January 1, 2014
For an area close to so many downtown corporate and governmental offices, the blocks surrounding the Convention Center are relatively short on good happy hour spots. True, big ticket bars like Fado, RFD, Rocket Bar, Redline and Iron Horse are only blocks away, on crowded 7th Street, but most of these tend to bring in slightly younger, rowdier crowds. City Tap House, a new import from Philly, strikes a perfect balance; a mature, but lively crowd packs the spacious bar area, pouring out into the dining room in the back. The sleek, industrial space – complete with exposed ducts and light bulbs artistically left bare – is lined wall-to-wall with young professionals.
Best of all, while a massive beer selection is a major draw, the Tap House classifies itself as a gastro-pub, meaning that its food isn’t an afterthought, as it is at several nearby bars. A full menu features a range of standard bar favorites (wings, burgers, fries), but also several more ambitious offerings: the kitchen’s repertoire includes several varieties of flatbread, mussels and such entrees as rabbit Bolognese and monkfish osso bucco. All of this shares the spotlight with an equally ambitious list of beers — assembled by beer director Andy Farrell — which number sixty in total (and forty on tap).
Prohibition era photographs line the walls in homage to the history of beer. In the back, a series of large windows look in on kegs, taps and all associated paraphernalia: a working museum of beer to observe while enjoying a pint. Brew options come from all over, but special priority is given to local craft beers like Heavy Seas and Union, both from Baltimore.
An open kitchen in the back showcases the busy line chefs, performing for a handful of patrons sitting away from the bustle of the main bar. Since so many after-workers are likely to stop in for a quick drink and a snack, the appetizer section of the menu has to impress…and most of its items do just that. The Korean Short Rib Tacos ($11) come three to a platter, which means three dollops of smoky, tender rib meat atop three small corn soft shells. The combination of sauces that constitute the Mezze Plate ($12) is dominated by the curry hummus, a thick, spicy spread, mopped up nicely by triangles of warm pita. Lamb Neck Gravy ($10), which a waitress calls “a little bowl of heaven” is more chili than gravy: a pungent stew that completely soaks the accompanied pieces of grilled bread. The most creative of the appetizers is the Foie Gras French Toast ($21): a soft creamy layer of foie gras, stacked on a disk of sticky French toast atop a glazed candy apple. The improbable combination of tastes and textures defies all expectations of what bar food should be.
The Tartufo Pizza ($18), drizzled with truffle oil, dotted with fresh mushrooms and topped with a fried egg for good measure, is the highlight of an innovative listing of pizza and flatbread. Other options include a honey goat cheese pizza ($13) and a Mediterranean ($12), featuring a cameo appearance of that outstanding curry hummus. The kitchen produces massive pots of mussels as well – like the Pancho mussels ($13 small; $26 large), sprinkled with pieces of piquant chorizo sausage. The dessert menu, still a work in progress, boasts a decadent strawberry cheesecake ($6) served in its own spice jar. The layer of crumbly graham cracker is a treat at the bottom.
Plans for a brunch menu are in the works, and daily dinner specials, like Monday’s Bucatini and Clams and Tuesday’s Chicken and Waffles, have already generated enthusiasm. “Business has been great so far, knock on wood,” reports General Manager Pearson Keyes. As the kitchen continues to hit its stride, and the pints continue to pour, there is no reason to think that good business shouldn’t continue.