WASHINGTON, July 29, 2011 – There are moments when one throws caution to the wind and stands on a precipice above daring and insanity, not sure which will break one’s fall. They’re rare instances of serenity in adrenaline, the fight of fight-or-flight, that one last breath before the plunge. Most importantly, they’re segments of time that once past ask that eternal question – go big or go home?
The row of six mason jars before me begs my stomach to concede defeat. Each is filled with the rich, dark foam of Guinness. They’re paired with double-shots of Bailey’s Irish Cream and Jameson Whiskey, beer cocktail partners in crime called the Irish Car Bomb. Insides churning at the prospect of such a potent concoction, we raise the drinks in the air, ignore our guts, and chug with gusto.
Tonight’s venue is The Codmother at 1334 U St. NW, a new hangout for hooligans interested in cheap pub grub and even cheaper booze. As shots are dropped and beer clashes with liquor, the resulting curdle pours from multiple glasses onto the floor. A puddle of amber stout and sticky sneakers is apparently the price of going big. Rather than eject our whole gang on the spot, Codmother General Manager Tolga Erbatur merely laughs at our party foul.
“It’s no big deal,” he said as a waiter mopped up the mess. “That’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen at a bar.”
This devil-may-care-attitude reigns supreme at The Codmother, a new bar which opened in late June. Located in a cozy U St. basement, it feels like the unholy marriage of a bomb shelter’s close quarters with punk rock’s anti-establishment attitude. Every corner sneers at guests – there are elegant watercolors of foul Sex Pistols band members, for example. The restrooms, meanwhile, are labeled “those who stand” and “those who sit.” Perhaps the best dig is a pair of angel’s wings hanging on one of the walls – given the restaurant’s underground, it’s as if they’ve brought the heavens down to Earth. What, then, is the worst thing Erbatur has seen?
“I was once at a place with about 40 people when this girl vomited all over the bar counter top,” he said. “Let’s just say it emptied out very fast.”
Getting to know the general manager more reveals Erbatur doesn’t mind getting gritty during a night out. A native of Istanbul, Turkey, he said he discovered the District’s allure during a trip across America and has loved it ever since.
“This city is small but there are so many things it offers you,” Erbatur said.
Once renowned for its early 1980s hardcore scene, Washington is a suitable spot for the Codmother’s nods towards punk subculture. In true D.I.Y. (“do it yourself”) fashion, the restaurant’s restroom hallway has a large chalkboard for patrons to scrawl crude, colorful messages on. The music, meanwhile, is composed almost entirely of punk and ska staples ranging from The Clash to Reel Big Fish. The genre’s recklessness is a natural fit for rowdy drinkers, and The Codmother has thus recruited barflies with recurring punk music nights. A recent example – titled “Let’s Make Bad Decisions Together” – vowed the only rule was “you puke, you clean.”
The drink list definitely isn’t for posers. Most brews are British selections like Strongbow or Old Speckled Hen. Regardless of the variety, drafts are served in mason jars and meant for serious quaffing. For those who like large amounts of alcohol from across the pond, there are also Shandies and Black and Tans. The former is a lager beer mixed with lemonade and sprite, the latter a dark beer poured into the same jar as pale ale.
The food menu, meanwhile, is a satisfying middle finger to fancy dining. Virtually every item is cheap, simple, and gloriously greasy. Seafood is the main attraction, and the Codmother’s secret weapon is Yuengling beer batter fried crispy and golden around each morsel.
Chomping into the crunchy fried shrimp, for example, is like unearthing buried treasure – the juicy prawns deliciously burst upon contact. The fried mussels, meanwhile, come as briny, bite-sized poppers or on a scrumptious sandwich. The restaurant even fries Oreos and Snickers Bars for its post-meal treats, producing gooey sugar bombs that will have patrons bouncing off the walls like seasoned moshers.
The Codmother’s crown jewel, however, is its titular fish and chips. The chips are steak-fry style, thick and crispy with a coating of spicy salt. The cod, meanwhile, is so succulent and soft it’s the king of the catch. Served in oily nuggets, it’s meant to be sopping with the restaurant’s superb sauces. Pick your poison – there’s tangy ketchup, creamy tartar, bitter malt vinegar and pea dip so smooth it defines the word “refreshing.” Any combination rocks, so it’s best grabbing some mates and diving into a taste tour.
Fans of good times and good eats will find this wonderful hole-in-the-ground pub feels like home. Playing their final concert in 1978, the Sex Pistols’ lead singer Johnny Rotten famously asked fans if they ever got “the feeling they’ve been cheated?’” Codmother customers can rest assured that when they visit, the only thing they’ll be robbed of is their blues and an empty stomach.
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