Atlanta Orders In: Publico tries to keep Midtown bright with igloos, Santa’s Pub

Publico co-owner Mike Duganier is trying to keep things merry and bright at his Midtown restaurant. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Caption
Publico co-owner Mike Duganier is trying to keep things merry and bright at his Midtown restaurant. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Publico Kitchen & Tap has offered a mix of Latin and Asian flavors since founders Mike Duganier and Bob McCarthy launched the concept in Columbia, South Carolina, in 2016. Atlantans got a taste of it in 2018, when the partners expanded to a spot on Crescent Avenue in Midtown.

“My menu can change every day for 20 years, and I’m going to have so much to choose from,” Duganier said. Offerings include a kimchi quesadilla; nearly a dozen tacos stuffed with everything from bulgogi beef to grasshoppers; yakitori prepared on a konro grill fueled by super-hot, super-clean binchotan charcoal; and noodle and poke bowls.

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Pork bao buns are a recent addition to the Publico menu. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
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Pork bao buns are a recent addition to the Publico menu. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

And change, the menu does, especially these days, with Executive Chef Juan Carlos “JC” Colon tweaking it to make room for the freshest proteins and seasonal produce he can find.

Colon joined Publico’s team in late summer, having relocated from San Diego after a lengthy delay, including the restaurant’s seven-month closure, due to the uncertainty wrought by the pandemic.

During the shutdown, they purchased more booths and plexiglass, to better separate patrons. They swapped out community tables for small-group seating, hoping to attract bodies in a socially distanced dining room that once seated 70 people.

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The upstairs bar area has been transformed into Santa’s Pub at Publico. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
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The upstairs bar area has been transformed into Santa’s Pub at Publico. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

But, the pandemic is putting a damper on indoor dining in once bustling Midtown. “On paper, we have a great location, but there’s nobody in there,” he said. “We used to have a nice lunch crowd. That’s zero. We used to have happy hour. That’s zero. Private events: Those don’t exist right now.”

Business is down by half, compared with the past two years.

For the third winter in a row, six igloos have been erected on the patio at Publico. Courtesy of Publico
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For the third winter in a row, six igloos have been erected on the patio at Publico. Courtesy of Publico

One aspect of business that doesn’t worry Duganier is Publico’s outdoor setup. For the third winter in a row, six igloos have been erected on the patio. Available by reservation in two-hour increments ($65-per-person food and beverage minimum for parties of one to two, $45 for parties of three or more), the eight-seat igloos have been a hot ticket — especially on weekends. The illuminated translucent, insulated orbs undergo disinfectant fogging between each use.

Duganier also has tried to bring some holiday cheer to his three dozen employees — along with tips to his bar team — by transforming the upstairs bar area into what he’s dubbed Santa’s Pub at Publico.

Founder Mike Duganier described Santa's Pub at Publico as “trailer park chic for Christmas.” Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Caption
Founder Mike Duganier described Santa's Pub at Publico as “trailer park chic for Christmas.” Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

“My bar team is upstairs and kind of forgotten about. They have bills to pay, too,” Duganier said.

Colored lights twinkle overhead. Every TV is tuned to a different classic holiday movie. A 300-song playlist includes hits by Run DMC, Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber and, of course, Frank Sinatra. Standing in a corner are life-size cutouts of drunk Santa and some elves, along with Cousin Eddie from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Duganier described the scene as “trailer park chic for Christmas.”

At Publico's Santa's Pub, every TV is tuned to a different classic holiday movie. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Caption
At Publico's Santa's Pub, every TV is tuned to a different classic holiday movie. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

He hopes that the holiday setting and themed cocktail list attract not just evening imbibers, but also a crowd interested in limited-seating, ticketed, socially distanced Sunday brunches.

He’s also trying to generate business by offering 25% off to first responders (which includes police, fire, emergency medical technicians, health care workers and teachers) during the month of December.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “You hope to be busy, but you don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. You’ve got to do right by your team and guests.”

Some diners might be more comfortable with takeout, but “our to-go business is very minimal,” Duganier said. “I would love it to be more.”

With 58 taps offering beer, wine, cocktails and mead — all available to go in gallon jugs — even the bar team can be kept busy with takeout orders.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

Spicy beef ramen from Publico is a soothing noodle soup on a chilly night. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
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Spicy beef ramen from Publico is a soothing noodle soup on a chilly night. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

PUBLICO KITCHEN & TAP

Menu: Latin-Asian fusion

Alcohol: craft beer, wine, sake, mead and cocktails, available to go in gallon jugs

What I ordered: pork bao bun, kimchi quesadilla, Publico Brussels sprouts, tempura carrots, kale Caesar, tuna tobiko taco, bulgogi beef taco, spicy beef ramen. The pork bao, Caesar and sinus-clearing ramen all traveled well. The salad and soup were generous enough to feed two.

Service options: dine-in; takeout (order by phone or in person); delivery via Uber Eats and DoorDash

Outdoor dining: igloos (by online reservation only)

Mask policy: required for all employees; required for guests when not seated

Address, phone: 1104 Crescent Ave. NE, Atlanta; 678-745-5230

Hours: 4-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 4 p.m.-midnight Fridays, 11a.m.-midnight Saturdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays

Website: publicotapandkitchenatl.com

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