Name of Bar: Public House
Square Footage: 10,000
Open Date: Jan. 13, 2011
If it’s a one-of-a-kind, revolutionary bar you’re looking to name Beer Bar of the Year, look no further than Public House in Chicago. This 10,000-square-foot, “beer-centric” concept located in the heart of the River North neighborhood commands the attention of brew-lovers from all over the country. Public House was designed to change the way that Americans experience beer, by increasing their knowledge base and expanding their palates for various types of brew. The bar has one of the most extensive beer lists in the Chicagoland area, as well as an extensive menu specifically designed to be consumed with beer. Additionally, Public House features the most innovative draft beer service technology in the world — the exclusive Table Tender System.
The Beer, the Cocktails, and the Food:
Public House stocks more than 100 brands of beer which are divided into nine aptly named categories including Ambers and Browns; Belgians and Envies Thereof; I’m a Little Pint Glass, Port and Stout; Lagers and the Like; The Pursuit of Hoppiness; The Redcoats are Coming; Strong Like Bull, Barley-Like Wine; Feel the Wheat; and Ciders & Such. These categories encompass 104 different brands ranging from light and crisp lagers to heavy and bitter ales from all over the world, as well as Public House’s “House” brew created exclusively for the venue by local brewery, Goose Island. The vast list of brews was compiled by a collaborative effort between Public House owners, David Rekhson and Lucas Stoioff, and their in-house Cicerones, Justin Leone and James Miller. Countless hours of research with local breweries and a research trip to Germany has amounted to what local beer aficionados are calling a symphony of beer!
The beer-influence at Public House doesn’t stop there. Guests will find threads of the inspiration throughout the revolutionary custom cocktail menu created by respected Sommelier and Cicerone, Justin Leone, (Alinea, Benny’s Chophouse). The team desired a craft beer-inspired cocktail menu highlighting IPA, Lambic and Stout flavors. After discovering that using the actual beer in the recipe wasn’t the tastiest choice, Leone pulled specific ingredients from each ale and used them to emulate the characteristics of the beer. What resulted is one of the most unique cocktail menus around, with drinks such as The Giving Tree, which emulates an IPA and consists of Bombay Dry, PalliniPeachello, Zirbenz Stone Pine liqueur, grapefruit juice and simple syrup. For a cocktail resembling a strong British pale ale, The Jack of All Trades features ingredients such as Jack Daniels, Creme de Violette, Jasmine syrup and fresh lemon juice.
Executive Chef David Blonsky is the man behind the menu at Public House. Home to award-winning food, including “Best Burger” (Chicago Social Magazine), Public House offers a higher caliber of cuisine than most beer-centric spots. As a whole, the menu melds simple American cuisine with rustic rotisserie smokehouse flare, featuring thoughtful dishes that are specifically meant to be enjoyed with beer. No surprise, beer also plays a major role as one of the principal ingredients in many of the dishes and house made sauces, such as the soft pretzel and beer cheese fondue, mini Kobe corn-dogs with pineapple beer mustard, beer-battered fish and chips and the Texas smoked Kobe beef brisket. Even the dessert menu doesn’t stray from its beer roots with the Chocolate Stout Float featuring left-hand milk stout, triple vanilla bean ice cream, warm chocolate chip salted pretzel cookies and soft caramel. A beer tasting and pairing menu is also available to accentuate the patron’s dining experience.
The Beer Rosetta Stone:
Having one of the largest selections of beer in the city can seem overwhelming to some. Anticipating this, Public House went to great lengths to ensure guests of all levels of beer knowledge could locate their perfect brew on the menu by utilizing an emoticon key. Each beer subcategory on the menu is easy to navigate through by way of emoticon symbols that denote the style, flavor, color, alcohol content, and the type of glass it is served in. By quickly locating the feather and orange slice, a guest can decide on the light, citric Hoegaarden. Interested in the Lost Abbey Inferno Ale? The bunny and boxing gloves signify a hoppy brew that packs a punch. The possibilities are virtually endless, which means there is a light, balanced, heavy, citric, hoppy, malt or packs a punch brew for every palate!
The Table Tender and Multimedia:
Public House and its sister venue Bull & Bear are the only venues in the city of Chicago to have the impressive Table Tap Technology. In 2009, Bull & Bear impacted the Chicago bar scene in a huge way with the introduction of personal table taps to the Midwest market. With Tabletender LLC, Public House owners, David Rekhson and Lucas Stoioff, designed a system to place taps at tables throughout the bar, allowing guests to pour their own beer while servers monitor ounces poured. The taps are an innovative and engaging draft system that is revolutionizing the service experience, one pour at a time.
The premiere booths come equipped with two taps apiece, from which guests can pour their own perfectly chilled pints. Patrons reserve tables according to their beer preference and once on-site, a server activates the system. An LED tracker located on the table charges 30 to 40 cents per ounce and fills glasses until the guest is satisfied. Looking to enjoy the game with a specific brew? Guests can contact the bar in advance to customize their tables with the beers of their choice. This game-changing technology allows Public House to stand out from the thousands of other beer bars, as one of only a handful of bars throughout the country to offer table taps.
Public House has also created such innovative technology as liquor taps, utilizing the same valve technology as the beer taps. All of the premiere tables at the venue feature one liquor tap, in addition to the two beer taps, allowing for better intake monitoring and a fresh take on stuffy bottle service.
Taking this one step further, the renowned venue introduced wall taps to the Chicago bar scene. Stray away from the tables and guests and still find easy access to a cold one with the convenient wall taps. Six custom-built self-serve taps can be found throughout the space and provide a perfect option for hosting private events, or just a refill of your favorite brew. Aside from the alcohol infused technology, patrons can experience a bar experience at Public House like no other.
Public House’s tap system runs directly to patrons tables from a custom-designed walk-in cooler. The custom manifold mounted within the cooler, holds bottles of liquor ready to refill the lines as they become depleted. At any given time, there are approximately six bottles of alcohol and various beer lines hooked up to one table and a traditional tap cooling system ensures each liquor pour is a cool zero degrees, and beer at a perfect 32 degrees.
Adding to the overall experience, Public House takes full advantage of its proximity to the House of Blues by offering encore performances from some of the venues hottest acts. Their concert quality sound system allows for live in-house performances any night of the week. With 27 plasma TVs, as well as an HD video wall, Public House is definitely staying true to its traditional bar roots. However, with warm design touches, such as hand-carved crown molding, rustic custom light fixtures and fireplace seating, Public House promises to help Chicagoans say goodbye to the nightclub and hello to the "night pub."
Beer and the Venue Design:
Honoring the preliminary vision of creating a space reminiscent of an early bottling company, Public House incorporates beer artifacts in all aspects of design. An entire wall of back-lit Heineken bottle art provides a warm green glow in the elevated seating area, while chandeliers crafted from upside-down pilsner glasses add a spark of creativity to the main bar. Additional décor highlights include ten floor-to-ceiling operable windows leading out to the famed State St., an 84-inch HD video wall, photo booth, gaming machines and laser holographic keyboard technology.
With all the self-serve convenience and technology found at Public House, one can’t help but wonder if the space even needs a staff. The answer is yes, and an impressive one at that. Public House service staff is required to have at least two years of hospitality industry experience within the Chicagoland area and come highly recommended by multiple, well-respected establishments. Once on board, servers and bartenders go through a rigorous six-week training program that includes company overview, venue concepts, steps of service, food menu training on every item, full beverage training on each wine, beer and specialty cocktail, as well as marketing training. To conclude their training, servers must pass a 39 page test, by 80% or more and endure a week of mock service.
Once trained, all members of the service team participate in incentive driven sales or service contests on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. In addition, employees must utilize social media outlets to promote the restaurant and bar, as well as spend at least an hour a week with marketing experts to brainstorm events, promotions and learn new marketing tools.
Cicerones meet once a week with the team to ensure diners receive accurate information and the best possible recommendations for food and drink pairings. Executive Chef David Blonsky also works closely with the front-of-house team before every shift to meet guest needs.
The Scene and Events:
While the overall experience is a beer-centric one, it’s also lively and exciting. Finding a happy spot between bar and nightclub – “night pub” – Public House provides a comfortable, yet chic setting to enjoy a night in downtown Chicago. With Chicago Bears and Blackhawks stars, as well as high-profile celebrities such as Giuliana Rancic, Kristin Cavillari and Zac Efron making surprise appearances, Public House is a place that welcomes the spotlight, but doesn’t thrive on it. The celebrities aren’t the only eye candy! According to Chicago magazine, Public House is the “Best Bar in Chicago to Meet Singles” (August 2011).
Outside of a great stop for a night on the town, Public House is a destination for exciting events. This past summer, the bar hosted Captain Morgan’s Birthday Celebration with supermodel Marisa Miller. In addition, Public House partners with various local breweries once a month to host “Brewniversity” beer dinners. For $50 per ticket, guests enjoy an exclusive five-course dinner menu complete with beer pairings from breweries, such as Lagunitas and Arrogant Bastard Ale. The bar also hosts a quarterly event targeted at women drinking beer titled “Barley’s Angels,” as well as a March Madness themed beer event with local athletes, “Draft Madness.”
The hard work and innovation by Public House owners truly shows. Public House has become the number one on-premise account for Bud Light and Arrogant Bastard Ale in Chicago, as well as one of the top three accounts for Heineken USA. The venue is also the top Guinness account (outside strictly Irish pubs) in the Chicago-land area. Moving the beer is a no chance occurrence, however. The management team at Public House works closely with both the marketing team and staff to increase beer sales across the board. The tall boy initiative, an internal competition put in place to boost revenue and encourage upgrades from pints to tall boys resulted in $26,000 in increased gross sales per month, and over $300,000 per year. In its first year open, Public House is set to achieve sales of $12 million, which may put the venue among the top 100 highest grossing restaurants in the country.
In the end, the success of Public House comes from the renowned concept, attentive service and product accessibility, combined with the management’s ability to work hand-in-hand with both the marketing team and staff. Public House is well on their way to achieving their goal of changing the way that Americans experience beer and following the simple mantra, OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE BREW!