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Sizing Up Downtown's Commonwealth

Where: 525 E. Fremont Street [map], 89101
November 26, 2012 at 7:19 PM | by | Comment (1)

Last week, we teased a review of downtown's newest 6,000-square-foot, pre-prohibition-inspired drinking establishment, Commonwealth. Owners aimed to emulate a hundred-year-old bar plucked from the cobblestone streets of an east coast neighborhood.

From the outside, they nailed it. Our first reaction to the photo up top was memories of drinking our way through old Boston neighborhoods. Commonwealth already looks like it's been a Vegas staple for generations. Even a local street dude was overheard observing the building really spruced up this corner. One of VegasChatter's followers tweeted at us an impression of pretentiousness, though, so not everyone's fallen head over heels yet. That tweet's since been deleted so perhaps the pretentious was a bit presumptuous.

While the exterior looks amazing and is spot on with the east coast air it's vibing, there's one problem we observed. Fremont visitors will only take in that view from across the street. The angle the photo shown above was taken from is better seen from further away, for example walking from El Cortez. East Coast aficionados should be quick to note the familiar historic looking touches of Commonwealth. Downtowners approaching on the same side of the street as the newly opened bar, however, (located in Fremont East, just past Le Thai) are likely to miss out on the full gorgeousness of the exterior.

DECOR AND VIEWS

Stepping inside, the bar is decked out in artwork, antique portraits, a old-timey piano (we just can't ditch that term), chandeliers, funky leather seating, exposed brick, and one giant peacock centerpiece. We assume the peacock theme and not any comment on our charming personality is what led to this re-entry stamp.

As much attention to detail as there has been on the outside and downstairs, Commonwealth's most popular feature that will be buzzed about is the second floor outdoor space. Not quite finished during our visit -- a DJ/entertainment space was being built and decorated with more artwork -- it's not hard to picture crowds quickly navigating their way upstairs. Standing at the bar offers a view of Fremont Street while grabbing a seat or taking a stance elsewhere takes in views of El Cortez and the Emergency Arts building.

COCKTAILS

Onto the important stuff. The cocktail menu is divided into House Cocktails, Depth Chargers & Fancy Beers, and just plain ol' Beer. House Cocktails and Depth Chargers run $8-$10 while Fancy Beers, or beer cocktails, punch in at $10. Draft beers number a dozen and include Ballast Point Sculpin IPA, Fat Tire, Sam Adams, and Guiness at $6-$9. Bottles start at $7-$10 for Corona Extra, Moose Drool, Old Rasputin and others; $12 for Ballast Point Big Eye IPA or Samuel Smiths Organic in Apricot or Strawberry. $15 scores Chima Cinq Cents, Duvel Single Pale Ale, Firestone Double Jack or Unibroue Trios Pistoles. Soda and bottled water will cost designated drivers $4 each.

The menu also includes Hot Drinks for $10 such as "Guess the Snuggle Stains" (Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, Frangelico, hot cocoa, cream and a pinch of cinamon-sugar) and the "Oxford Comma" (Dewar's Scotch, honey, hot English breakfast tea, cream and grated cinnamon). Bottle service is replaced by Punch Bowls like the "Two Minute, Unskippable, Government Threat" (white sangria, Hangar One Maine Wild Bluberry vodka, orange juice, lemon/lime sour, simple syrup, peach bitters and lemon wheels) that serves eight at $65.

Commonwealth's price points are higher than traditional Fremont Street prices, but far from approaching standards that have become the Strip. The cost of cocktails are on par with our favorite DT drinkspot, Downtown Cocktail Room, while beers run a touch higher here at Commonwealth. Overall, prices were actually a little lower than we expected given the vibe and crowds CW is after.

Punch bowl prices initially struck us as nearing exorbitant given that pitchers of sangria and scorpion bowls usually only run up to $40 at most. But, those don't generally serve eight and considering bottle service for a cheap vodka watered down with cranberry juice will set a table back at least two to three times a punch bowl, $65 starts to sound more reasonable. Any of the four punch bowls can be ordered as a single cocktail before diving face first into full liquid bowl.

Three signature cocktails were featured during our visit and, since we're nothing if not alcoholics thorough, we sampled all of 'em for the benefit of our readership:
· The Son of Man ($8, pictured above): Commonwealth's version of the apple martini, Hangar One Spiced Pear Vodka, Apple Liqueur, simple syrup and a lime soacked apple slice.
· Hyannis Cape Cod ($9): Grey Goose Cherry Noir vodka, fresh cranberry-infused elderflower liqueur, lime, Prosecco float and lime wedge
· Deliverance Wrap Party ($10 on Fancy Beer menu): Wild Turkey Bourbon whiskey, honey and PBR

Mixologist Juyoung Kang designed the cocktail menu and these were presumably three of their proudest. Unfortunately, they didn't resonate with us. At all. The handcrafted effort went into the creation of each drink, but it didn't come through in the taste. All three cocktails could've been mistaken for a premixed concoction found at any Fremont cart rather than the high quality sip we expected to relate to DCR.

FOOD

We learned this lesson the hard way after thinking we could sate our hunger and our thirst at Commonwealth. While drinks are a'plenty, there is no food, not even small bites, served here.

OVERALL

Did disappointing drinks ruin the attraction of Commonwealth for us? Not completely. The beer menu looks rather solid and there's a punch bowl or two with our party's name on it. And, service we encountered was super friendly and accommodating with just one oddity. Commonwealth's success will be measured by the numbers flocking to the upstairs bar for the sounds and/or just the sights. The downstairs is meticulously detailed, but lacked just enough to be the sole reason for our return.

The first floor was not crowded on our visit given the closed private party status. The vast empty space (and perhaps those bare rafters) led to a cold warehouse feeling rather than a cool Boston evening warmed by friends and strangers. On the flip side, a busy night will quickly fill seating leaving the masses to stand shoulder to shoulder on the open floor. The same could be said for the upstairs on a busy night, but the close quarters will likely be overlooked under the bright skies backed by live music. On second thought, one could argue both sides of that equation properly reflects a Boston bar on any given night.

The private backroom speakeasy that fits 28 and only serves dark-liquor cocktails wasn't yet finished and available for a peek on our visit so, unfortunately, we can't comment on that unique feature. Oh, and that service oddity? When a friend attempted to order a captain and coke for $7 the waitress required payment upfront. We hope that isn't becoming common, especially for bars that, on busy nights, could separate us from cash and cocktail for several more mouthwatering moments than we'd expect.

While not quite the superstar mashup of Downtown Cocktail Room and The Griffin that we'd hoped for, we'll be back at Commonwealth. Just expect us to be upstairs enjoying the music, views, and beers in lieu of cocktails.

Commonwealth is open Tuesday through Friday, 5 p.m. to close; noon to close on Saturday. Yes, you read that correctly. Closed on Sunday.

[Photos: Commonwealth exterior: Commonwealth; All others: VegasChatter]

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The drinks...

It's a common problem with modern mixologists. It's fun to mix things together in a palatable combination, but it's very easy to go one step too far. Then, everything on the menu tastes like everything else. Just reading the ingredients, it sounds like that's exactly what happened here. It still looks pretty fun, though.

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