Updated: Mar 8, 2019
The first time my sister, Tor, told me about CodeX, I was immediately intrigued: a bar, hidden from sight, that transports you back to a different time: Prohibition. A time when it was illegal to have an alcoholic beverage- a time when people that wanted to drink had to hide from the law to do so. Thankfully, Prohibition was repealed, and now we can all enjoy our drinks (somewhat) freely. But at Codex, you'll think Prohibition was still going on, as this place truly feels (to me- since I obviously don't really know because I wasn't alive during the 20's and 30's) like a genuine speakeasy. And like a true speakeasy, finding it can be a bit difficult. When me and Tor first went to check out Codex, we were wandering around on the sidewalk looking for it, when we started to hear some 20's music; the first sign we were generally in the right place. Being in the middle of Nashua, NH., it felt really out of place. As we continued looking for the entrance we saw a display window, filled with a bunch of old books, possibly another hint that we were close. We turned the corner, and the first door we saw entered into what looked like an office building. We walked in, on the left was an elevator, and the other side of the wall there was an armchair and a lamp with the light on, sitting on a small table. As we
approached the lamp we glanced to our right and noticed a bookcase - again- filled with a plethora of old books, and again- seemed very out of place. It was then when I noticed something even odder, a brass ring hanging off one of the books. Oooohhh.. what does this do??? I pulled it without a thought, and suddenly I saw eyes peeking out at me through the 'bookcase.' All of a sudden, the 'bookcase,' swung open like a giant door, and we were greeted by a server in an old newsie cap and bowtie asking for our 'library cards,' I think we found it!
Being that it was a bit difficult to find made it that much more awesome to me. Especially since that's kind of what it would've been like during the prohibition era. Inside it was very dark, lit only with candles and dimmed lanterns. The ceiling and walls were all painted black and there were only small windows towards the top, close to the ceiling- making it feel like we were in the basement... but we weren't, very clever. Right by the entrance was a grand piano with ornate chairs & couches lining the walls creating little nooks with tables to dine at or just to enjoy a cocktail. There were books EVERYWHERE; in bookselves, mantles, tables and even in stacks on the floor (which makes sense, since codex means, an ancient manuscript text). Drawn on the walls (in-between bookstacks and liquor cabinets), were larger-than-life portraits of famous poets and authors with accompanying quotes, with the likes of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. By the piano on the left was another entryway, revealing the reason why everyone comes to a speakeasy- the bar. The bar was glowing as if it was on a stage, and I was just drawn to it. I don't know if it was the warm relaxed lights, how they displayed the liquor (and with so much bourbon.. which makes me giddy), the ornate glassware they use, or that the underside of the bar was glowing with a cool geometric design... whatever it was, it was working, and I was so excited to try the opening act- The Drinks.
My two favorite drinks are Manhattans and Sazeracs, and judging by the fact that CodeX had both of these on their menu- it was looking good. I went for the Sazerac, and it was pure heaven; the rye, absinthe, and bitters all complimented each other so well. My sister got the Mocha Nut- molasses bitters, Drambuie, amaretto, creme de cocoa & house infused espresso vodka, served up in a snifter glass. Now, I typically stay away from 'dessert cocktails' because they tend to be way too sugary for me- like they add a crap-ton of chocolate syrup on the glass, or rim the glass with sugar. But this one? Just one sip of my sisters drink and I wanted to suck it down dry. The flavors of this drink were exquisite- you could taste the craftsmanship in it. Usually, bars will use a sweetened espresso liqueur or cheap flavored espresso or vanilla flavored vodka. But infusing your own vodka with espresso beans? That is such a smart and so incredibly simple thing to do- and a lot of places will skip this little thing, and that ends up hurting them in the end with a 'meh' cocktail. Now if I lived closer (like my sister who lives in Lowell) I would be here every night to grab a drink in this amazing atmosphere. And considering how great these cocktails are, I would expect them to be a lot more expensive. They could easily charge $14 a pop- but they're only $11! Being a bartender myself, on and off for 6 years- I can taste the quality of these drinks. I'm extremely judgemental when it comes to my cocktails, and CodeX definitely impressed me with their offerings.
If the quality of their drinks are any clue, you can guess how good the food is. I bet just the description of these dishes will make your mouth water. CONFIT DUCK POUTINE: hand cut fries, 24-hour confit duck, duck glaze, and mozzarella cheese curds. Or the CHICKEN & WAFFLES: old bay fried chicken breast, local sriracha maple, buttermilk waffles and fresh scallions. Or even the desserts! Like the NEW HAMPSHIRE CIDER DONUTS: locally pressed apple cider, cinnamon clove sugar, and brown butter sauce --- YES PLEASE! They also use a lot of local farms in their dishes like Dowie Farm, Sucker Brook Farm, and Brookford Farm, all based in New Hampshire. CodeX also hosts a lot of events with a prefixed menu that, even though I've never been to one myself, I seriously suggest that you should go to at least one. I mean, if the food and drinks are that great on a regular Wednesday night, can you imagine how good it is with a specially prepared menu? One where the chefs (Executive Chef Matthew Berry & Sous Chef John Bouley) carefully pair the flavors of each course with drinks? Yea, that's something I don't want to miss.
I also just found out they opened a sister restaurant in Concord, New Hampshire: Chuck's BARbershop! It looks just as cool and inviting as its older sister. And if its anything like CodeX, I'm sure they will keep the integrity of the drinks and food the same, with talented bartenders and chefs carefully crafting you're new favorite indulgence. Maybe I'll be invited to do a blog post at Chuck's BARbershop? Only time will tell. Liu Vaine (the owner of CodeX) is opening Chuck's BARbershop in tribute of his old friend and fellow bartender, Chuck Nutting.
"If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have been the bartender that I was, and wouldn't be where I am today." Even before reading this article in the Concord Monitor, I knew the drinks were something special, "As soon as they started doing flavored rums and flavored vodkas, the craft of bartending kind of died," he said, "We're trying to bring that back." It's true - bartenders have gotten lazy, you can taste the difference.
So, if you want to be transported to a different time, feel like you're hiding from the law while enjoying finely crafted cocktails on top of tremendous food? Make the effort to try and find CodeX, it will be worth it. In the meantime, Chuck's BARbershop will be on my list for places to go, and yours should be too. Remember, always have your library cards at the ready!.... CHEERS!
Illustrations of CodeX is in our SHOP designed by Chris Boudrow.
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