Getting Comfy in PUBLIC
Squirreled away doing back-office work for the North Adams restaurant Taylor’s for nearly two years, Jared Decoteau (left) harbored ideas about the changes he’d make to the place if given a chance.
First and foremost, there were the eleven tap lines to the bar, tragically underutilized, he felt, with a rather conventional assortment of standard domestic beers.
So when Taylor’s closed its doors, Decoteau saw his opportunity. He secured financing from Hoosac Bank, and at the tender age of 27 opened his own restaurant and bar—one that offers an ever-changing array of craft beers, while adding a touch of unpretentious elegance to this former factory town’s main drag. PUBLIC eat + drink, a stylish but unassuming American-style bistro, was born last September. The result is both a nightspot in the high season, and a warm haven on chilly November evenings.
The aesthetic is sleek and almost accidentally chic, like the sans-serif script of the restaurant’s logo. Black tables and chairs, polished to a high shine, fill a brick-lined dining room with a generous row of windows offering copious natural light, as well as a view of MASS MoCA’s brick façade a few blocks away and a verdant Berkshire ridgeline beyond. The walls are lined with artwork curated by the nearby North Adams Cooperative Gallery. A quieter side room can nicely accomodate private gatherings.
“I want everyone to feel comfortable, but I want to provide a bit of a more sophisticated experience. I guess I’d call it comfortable but refined,” Decoteau explained. “I’m not a sports bar and I’m not a pub, but I’m also not a fine dining restaurant. We’re straddling that place in between.”
The change of pace threw some of the old Taylor’s patrons for a loop, but Decoteau’s new restaurant has since won adherents. “When I first opened, the local response [to the change in beer selection] was mixed,” he recounts, peering through black-rimmed glasses and speaking in a calm, poised tone. “But a lot of people who used to come in and ask for domestic beers now come in and say, ‘Hey, what do you have that’s new?’ And they get excited to try new stuff.”
Finding the new stuff on the beer menu is never a problem; when a keg is finished, the policy is to replace it with something different. On one visit, the choices included Ithaca Brewing Company’s Flower Power IPA, Eagle Claw Fist from the Ipswich, MA brewery Clown Shoes, and Milk Stout by Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing Company. The closest thing to an old standby is a rotating selection from two local breweries: Wandering Star, located in nearby Pittsfield, and the ever-popular Berkshire Brewing Company, based just over the county line in Deerfield.
A similar approach is taken with the wine list, which changes frequently, leans (though not exclusively) on American pours, and aims to introduce unfamiliar labels.
PUBLIC sits on Holden Street, a few doors from Christo’s Famous Pizza and around the corner from much of the city’s burgeoning gallery scene. If you restrict your North Adams meanderings to Main Street, you can easily miss it. PUBLIC is a short walk from MASS MoCA, and on a night when there’s a big gallery opening or concert at the museum, open tables here are scarce.
PUBLIC’s vibe is all about hitting that sweet spot between upscale and casual, like a dark blazer that you can dress up or down.
The restaurant’s off-season opening a year ago meant Decoteau could not rely on the summer influx to buoy his enterprise, which helped strengthen the business by building a solid base. “I have a pretty local following at this point, and a pretty loyal following,” he says. Williams College and MCLA students share the bar with visiting contemporary art enthusiasts and full-time North Adams residents. A Monday trivia night is popular, and live music is typically featured on weekends. The space has proven adaptable and the programming displays an open-minded bent: Last winter, the Gypsy Layne burlesque troupe shimmied through a series of monthly performances.
Looking for some jazzed-up comfort food to warm a winter’s evening? A juicy burger topped with arugula and brie might be just the thing. But if you’re more in mind to entertain an out-of-town guest on the way to an art opening at MASS MoCA, something like the scrumptious seafood fra diavlo (featuring scallops, calamari, and shrimp over a garlic-infused bed of linguine in a white wine and marina sauce) would do nicely, as would the salmon, prepared on an aromatic cedar plank.
The menu includes sections dedicated to sandwiches, burgers, pasta, and small plates — like the fish taco, or a chicken sandwich topped with cheddar cheese and apple slices. The generous house salad gussies up greens with cranberries, chevre, and toasted almonds. If you ask for bread, you’ll receive a crusty, warm baguette. No single item on the menu breaks the $20 mark. The arrival of new executive chef Nicholas Moulton in September has occasioned a series of revisions to the offerings, Deconteau said, although the menu’s structure, mood, and most of its items remain.
Accomodating locals as well as visitors hurrying over to experience some high art, PUBLIC has nestled right into the fabric of downtown North Adams. Just don’t mistake it for a pub—though some nights, it may feel just as comfortable as one. —Jeremy Goodwin (dining room photo by Caleb Hiliadis)
PUBLIC eat + drink
34 Holden Street
North Adams, MA 01247
Open for dinner 7 days a week starting at 4 p.m.
Serving lunch Thursday–Sunday starting at 11:30 a.m.