Upstairs, downstairs: Public in Manuka opens a new floor of drinking and dining. | HerCanberra

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Upstairs, downstairs: Public in Manuka opens a new floor of drinking and dining.

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If you’ve found yourself with your nose pressed against the covered glass of Public in Manuka wondering why you aren’t inside cradling a glass of wine (and what exactly are they doing in there anyway?) then we bring happy tidings.

Yesterday the window coverings came down, the doors opened and patrons were welcomed inside to a fresh-look local, which boasts new statement lighting and a soft palate of leather, wood and velvet furnishings which makes the bar look (not to mention feel) a little more luxe.

Upstairs at Public. Interiors designed by Capezio Copeland

Owner Frank Condi has also put all the bar tables on wheels to make it easier for Public to host long tables for Friday nights when the whole office needs a drink.

Meanwhile over in the dining section, the heavy banquets have made way for more tables and chairs from which to enjoy the tweaked new menu which includes gastropub classics such as lamb shanks with lentils and polenta or duck leg with parsnip puree, cabbage and jus.

But what everyone will soon be talking about at Public is the unobtrusive black door at the back corner of the venue which now leads up a flight of stairs to Public’s new dining room and cocktail bar.

Formerly the Polit Bar and before that A Foreign Affair and way back before that the Ottoman, the space has a wall of windows looking out onto the street, in particular the new Manuka hotel.

Designed by Capezio Copeland, upstairs has an industrial luxe feel with a terrazzo bar, brass accent lights, curved wood tables and velvet and leather chairs and sofas.

Frank says the room will function depending on need but will have more of cocktail bar feel  on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights when it will stay open late for drinks. There will be a small but sharp menu and a vast wine list. And of course, it will be a perfect spot to enjoy a drink while looking out onto the goings on of the street below.

Frank also hopes the space is used for large private functions and corporate events.

“We already have a lot of requests to host parties where we don’t have the space downstairs. And we want it to be used for corporate functions because not everyone wants to have a business event in a sterile hotel—sometimes they like a bit of character.”

Since opening around 12 years ago, Public has become a firm favourite of Canberrans who appreciate a venue that brings a bit of Sydney and Melbourne pub culture to our city—a “cultural touchstone” if you like.

But it is also family friendly, allowing parents to bring the kids in for a meal when it suits.

With plenty of outdoors seating (all brand spanking new) Public still feels like home, but just with nicer furniture and sanded floorboards.

It is not dissimilar in look and feel to Frank’s other thriving business, Edgars and The Inn in Ainslie, which similarly occupy prime corner land and place an elevated dining room above a busy bar.

Public downstairs with new furniture, lighting and a polish up.

While Frank first conceived of taking over the upstairs section of Public around 18 months ago, the pandemic has brought its fair share of challenges.

He is relieved to finally be opening the doors. But patrons are going to have to wait another week before venturing up the stairs while final décor touches are made and the pot plants and art arrives.


The Essentials:

Public Dining Room (upstairs)
Where: First Floor, 8 Franklin St Manuka
Hours: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until late


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