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Public: "We wanted to do something really small"

A new bar is opening in the old gent's toilets under Sheffield Town Hall. Co-founder Jim O'Hara told us more.

PUBLIC Cocktails 1 LR 115
India Hobson

The newest venture by the team behind The Great Gatsby and Picture House Social, Public will be an intimate space with a small food and drinks menu, perfect for that early-evening or late-night tipple.

"It's like having a kid," jokes Jim O'Hara about the renovation of the old toilets and all the pre-launch preparation. Brainstorming names for the space must have been fun – the fine people of Sheffield Forum certainly picked it up and ran with it – but in the end the team settled on a subtle head-nod: Public. Jim told me more.

Tell us about the team behind Public.

It's me and James Hill, my business partner. Jack Wakelin is going to be the general manager. He's currently the GM at Picture House and the cocktail whizz of the company. One of his menus - the Picture House Social autumn 2016 menu - has just been nominated for Imbibe Awards, which is a big industry thing.

There's an extended team of people we're collaborating with on it. Nick Deakin, who does the design for all our other bars, has done all the design for this one. India Hobson is on photo duty again, because she's great. All the crockery is being handmade by Frankie at Grey Suit Clay. Syd and Mallory are doing some aprons for us. Joe at Bear Tree Records will be providing all the records. We're just doing vinyl only, which will be kind of nice - incredibly annoying for the staff...

It's quite a small space, isn't it? It almost lends itself to a speakeasy-style bar.

The speakeasy term, while it's the go-to term, is something that I think has become associated with really dark, quite serious bars. The word 'speakeasy' brings to mind dogwood and Victorian fittings – that kind of bar where you go in and the bartender's got a beard and sleeve tattoos – and it isn't that. It's actually going to be quite colourful, a bit brighter than that, and hopefully less overtly masculine than a lot of speakeasys tend to be.

It's good to be bringing a bit of independence to that area of town.

I think so. It's really exciting for us to be near things like the theatre district, because it's one of the best things that Sheffield has. It's a beautiful building as well. The Town Hall is such a nice building and some of the features we are going to try and keep downstairs. There's really old, lovely Victorian tiles.

With us being an independent company, I think we judge each project on its own. I think Public was a reaction to doing Picture House Social last, which is such a big space and has so many aspects to it. We wanted to do something really small and a little bit selfish, something that is really for us.

What's your plan for food?

It's going to be quite seasonal. The size of the space does impose limitations, but actually that can be quite nice, in that it will be a small menu of sharing dishes that change very regularly. It allows the chef to have the creative freedom to serve whatever food he wants, which should hopefully be complemented by the cocktail menu and the wine menu. We'll use a lot of produce from local producers.

Similarly, it will be a small beer menu, but something that will swap and change all the time. Just get little bits and bobs that we really like, rather than giving people an unbelievable amount of choice - just choose five or six that we really like. I guess that ethos runs through the whole thing, really.

And the toilets? Will they be the originals?

No, thank god.

Learn more

Public opens this autumn.

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