First Look: CommonWealth

How British is it? Pubby but not cheap.

CommonWealth does up a proper fish and chips. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

The latest addition to the development boom in DC’s Columbia Heights is CommonWealth, which bills itself as “the people’s gastropub.” But one look at the menu begs the question: Who are these people?

Chef Jamie Leeds envisioned the place as “blue-collar, pubby,” but would your average diner view house-made head cheese for $8 or a tomato salad with crispy pig’s ear for $11 as anything more than a pricey novelty? Cured meats such as bresaola and fuet (a Catalan pork sausage) would be more at home at a trendy wine bar.

CommonWealth succeeds best when it exerts itself least. “Pint of prawns”—brined, heads-on prawns in a pint glass—makes for a terrific starter, while fried, lemon-stuffed olives are perfect little poppers with a Guinness. Scotch eggs—battered and deep-fried—ring true, as do fish and chips, the haddock enclosed in a wonderfully puffy beer-battered carapace. Other evocations of English pub food, such as the Cornish-pasty turnover and the meat-heavy Butcher Breakfast—are tasty if overly upscaled.

The space echoes the mixed messages. Wooden accents and a British phone-box entryway are upstaged by the clean-lined, industrial setting, buttressed by a cinder-block wall that screams “cafeteria.” Still, it’s nice to see people hanging out and using the chessboard tables, bringing a needed neighborhood vibe to a pocket of the city in transition.



CommonWealth, 1400 Irving St., NW; 202-265-1400. Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.


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