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Adams Morgan’s New Code Red Takes the Prohibition Era Seriously

The snazzy speakeasy opens with smoked Old Fashioneds, time-intensive Chicago fizzes, and massive Madagascar prawns

Two cocktails are part of Code Red’s tableside “crystal” service.
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Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Meet Code Red, Adams Morgan’s glamorous new hideaway that invites drinkers to step back in time and soak up the excess of the Roaring ’20s. The classy, 72-seat ode to the bygone era quietly opened last week in the heart of the Northwest nightlife corridor (2440 18th Street NW).

Code Red comes from Nik Namdar and Paul Brito, with Nik’s dad and AC hotel general manager Mark Namdar consulting on the project (he also co-owns New Heights, an American tavern in Woodley Park that just got a Michelin nod). Head bartenders Haytham Hashem and Greg LaMotte most recently stirred drinks at Dupont’s Bar Charley.

“We saw the need for a more upscale but still approachable bar and restaurant in Adams Morgan,” Code Red’s managing partner Natalia Alexander tells Eater.

Code Red features lighting fixtures made of bird cages, a large central tree, and reclaimed whiskey barrels.
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Code Red is packed with all sorts of throwback decor sourced from auctions and vintage diving, including pictures and frames, whiskey barrels, an old-timey cash register, movie projector, delicate glassware, and check presenters from the 1920s.

In lieu of bottle service, the team decided to go all in on Instagrammable “crystal” service. Old Fashioneds for four arrive in a Cartier crystal bucket on a glassy tray. The communal cocktail is theatrically flambeed and poured in front of guests, and Negronis also get the tableside treatment. Cocktails for one include classics like a Last Word, Corpse Reviver No. 2, and a frothy Chicago Fizz built with dark rum and ruby port as the base. The blast from the past reportedly got its start in Waldorf Astoria’s NYC hotel bar before making its way to Chicago.

A Hemingway Special comes with Havana Club white rum, pink grapefruit, and a Luxardo cherry at the bottom. A whole nook up front is devoted to the daiquiri-loving literary legend, complete with a desk, typewriter, and his famous quotes on writing with liquid inspiration. Odes to notorious gangster Al Capone are also aplenty, with his arrest and fingerprint card displayed on a wall along with a telegram of someone ratting him out for bootlegging from his jail cell.

Code Red reserves a corner up front for Ernest Hemingway.
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Code Red’s most dramatic detail is a custom steel door weighing a whopping 800-plus pounds, which will soon be installed out front and rests near the bar for now. A peephole grate pays homage to Prohibition, when spotters would peek out to see if the cops—known as “bulls”—were coming. “In which case it would be a ‘Code Red’ to hide your drink and start singing hymns,” says Alexander, who spent months researching the era before opening. The name also speaks to secretive speakeasies that require a password (its code is “red”). Red velvet booths, red water glasses, and a red-lit bar also play up the color-coded theme.

Small plate highlights from chef and Pusser’s Annapolis alum Raul Guerra include crispy “blooming” whole artichokes with dollops of truffle aioli; wagyu sliders; honey-glazed beef chunks skewered with sugarcane sticks atop roasted Brussels sprouts; and a meaty jumbo prawn charred over mesquite and placed on a seaweed salad bed.

A four-ounce prawn gets spiked from head to tail with a vintage metal skewer.
Vegan hearts of palm “ceviche” with tomatoes, onions, avocado, jalapeno, lime juice, and crunchy plantain spears.

Art also showcases lesser-known stories from the era like the “Harlem Rennaisance” of the 1930s, which saw the rise of musicians like Cal Calloway, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington who played in big band clubs serving booze. Parisian jazz posters and photos iconic French-American performer Josephine Baker honor the music genre’s boom in France, where many went to legally drink at the time.

Crispy whole artichoke at Code Red.
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A map of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s sits in one back corner.
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Incoming Jell-O shots at the bar pay respect to the best-selling order when the lengthy space was longtime dive Millie and Al’s. The old owners’ daughter told Code Red’s team “to dirty the place up” and offered recipe tips to replicate their gelatinous shooters, says Alexander.

Menus will substantially expand next month with more cocktails, a full wine list, and additional plates like seared foie gras, smoked bone marrow, and Maine lobster salad. Leather-bound cocktail books coming from Ukraine will be filled with short-and-sweet “Snapple Facts” of historical nuggets tied to cocktails and wine from vineyards dating back to the 1920s.

Opening hours are 5 p.m. to midnight on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday and until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. The team is also toying with the idea of weekend brunch.

The Chicago fizz takes eight minutes to properly make.
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Crystal service at Code Red.
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Nuns being bad back in the day.
Tierney Plumb/Eater DC
The brick-lined space honors musical greats from the era.
Tierney Plumb/Eater DC