Residing in what was once known as the Noyes and Cutler building is now one of the hottest restaurants in town. August 4, 2014 marked the quiet peaceful opening of St. Paul Lowertown’s newest edition, PUBLIC kitchen + bar. A combination of history, architectural aesthetics and fine cuisine is what makes up the rare uniqueness of PUBLIC kitchen + bar.
The building where the restaurant is housed was acquired by partners Noyes and Cutler in 1886, and architect J Walter Stevens was hired to envision the unique design of the building. The success of the building lead to great expansions including the addition of three bay windows that overlook Mears Park. The building was not only an esthetically pleasing sight, but it was soon recognized as the largest pharmaceutical factory in the world in the 1900’s. The building was also home to the popular Woods and Chocolate factory. As Lowertown developed, the 1920’s brought in notorious gangsters looking to profit from prohibition. This unique mixture of history is what inspired the design of PUBLIC kitchen + bar.
PUBLIC kitchen + bar owner Carol March has been studying the history of Lowertown for many years, envisioning her own space within it. Born and raised in St. Paul, MN, Carol loved the Lowertown atmosphere. Like many young students, she began working in various restaurants for 15 years. She loved the restaurant atmosphere, but studied building management and real estate. PUBLIC kitchen + bar became a combination of her two passions. March had explored the opportunity to develop the space about three years ago, however, another tenant leased the space before anything could be finalized. When the space became available two years later, March’s interest in the project had not fizzled and the opportunity to lease the space was there.
She had a vision in mind, but in addition to renovating the interior of the building, Carol found it important to develop relationships with the local business. The restaurants in Lowertown were very welcoming and encouraging. “Critical mass is key, Lowertown is a developing area,” says Carol March. The goal of the restaurant was not to compete with local restaurants but to bring something new to Lowertown–another great place to have a business meeting or casual hangout. The restaurant is divided into two levels, the upper level and the lower level.
The upper level hosts the main restaurant seating area, the administrative offices, dining area, main kitchen and bar. The atmosphere is perfect to have a one-on-one business meeting or friendly luncheon. “I’m very detail-oriented, I like to think about what the customer wants.” says Carol. The die walls (bar front) on each bar and original wood beams all now have new electrical outlets run to them, making it convenient for customers to charge their electronic devices and computers. The convenience of the upper level isn’t the only unique aspect of PUBLIC kitchen + bar. The lower level of the restaurant is a prime place for small events.
The lower level has already been reserved for about 15 events before Christmas, and the reservations are never ending. It’s the perfect venue from grooms dinners, corporate events, cocktail dinners, and cocktail receptions. The history of the building shines in the lower level, which was created in the style of a speakeasy, and is a prime area for afternoon or late night hangouts. The downstairs has its own menu tailored for shared dinners and serves food until 2a.m. The upstairs closes at midnight.
Not only is the inside a prime space for potential customers, but the outside patio is the perfect space for get-togethers with friends. Of course with winter coming, the indoor seating will become a more popular place.
Now that we have covered the architecture and vision behind the spaces, its time to talk about the delicious menu. Everything is made fresh and almost every item is made in house. The pasta, the mustard, deserts, anything that can be produced. March attempts to source her products locally, when possible. This includes but is not limited to the produce and bread and there is also an in-house pastry chef. The meat is certified Minnesota beef Hereford beef (all in house meet is in house and from Minnesota) and ground in house. “Except the ketchup because Heinz makes the best ketchup” says Carol comically. “We’re still in a test phase, seeing what works, what doesn’t, what the staff and the public like. I try to find the best products possible. Every item that we acquire is tested and evaluated. We might even start baking our own bread. We will hopefully be able to purchase more products from the Farmers Market next year once we’re settled in.”
PUBLIC kitchen + bar’s menus are tailored around the customer needs. There are six different menus for various customer tastes and venue choice: The brunch, lunch, dinner, lounge, dessert, and drinks menus all have unique plates accommodating the customer’s needs. As Carol March has mentioned, her detail oriented mind makes her think about what appeals to the customers taste and convenience.
The space and the food aren’t the only things that contribute to the uniqueness of PUBLIC kitchen + bar. It is also the thought put into the unique art and aesthetics of the restaurant, including the food, that add to the atmosphere. Whether it’s your first visit to PUBLIC kitchen + bar, or you’re a returning customer, next time you’re around make sure to take note of the names of certain cuisines. There’s history in everything, but we won’t spoil the fun for you.