle, but I suppose it does make it easier for groups of friends with disparate tastes. There are also beer flights and nightly specials, and you can get a U.S. or a U.K. pint (one dollar more). The bottled selection offers about twenty U.K. and fourteen U.S., and so far friendly servers have been knowledgeable and helpful in navigating the choices. As I’ve said before, I know nothing about beer, so this is a plus for me. To date I’ve tried Samuel Smith’s Lager, Black Sheep Yorkshire Ale, and the reliable Smithwick’s Irish Ale to good success.
If you’re looking to nosh, the pub grub is interesting as well. It really is more of a restaurant serving kicked-up British classics in the same way that owner and chef Jamie Leeds took New England and New Orleans fare to different heights at Hank’s Oyster Bar. I haven’t had a full meal yet (this is We Love Drinks today, not We Love Food, after all!) but am intrigued to be able to try Bubble and Squeak, Welsh Rarebit, and the Vegetable Tikka Masala. As far as nibbling while drinking, the best bit for my tastes was the Frog in a Puff, featuring my old love lamb sausage wrapped in puff pastry. I guess that’s the British version of Pigs in a Blanket! I also had to try the Deviled Sweetbreads, really succulent with a spicy glaze that doesn’t hit too hard.
I’m interested to see how Commonwealth evolves, and not just if they invest in some heavy curtains. Will it continue to maintain a bar/restaurant segregation, for instance, and will people really pay $16 for fancy fish and chips? The outdoor seating should kick in for the spring and then the street scene may be very lively indeed. Again, the view could ruin it, but with some judicious plantings, who knows? So far it seems a good addition to that evolving neighborhood.
1400 Irving Street NW
Washington, DC 20010