The Public (CLOSED)

  • Restaurants
  • Western
  • American
174 Xiangyang Nan Lu

This venue has closed.

On our first visit to The Public’s new location on Xiangyang Lu, it’s fair to say they were keeping things low key. There were no signs at street level, no fanfare – the only hint that the space above Awfully Chocolate and Chloe Chen had a new tenant was a faint smell of deep fried chicken. A sign stuck to the glass door upstairs explained politely that they were ‘not officially open’ and therefore could not accept credit cards or issue fa piao. And yet, we had a near faultless experience. Having wrestled free of what is fast becoming an F&B graveyard at Sinan Mansions, The Public excels in its new-found home.

Although it was pipped to the post as Shanghai’s first real molecular cocktail bar by Sinan Mansions neighbour The Alchemist, there was still a great deal of anticipation when Leon Lee opened The Public’s forerunner The Apothecary in 2011. Yet despite the consistently high praise for Lee’s Beijing bar of the same name, The Apothecary fell flat in Shanghai, leading to a fairly acrimonious split between the Shanghai and Beijing partners at the tail end of 2011. The space was resurrected thereafter as The Public (infamously righting the perceived wrongs at The Apothecary such as a refusal to serve Coke), but earlier this year they became the latest in a long line of early tenants to turn their backs on the Sinan Mansions development. At the time, they promised they would reopen in a new location and this quiet spot, just around the corner from raucous Yongkang Lu, is the result.

The inconspicuous nature of the small upstairs bar lends it a speakeasy feel that is further enhanced by the feeling that you’ve stepped into someone’s living room when you walk through the single glass door. Formerly an office for luxury Moganshan retreat Le Passage, the space’s homey decor has been largely left in place by the new occupants with low lighting, sofas and picture frames, triggering comparisons with veteran living room bar Southern Cross.


It’s a very different, but far more appropriate space for The Public’s mix of southern home cooking and creative cocktails. Still in soft opening, both food and drinks menus are significantly slimmed down from their precursors at Sinan Mansions, but there are nonetheless items that will be familiar to anyone who visited the previous premises. Chief among these is the new, improved signature fried chicken (125RMB). A new fryer brings an upgraded crispness to the outer crust while maintaining the juiciness of the meat within, creating an authentic example of American down-south cuisine. Likewise, the sweet potato fries (45RMB) taste better than ever, though the bacon-wrapped quail’s eggs (55RMB) don’t quite capture the contrasting pork crunch and yielding, unctuous yolk from the Apothecary days. Other food items, such as the mountainous special crab noodles (350RMB) – currently only available on Thursdays, reserve ahead – are of a consistently high quality however.

The drinks also appear to have been given a shot in the arm by the arrival of Yao Lu, formerly at The Alchemist. Again, the current menu is small, but the drinks are expertly mixed. In addition to a list of straight up classics such as a well-judged Negroni (70RMB), Yao has created a minimal range of house signatures. The show-stopper here, at least in terms of looks, is the Lost in Thailand (70RMB, main picture), a mix of spiced rum, fino sherry, mango, lemongrass and housemade ‘chilli tincture’, that comes complete with a shell-on shrimp tucked in the top and dusted with chilli spice. It’s a slightly bizarre offering, but a must-try.

For something a little less showy, but stronger in the flavour department, The Compass (70RMB) is a weighty combination of Old Fitzgerald Bourbon, Drambuie, Grand Marnier and hopped bitters. On the fruitier side, the Schweetie Pie (65RMB) lives up to its name, with a strawberry flavour dominating the vodka and Aperol. It’s served topped with egg whites, with a blueberry suspended over the top of the glass. Also on the fruitier side is the Witchy Women (65RMB), though this time the tangy sweetness from orgeat syrup, orange juice and Bacardi is undercut by campari, angostura and orange bitters and a citrus hit from fresh lime to make for a standout drink.

It’s still very early days for The Public and it remains to be seen what happens to the currently high quality once the menus are expanded. For the moment though, the move appears to have been a very smart one, creating a clear improvement on its predecessor.

By Jake Newby

Venue name: The Public (CLOSED)
Opening hours: 6pm-late daily
Metro: Shaanxi Nan Lu
English address: Second Floor, 174 Xiangyang Nan Lu, near Fuxing Zhong Lu, Xuhui district
Chinese address: 徐汇区襄阳南路174号2楼, 近复兴中路