Public Services Wine & Whisky, the bar that reunites Oxheart chef/owner Justin Yu with his former sommelier Justin Vann, opened for a very quiet soft opening Monday night in the former Cotton Exchange space at the corner of Travis and Franklin.
But Vann and Yu don't want the public to know that quite yet. They've invited a selected group of friends to help put the space through its paces and work out kinks in the service. If a non-invitee happens to walk in, so be it, but even the door man is mostly staying out of sight. Signs at the door and along the bar urge attendees not to share the news on social media. So far, patrons are respecting that. Every one who's aware of the opening has very studiously kept things off Twitter. (I found out mostly by accident.)
Thankfully, CultureMap isn't a social media platform.
As the name implies, it is a whiskey (and whisky) bar first. The leather-bound spirits lists boasts selections from all over the globe.
Yes, the highly-anticipated new bar's open, but approach with caution. As with dining at Oxheart, Public Services probably won't be for everyone.
First, as the name implies, it is a whiskey (and whisky) bar first. The leather-bound spirits lists boasts selections from all over the globe, divided by region. Conversely, the selection of other spirits, including bourbon, is relatively limited.
These are paired with wines available by the glass or bottle and a selection of bottled beers. Vann's well-known affection for sherry also finds a place on the list.
Only six cocktails are listed at the back of the menu, and they're all simple, stirred affairs. No house-made tinctures or elaborate shaking going on. Those seeking cocktails should stick with Bad News Bar, which is only a couple blocks away, and whatever bar will soon replace Goro & Gun.
A three-item food menu keeps things simple. Charred eggplant dip with fresh vegetables is a creamy complement to the drinks, while toasted nuts and seeds serve as the token salty bar snack. A plate of "homemade bologney" served with a smoked cheese spread and Ritz crackers offers a lighthearted riff on standard charcuterie plates.
Sit at the bar or find a spot at one of the tables, armchairs or couches situated in the expansive space. Gin Braverman's design (Oxheart, Camerata) has kept the art deco feel of the historic space with its murals and other details still intact. Full service, led by Vann and former Hay Merchant/Canopy manager Sean Jensen, means not having to run up to the bar to get another drink.
It is open (and they were nice enough not to tell me to get lost), but approach with caution. The staff is friendly and eager but still figuring things out. Despite Vann and Yu's high profiles, they're not quite ready for the masses.
If you go, don't tell anyone.