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Mad Rose Tavern: Craft Heavy Beer Selection and Small Plates

Clarendon's latest restaurant is a well-appointed lounge with good food and lots of beverages to choose from.

If you stop by Mad Rose Tavern this weekend, you will be greeted by modern decor wrapped in black leather and plenty of dark wood. The space looks smooth and inviting, and should bring a well-dressed crowd to a relatively empty corner of Clarendon. That side of 3100 block is currently also occupied by SoBe, which should also benefit by the increased foot traffic Mad Rose will bring.  Opened just a few weeks ago, Mad Rose Tavern has an impressive selection of 20 draft craft beers and a list of over 20 bottles that include some mainstream brews along with some well kept secrets in the area. 

Owner Naeem Mohd was the former owner of First Down in Ballston just across the street from the Ballston Metro and said he is proud of his new property. “We built it from scratch. There was nothing here but a non-profit. It carries over a million dollar price tag,” he said. Mohd has tapped a new general manager with 15 years of experience at Smith and Wollenski’s in The District to keep things running along with manager Seamus Phillips, executive chef Johnny Nielson (formerly with Enology), and Derek Keane, bar manager.

Open from 11am to 2am daily, the bar will keep stock of over 20 Irish whiskeys, 40 brands of scotches, a wine list of over 100 and a solid craft beer selection.  “The beers were chosen on taste, as well as trying to keep it local where we could [e.g. legend from Richmond, Va, Tuppers from Bethesda, and Flying Dog from Frederick, Md,”] he said. Check out the complete, beer list here

The gastro-pub has small plates ($6-$12), big plates ($11-$21) and although the menu is the same throughout the tavern, the saffron-hued, 80-seat front dining room is better suited to such heartier dishes as pork-shank osso bucco with creamy polenta or blackened redfish with grape-tomato salad and dirty rice. The back lounge, with its low, red leather banquettes, feels like the place for the list of 15 small plates, which include tuna sliders, barbecue-duck flatbread, and house-made pigs-in-a-blanket stuffed with brats made by local charcuterie master Jamie Stachowski. “The patio is open, but will be going to full size (2,400 square feet) in the next two weeks. In May we will open the patio around the front of the building, which has permission for up to 140 seats,” said Keane.

“We don’t like beating people up with $30 plates,” said executive chef Johnny Nielson. “We like to do it in small plates without folks having to commit to 3 lbs. of protein on a single plate. Nobody wants to eat 15 bites of the same thing, never mind 30 or 40. As we monitor sales we may just go with running entrees as features,” he added.

Bar manager Derek Keane spent a good spell managing pubs and writing marketing plans in London for O’Neils a chain of Butler and Mitchell (owners of over 2,000 pubs in the U.S.) after leaving his home of Limerick, Ireland. The newly married rugby player has managed bars in seven European countries, Vancouver and now Arlington.                                                            

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March brings with it not only the promise of spring and NCAA hoops, but the Washington Post's Beer Madness, an annual showdown to determine the city's top beer. This year the field has been expanded from 32 to 64 beers, all of them considered "craft," according to the Brewers Association's definition ("small, independent, traditional"). The beers represented span the country, from Old Foghorn (a barley wine from Anchor Brewing in San Francisco) to Smuttynose Finestkind IPA from Portsmouth, NH. The 64 beers beers (divided into four flavor categories: Malt, Fruit & Spice, Roast and Hops) were sampled in a blind tasting at Churchkey in Washington, DC. Greg Engert, Churchkey's beer director, Washington Post beer columnist Greg Kitsock and Ellie Tupper of Tuppers' Hop Pocket Ale fame were among the members of the 11-person tasting panel. 
 
Round-by round results, detailing how the panel whittled 64 contenders down to one champion brew, will be published over the next several weeks in the Post. To meet the panelists, check out the brackets and vote for your own favorites, go to washingtonpost.com/beermadness.

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