After 11 years in business as Union Jack’s, owners Johnny Natoli and Gary Ouellette decided it was time to update the space and their focus. Thus, the renamed and retooled Tapp’d opened this spring aiming to put the spotlight on local beers and craft brews. Management says beer geeks have gotten the message, turning up at the Bethesda bar to work their way through the 42 drafts, which include two cask ales, and the more than 100 bottled beers.
And while the owners are shooting more for tap room than sports bar, there are plenty of games on the 32 high-definition TVs scattered throughout the space. Also appearing on a few screens is a real-time catalog of the beers on offer, thanks to a regularly updated app called Tap Hunter that also can be downloaded on your smartphone. You’ll even get notifications when a new beer is added to the inventory.
Photo by Rina Rapuano
One look at the menu should tip off diners to two critical facts: This is a bar and the food seems designed to soak up whatever craft beers are striking your fancy. Starters ($5 for waffle fries, $12 for bayou shrimp) are carb-heavy, fried or wrapped in bacon — save for the “caprese-tini,” the traditional tomato-mozzarella-basil salad served in a martini glass.
I started with the onion rings and chicken wings, offered in three dry-rub varieties: house blend with Old Bay, zesty ranch, and sriracha hot and spicy. Everything landed on the table piping hot, portions were large enough for at least two people to share, and our server kindly allowed us to split our wings in order to try two flavors. I opted for the house blend and the spicy sriracha, and both were well seasoned—although it’s a bit odd for sriracha wings to lack any kind of glaze, and they weren’t as spicy as advertised. The golden pile of onion rings was a bit more satisfying, perhaps because the rings were more in line with what one would expect and came with a flavorful chipotle-ranch dip. (That said, a manager confirms the bar uses frozen rings for the appetizer.)
The menu boasts of the bar’s “signature” beer-can chicken, but the chicken only appears in the pot pie and the club sandwich and as a topping for salad and pizza, not as an entrée. Our server was right to try to steer us away from the pot pie when we were choosing our mains ($8-$22), admitting the dish is made with frozen vegetables. The basic white crock sadly revealed nothing interesting beneath its browned pastry blanket, and crust fans won’t like that there’s none lining the bottom. The main downfall of the chicken, peas and carrots in white sauce is a lack of seasoning, making it a fine option only for those who prefer very plain food. The juicy, well-seasoned Tapp’d Burger topped with housemade beer cheese, bacon, sautéed onions, lettuce and tomato is a better bet. It’s a hefty 8-ounce blend of chuck, short rib and brisket, and it hits the spot.
Steer clear of the Bourbon Peach Cobbler, which lacked any hint of bourbon among the hard, undercooked peach slices topped with some kind of dust that was meant to serve as a crumble. It also could have used a pinch of salt, some sugar, a dash of vanilla and a basic understanding of dessert on the part of the chef.
Craft beer fans will love the extensive selection of drafts ($2-$3 per taster, $5-$8.50 per glass). About six of those are brewed for Tapp’d by Baltimore-based Oliver Brewing Co., so I order a flight of those and a Scoville Mary, one of five beer cocktails ($10). The most drinkable and balanced brews of the flight were the Irish red, the nitro cream and the American pale while the blonde and the IPA lacked character and the cask brew was overwhelmingly sour and served too warm—even for a cask ale, which is generally served warmer than other brews. The cocktail, sadly, was undrinkable. This blend of Tito’s vodka, Jailbreak Scoville Jalapeno IPA and house-made sriracha bloody mary mix was just far too bitter—and I love a spicy bloody mary. It’s a great idea that could use some tinkering or a more sure hand behind the bar.
Photo by Rina Rapuano
The basement-level bar features cream-colored walls lined with beer-related art and Maryland memorabilia. There’s seating at the bar, in booths and at high-top tables, or at sidewalk tables out front. You’ll find everyone from bros at the bar to young families with toddlers to post-softball crowds and couples grabbing a drink while playing pool or an arcade game, including skee ball, foosball, pinball and air hockey. The bar offers live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
Go, wait or skip
This place has some issues to work out, but is not completely skippable. Despite the middle-of-the-road menu, you’ll likely appreciate the friendly service, a great beer selection and decent bar food — if you stick to the simple stuff. Skip if you’re looking for something beyond a college sports bar, but go if you’re cool with a calorie splurge in the name of good beer and foosball.
Tapp’d serves lunch and dinner daily; 4915 St. Elmo Ave., Bethesda; 240-630-8120; www.tappdbethesda.com.
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