"Pot roast, Guinness and a big happy family at Chatham Tap
If one isn’t too technical about addresses, Massachusetts Avenue now hosts eight pubs in the six or so blocks that make up this historic district. Between Delaware Street and College Avenue alone, there are pubs for quaffing, pubs for watching the game, pubs for throwing darts or shooting pool, pubs for listening to live music or music by people who haven’t been alive for years. There are pubs for meeting friends after work, pubs to dress up for, pubs for flirting with members of the same sex, even pubs for flirting with members of the opposite sex (if that’s your thing). Should you be hungry, there are pubs with greasy food, pubs with healthier eats, pubs with food like they eat across the Atlantic and pubs with food no one would think of eating anywhere else.
With so much variety, what does the eighth pub add to the scene? Wasn’t seven enough? The latest is Chatham Tap, which, by its character and décor, leans toward the pubs of England, though it’s also great for sports watching, eating big plates of food, having some beers you won’t get other places and, aside from darts and pool, doing the things you’d do at any other pub. Open only as long as the current NFL season, the place is already packing in some loud, rollicking crowds.
So, what makes it worth forsaking your favorite watering hole? Well, for one, its very newness is appealing; it’s definitely sparked a renaissance in a renovated storefront that’s previously struggled to find its draw. Deep green walls, soaring ceilings, a high-pitched arch above the bar and an outdoor patio all help create a place that’s definitely more comfortable than your typical neighborhood grease pit. That it’s nonsmoking until 11 p.m. doesn’t hurt. For the most part, it’s just one big room, without dividing walls, which makes it more a pub where the people are fairly unified in their merrymaking. Even when packed for Colts games, however, the crowd and panoply of flat-panel screens don’t make conversation impossible, and attentive service goes swimmingly on.
One could fault the somewhat lukewarm attempt at making it a real English “tap”: a few soccer towels above the bar and a few British-style dishes on the menu. At the same time, it doesn’t load up the pretense so high about its food and beers you have to talk like John Cleese. The selection of British and Irish ales, American microbrews and German lagers is fairly well-edited, which actually makes choosing less of a chore.
The menu isn’t too long either, and, though some things need a little work, offers some respectable pub eats. Appetizers largely involve starch and cheese. Montauks ($7) are slices of bread topped with gouda, thick bacon that’s less smoky and crisp than you’d expect and grape tomatoes. They nest atop a tangy horseradish mayonnaise that makes them a little messy, and they could be more browned. But they’re a tasty break from typical bar starters.
Soups ($3) are getting better. On one visit, the potato-leek was watery and under-seasoned, with strings of leeks. Another time, it had just the right seasoning and tender veggies. A Guinness French onion soup with red onions has mushy croutons and more under-browned cheese. But the tomato bisque is as good as soup gets — creamy with a deep tomato flavor, sweet onions and a nice perfume of basil. A walnut salad ($9), though healthy, is a little steep for a barebones salad of just greens, walnuts and a sweet raspberry-walnut dressing.
A half portion of fish and chips ($8.25) is plenty, and Guinness and other seasonings are nice touches in the batter. But the fish could be crisper — as could the seasoned fries. A breaded pork tenderloin, however, packs great garlic flavor and is crisp without being oily. Among big British dinners, the steak and Guinness pie is rich and hearty though definitely sweet with raisins and brown sugar under a pie crust. Chunky mashed potatoes and tender, far from mushy peas accompany. A pork chop ($17) needs more apple stuffing and less cheese, and it could be juicier. But the Sunday dinner ($12, Sundays only) of pot roast is tender and sliced thick as a steak, though it might do for a sauce. Yorkshire puddings, unfortunately, are fairly leaden.
House-made desserts are the most divergent. A turtle torte ($5) is more of an ultra-light cake with nutty, buttery icing and all the chocolate on the plate. On my last visit, however, an apple-pear crumble ($5) was dry and lacking any real richness (or butter?), despite two attempts in the oven. But try the kitchen did, and we appreciated the attention and effort at this friendly joint that’s definitely putting its own stamp on the ever-growing Massachusetts Avenue pub scene.
719 Massachusetts Ave.
Monday-Saturday: 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. to midnight
Food: Three and a half stars
Atmosphere: Three and a half stars
Service: Three and a half stars
Nonsmoking until 11 p.m.
Recommended dishes: tomato bisque, breaded tenderloin, steak and Guinness pie, Sunday pot roast dinner