Is an Oasis of Chill
in a Hectic
By Stacy Milbouer / Fiddlehead Contributing Editor
In our Tweet, text and tech lives, it’s no wonder the mystique of a speakeasy with its dim lighting, vintage cocktails and secret entrances is alluring.
It’s as much a dining adventure – a culinary/imbibing experience – as it is a night out of the house. And it’s an experience New Hampshire has embraced wholeheartedly, thanks to Liu Vaine, who started the trend here three years ago when he opened two speakeasies – 815 in Manchester and CodeX in Nashua – and now a third establishment, Chuck’s BARbershop in Concord.
The cover for the Nashua speakeasy is a vintage book store – hence the name – a reference to Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks. There’s a secret entrance on a side street, and entry is only possible if you pull the right vintage book from a door disguised as a bookcase.
Once you’re in, you’re not just entering a restaurant or bar, you’re in another century. It’s dim. Gaslight dim.
But your eyes adjust, and you see Victorian settees, cushioned divans, scores of vintage books, a throwback phone booth and antique cash register. Huge murals of writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Robert Frost are hand-painted on the walls.
Bartenders, hosts and servers are not only dressed in period costumes – one waiter wore a bowler hat, black suit and went by the pseudonym Mr. Doyle – but it carries over to the establishment’s craft cocktails and period, decadent food.
The one modern concept, said chef Matthew Berry, is the commitment to using locally sourced products. Local purveyors include Dowie Farm in Derry, Sucker Brook Farm in Hollis and Brookford Farms in Canterbury, to name a few.
“In fact, we have a problem,” he chuckled. “When our local farmers come in to deliver their products, they never want to leave.”
You can’t blame them. CodeX is an oasis of chill in a hectic modern-day world.
Berry uses those local, fresh products to make rich, deeply flavored dishes, which harken back to a time when people weren’t afraid of cholesterol, carbs and calories. For example, the Cider House Hog is a cider-brined, bone-in Berkshire pork chop with smashed fingerling potatoes, leek and applesauce with apple butter. Their Meat & Potatoes features grass-fed, Black Angus ribeye with fingerling potatoes, fresh, local seasonal veggies and pancetta and sweet Vermouth pan sauce.
The soups and vegetarian-friendly dishes also feature local, seasonal products with creative, hearty twists like the Winter Squash Risotto with cranberries; toasted walnuts with leeks and apples; and the Grilled Cheese Bisque with fresh bread, Manchego and brie, seasonal jam and roasted tomato.
Even some decadent desserts check the farm-to-table box, like New Hampshire Cider Donuts made with locally pressed cider, cinnamon, clove sugar and brown butter sauce.
And while the food fits the Prohibition-era theme, the hand-mixed, vintage-inspired cocktails really make this feel like a speakeasy. The cocktails pack a punch. No hooch here.
The mixologists don’t used falsely flavored anything, and they don’t use liquor guns. They use old-fashioned jiggers, fresh fruit and good, unadorned spirits.
The cocktail menu includes vintage-retro drinks, like the French 75 made with (non-bathtub) gin, sugar, fresh lemon and Prosecco. The drink dates back to World War I and the French 75 (or soixante quinze) 75mm field gun, because “it’s light but packs a big punch,” according to CodeX staff.
They also make a mean Old Fashioned, Sidecar, Pink Lady, Moscow Mule and Manhattan – or the Hemingway Daiquiri made with rum, fresh lime, Luxardo and fresh grapefruit.
“I thought it was a great night out,” said Lisa Larochelle of Nashua, who visited the establishment for the first time. “It was more than just a drink at a bar or a dinner out. It felt like an event.”