You could almost miss it, tucked in down the side of Sheffield Town Hall. But when you follow the understated sign down the stairs, doors open onto a neatly refurbished space you’ll be glad you ventured into. Called Public because it’s built on the site of 19th-century public toilets, the underground bar is small and intimate. It seats 40, mainly in booths, and is table service so there aren’t any elbows at the bar to contend with. A vinyl-only music policy with records provided by Sheffield’s independent Bear Tree Records completes the underground speakeasy feel.
It's all been put together by the same people who brought us Picture House Social, so they know a bit about renovating unusual local spaces. Their aim with Public is to create a cocktail bar experience that is a little unexpected in the centre of Sheffield. And it’s seems to have struck a chord: on Thursdays and Fridays you need to head down early to be sure to get a seat.
Cocktails are obviously the speciality of Public and they take them seriously. The menu is a hand-bound book rather than a list, explaining the ingredients and the inspirations for the 25 recipes on offer. One section of the menu goes by the name of Public Footpath and features locally grounded recipes, using ingredients like blackberries from Peak District hedgerows. Another, Public Health, offers non-alcoholic cocktails so you can enjoy many of the flavours and inspirations without a hangover. We asked for advice from the staff but can imagine going back and taking a little more time reading over the descriptions and earnestly ticking off the various creations. While there, we diligently sampled three. There was the Public Highball, made using a house-blended scotch served with a large ice cube stirrer; the El Platino, mixed with 12-year-old scotch with tiny puddles of truffle oil carefully dropped on top; and to finish, the refreshing and fruity Sherbet Fountain.
The food menu features plenty to draw you in too, split into small plates and sharing food that goes well with cocktails. Everything is locally sourced and seasonal – we enjoyed the Yorkshire bresaola served with delicately sliced fig on dinky plates made by local artist Francesca Hague of Grey Suit Clay (watch the lovely video Public made about their collaboration).
All in all, it’s a bar experience unique in Sheffield: one that feels more like a relaxed fine dining experience than a boozer. Just be prepared to not settle for one.
UPDATE: Big, big congratulations to Public on bagging an Observer Food Monthly Award! Who'd have thought this old, underground gents' toilet would end up being named Best Place to Drink in the country?
- Words by
- David Jackson