After opening in the Hotel Lafayette lobby back in 2015, Public Espresso + Coffee’s long-term pop-up was all about that hygge: dim lighting, dark wood, cozy confines, plush seating options, hot brews and heavenly baked treats.
Just over two years later, the local roaster is changing course harder than Sean McDermott with a 5-4 record — opening a brightly-lit flagship bistro that could double as a boujee art gallery straight out of your favorite 80s movie.
Still in the hotel, at the corner of Washington Street and Clinton Street, the new Public space features art deco, vintage-modern digs that couldn’t be a bigger contrast from the coziness of the hotel lobby space.
Public co-founder Sam Scarcello recently told me the changes come with a completely different vision. Instead of a modest “coffee kiosk”, the new Public restaurant will feature tableside service, a full bar and a full food menu, including breakfast, lunch and dinner options.
Basically, you should expect a coffee-centric spot where you can grab breakfast or lunch before work, and then pop back in after work for a cocktail and small plates — or a full dinner and a bottle of wine.
“This is the space of our dreams,” Scarcello said. “We’re putting our roots down and this is going to be our flagship cafe. Our roastery is getting set up in the basement as well. All told, we’re taking about 10,000 square feet here in the hotel. So this is going to be our home for a long time.”
Scarcello said the new restaurant is still a work in progress, and that was apparent on my recent visit. Currently in a soft-opening purgatory, the space is art-gallery austere, and yet still quite beautiful. The furniture is Mid Century modern, with Scandinavian influences, all sourced from online retailers Article, EQ3, and Hem. A few canvases of graffiti-inspired paintings from local artist Ian Debeer hang on the wall. Voices of people around me bounced of the high-flung ceilings.
It feels like you are in a separate world here, disconnected from the hotel, which can be a good thing if you don’t want to navigate visitors and their luggage passing through. I found that the spartan surroundings place a heavy emphasis on what should be directly in front of you: great coffee and lovingly-crafted baked goods.
If you’re a fan of third wave coffee, you probably already know Public well. The roastery tends to specialize in the medium to medium-light end of the spectrum. This lets the complexity and terroir of the coffee shine through. If you like sipping your brew and thinking about all the subtle complexities that you’re tasting, this stuff is for you. If not, there’s probably a Tim Hortons nearby was you can get a caffeine fix.
The new restaurant keeps the lobby’s drink menu intact, and adds a lot more tea and espresso drinks. Baking is now done in-house, and Sacarello said more food menus will be rolled out in the coming weeks. Expect a dinner menu and a coffee/tea-inspired cocktail menu to be triggered by approval of the restaurant’s liquor license.
Public Coffee + Espresso
391 Washington St
Buffalo, New York 14203
Hours (to be expanded once dinner service begins):
Monday to Friday 7:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m.- 4 p.m.