Here’s a standard scenario: You get your table in a restaurant. There’s stemware glasses on white linen table cloths, a full wine list with confusing descriptions and the ever-imminent ‘tasting’. The waiter arrives to pour you a glass of your choice. The moment you hold that glass, you panic. You’re automatically swirling and upon tasting, you look at your waiter and think: ‘I have to say something very important about this wine right now’.
Do you? Publik, Cape Town’s newest wine bar, is here to challenge you on that.
‘Something happens to people when they hold a wine glass stem – they don’t know what’s happening … they’re just swirling’, says Kristian, wine sommelier at Publik. ‘At our wine bar, you don’t have to say anything fancy – we just want to know – do you like it or not?’
Set below street level in the same space as Frankie Fenner’s Meat Market (it works – it’s not as weird as you think), Publik wine bar has been offering something completely refreshing since November 2013. By showcasing great wines that you won’t generally spot in local restaurants, David Cope, owner of Publik, and Kristian Sørensen, are aiming to evolve the wine experience for all passers-by.
‘We want to break down the sh*t around wine and just say ‘it’s a beverage – drink it’. People are too safe because wine has always been something that intimidates them. So they go with what they know. When you go to a restaurant, you’ll open a wine list and go, ‘oh, okay, I’ll take it’. That’s generally how the standard process of wine selection goes. Normally, asking questions results in an answer of ‘It’s really good’, and if you ask the waiter, ‘Have you had it?’, they’ll probably say no. So there’s not much information being exchanged and people don’t want to appear unknowledgable or ‘dumb’ about wine – it’s a subject and industry that intimidates a lot of people.’
When Kris and I headed to Publik, one of our favourite aspects was their small list of wines with fun descriptions (think Alt J lyrics and quirky jokes). One can quickly tell that a lot of effort goes into selecting an average of 6 to 12 bottles with various styles – there will always be heavy reds and light whites from which to pick. Publik’s got it all, and what’s great is that it’s all been handpicked by these guys . Just note that if you’d like to taste some of these handpicked gems, be prepared to fork out a few dolla dolla bills. Wine goes from between R45 to R60 per glass. That seemed pretty steep to our ever-student budget mindset, so we questioned David about the costs,
‘Okay, so whether you like it or not, there’s an industry standard that if you own a restaurant, you have a wine list and you need to sell wine by the glass. This means you’ll need to find a cheap wine that you can buy for, say, R25 a bottle, and sell for R35 a glass. That’s literally what happens. Rather than doing that, we just have a small, rotating list of high quality wines at varying cost. If you buy a glass of wine here you’re getting to taste exclusive wines that you wouldn’t find available by the glass anywhere else in Cape Town. On top of that, you’re getting a tasting to help you make your choice, you’re getting insights into the wine from Kristian or me, and you’re generally getting wine at a better cost than standard. The point is to make really good and unusual wine available for everyone to try.’
So we get it. Basically, this is not a spot to come and get crunk. Here, whether you have some or absolutely no knowledge about wine, you are invited to come inside and learn. It seems that by offering great quality and rare wines, Publik is acting as a bridge between the complex world of the vine and your everyday individual like us.
This is why we like Publik. They care about your enjoyment and are happy to teach noobs. Their wine is served in their practically unbreakable, tumbler-style glasses, their bartenders are handsome and their wine is sourced locally, every day. Come in with an open mind and thirst – this is Publik’s domain.