Sunday, December 27, 2015

Public House

The doors to Public House, photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

There is a new establishment in Davenport, Public House.  The proprietors are my friends, Johnna and Austin Chesney.  The bar is located right at the corner of 53rd Street and Northwest Blvd.  I thought I'd use my blog as a way to share the word about this place.

 Public House just opened in the past week.  I had the opportunity to pop in last Sunday for their "soft opening."  I was immediately impressed with the place.  I have a few photos of it in this post, however, you really need to see it for yourself.  It is a great bar.

Now at the risk of stating the obvious, we are talking about an establishment that serves adult beverages.  So, if due to moral and/or religious reasons you are opposed to alcohol consumption, then this may not be the place for you.  Also, if you find yourself in the early stages of a recovery program, then avoiding this place (and all other bars) is the right call.  (And if you are in recovery, you have my genuine respect!  I wish you well on getting better and getting well.)

For the rest of us, I think you will truly like this place.  My deep positive bias towards my friends (the owners) aside, I also consider myself a fairly hard critic of bars.  My Dad has owned one since 1989 and I have spent a...bit of time in them over the years.  

When I mean "hard critic" I do not mean in the sense of cloth napkins properly folded or the degree of starch in the waiter's shirts.  No, my friends, I judge a bar on one simple question:  Do the owners and staff take pride in their service to their customers?  If the answer is YES, then it is a good bar.  If not, I really do not care how many huge TVs are stuck to the wall or if there are 50 beers on tap.  A bar without pride is a bar headed to receivership and/or bankruptcy court.

Public House is a place where the answer to the above question is a yes.  One may (fairly) ask, "How can you be so sure after only one visit?"  Well, first, I've been there twice.  I stopped in Wednesday and "test drove" another bar stool.  Therefore, I am confident in making this endorsement of Public House.  (You don't think I'd risk the integrity and social standing of a blog read by...dozens of Facebook friends, a handful of Twitter followers and family, do you?)  

In all seriousness, I endeavor to make sure everything I write on this blog is cemented in both candor and truth.  That's important to me.  I would not be saying this if it was not true.  And for what it is worth, if this glowing endorsement was not, in fact, the truth, Johnna and Austin would call me out on it.  That's just the kind of people they are.

Of course, a bar is only as good as the people who work there.  A bartender is the equivalent the the Non-commissioned officer (NCO) of any bar.  They run it, the make it happen.  From what I have seen, they are highly proficient at their tasks.

More significantly, my initial impressions is that they are happy to be here.  As Emerson said, "Nothing great happens without enthusiasm."  These bartenders are enthusiastic.  There are plenty of bars in this area.  The fact they have elected to work at Public House says a ton about the reasons why.  Just my two cents, I think it has a whole lot to do with buying into the vision Johnna and Austin have set for Public House.  That vision being as a place where people can come and have fun, be themselves, not get hassled and take a break from the cares of the world.

So let's talk about the actual place.  I'm not sure how many square feet the place is, but it is a good sized bar.  It is neither a hole in the wall or some huge complex with a dance floor (and I'm not weeping for that exclusion from Public House) and a trendy dress code.  There is ample seating and the bar is set up where you can have enough room to turn to the person to your left and right.  I've been in some places where the bar is so tight you feel like you're flying coach to Cleveland.  That's not the case here.

The table are spaced out and meet the "Goldilocks" test- not too low, not too high, just rights.  I saw four well-dressed Green Bay Packers fans playing cards, euchre, I believe.  I noticed they had room to play and not have to worry about knocking their drinks off the table.  (We here in the Midwest take our trump card games seriously, so having room to play is a plus.)  

There is a jukebox and as I recall, the music is played at an appropriate level.  I disdain bars where the music is as loud as we blared it at our Theta Xi parties in college.  You should be able to hear yourself talk.  You can at Public House.  

There is one video game, the golf game, Golden Tee I think.  While I love old school video games (and I'm also a fan of Analog bar in downtown Davenport with its almost endless selection of late 20th Century arcade games) one does not go to Public House primarily to engage in a screen.  You go there to see friends, have a laugh and the beverage of your choice. 

Speaking of, Public House has a wide selection of spirits and from what I saw, a few choices of wine.  I would love for them to carry a couple a few Zins and Pinot Noirs for when Dawn and I stop over (hint, hint, she likes red wine) but if your a spirits fan, you will not be disappointed.  They have a wide and diverse choice of local, regional, and brand-name bottles.  As for beer, well friends, I offer Exhibit A below...

Some of the tap beer selection at Public House, photo by J. Berta

This is not even the full tap selection.  Your eyes do not deceive you, gentle readers, that is Grain Belt and SchlitzGrain Belt has a special place in my heart as it was a beer that I got introduced to in St. Paul when I went to law school.  I threw a link to the brewery in the sources for those of you eager to learn more about the fine (well, fine when not weighed against craft and micro beers) Midwest beer.

Sports fans, don't worry, you're able to catch your favorite games here.  Public House puts a priority on being able to have more than one game on at a time.  Something tells me that come 4:00 Friday, all TVs will be on the Rose Bowl well they should!  (GO HAWKS!) Here's a shot of some of the TVs at Public House.

A look at Public House's TVs and back bar.  Photo by J. Berta.

I wanted to do this post not just to plug my friends new endeavor but also as a nod to those who take on the challenge of opening up a new business.   We've heard the claims about the importance of small businesses to our economy.  I've got a link below to an article from by Jared Hecht on this subject.  One salient fact is worth sharing from Mr. Hecht's article:  "Although just 21.5 percent of all small businesses are employers, almost half of the nation's private sector workforce (49.2 percent) is employed by small business--that's 120 million people!" Johnna and Austin are part of that job creation, as is my Dad and every other small business owner who meets a payroll.

Then there is the appreciation I have for those who do the bar business right.  I have a link below to an article from Bill Wundram, our local expert on all things Quad Cities about the "golden age" of taverns in town.  He writes, laments actually, for what-once-was in the bar business.  I would respectfully reply to Mr. Wundram (whose writing I love) that Public House captures the essence of what made bars like Fisher's on 120 West 3rd Street back in the day.

I also found a terrific article from The New York Times  on what makes a great bar.  This story is also in the credits.  The opening lines from the author, Ms. Rosie Schaap sums it up:

"If I’ve gleaned anything from a lifetime of drinking in bars about what makes the great ones great, it’s that every detail matters: the pictures on the walls, the range of spirits offered, how customers are greeted, the volume at which music is played. And then there’s that metaphysical quality that’s hardest to capture and impossible to fabricate: something like what Romans called genius loci, the spirit of the place. It doesn’t really matter what kind of bar we’re dealing with: It either has it or not."

I'd argue that Public House indeed has it.  By all means, please go judge for yourself.

Johnna and Austin know what they have gotten themselves into by opening up a bar.  As my Dad says, about the bar business, "It's not the work, it's the hours."  I have no doubt that they will experience the ups and downs all business owners go through and be better for it.  

And as for anyone who may be wondering why I'm praising a bar that could be viewed as "competition" to my Dad's place, Jeno's Little Hungary, about a five-minute drive away, that's an easy answer:  There is no competition.  No business of quality is ever threatened by a another business of quality.  If anything, new, quality establishments add to and positively contribute to the overall business community.  My Dad summed it up nicely when I told him about Public House by saying, "Let's go say hello." 

I'll wrap up this blog post with a photo of friends and I.  Needless to say, I'm quite proud of both of them.

Hanging out with my friends and owners of Public House,  Johnna and Austin Chesney, during their soft open.  I was glad to be a part of it!  Photo by J. Berta.

If you're out and about in the area, or are back in town for the holidays, please stop in and check out this wonderful new place.  Public House is a great addition to our community.  I have no doubt they will be stellar commercial citizens and excellent neighbors.  Here's to their success and who knows, perhaps there will be another Public House location opening down the road.  I would not be the least surprised if that comes to pass.  

Be well my friends,

p.s.  Please do me a favor and share this link on your page, Twitter feed, Instagram (whatever that is) or your social media of choice if you know Johnna and/or Austin or are fans of entrepreneurs who are doing it right.  Let's give this new business a bit of a plug, thanks! 




  1. I believe Iowa plays on Friday at 4 not Saturday

    1. You're correct, good catch! I just updated it. Thanks for reading my blog!