When Lyndsay Edmonds opened Harless + Hugh in Bay City, Michigan, she aimed to create a third place for people in her hometown and serve the best coffee she could source. But Edmonds wasn’t content with stopping there, and soon, she set her sights on bringing quality cocktails to town as well. After four years of planning, Edmonds opened The Public House in 2017. “The Public House opened in a blue collar town where dive bar culture is rich and Bud Lite culture is richer,” she says. “We’ve aimed to elevate Bay City’s history by doing more than just cocktailing. We’re bridging a familiar past to a new, buzzing future as we work to create a beverage culture in our cozy town.”
Taking inspiration from the quickly growing cocktail scene in nearby Detroit, plus R&D trips to bars in California, New York, Nashville, Denver, and Vancouver, Edmonds knew exactly what kind of quality and aesthetic she wanted to bring to the bar. “Our mission was to inspire Bay City to drink better. Ultimately, we’re trying to push the boundaries of what locals who have never left get to experience as if they’re in a larger city. It’s bringing a big-town vibe to our amazing little community.”
To kickstart that mission, Edmonds enlisted Zach Lynch and Ryan Dettera from Ice Plant in St. Augustine to develop the opening drink menu and train bartenders. The spirits collection focuses on small local producers when possible, and on the drinks menu, original recipes like the Eden, with Hendricks gin, Suze, Cocchi Americano and salted cucumber share menu space with classics like the Scofflaw, Southside and Hemingway Daiquiri. “Our cocktail program is designed to gradually nudge our core customer-base outside of its comfort zone. There’s a focus on inventive originals and offbeat classics to get people to try something new without feeling like they’re taking a huge gamble with their enjoyment,” Edmonds says.
And like at the Ice Plant, Public House channels the region’s long history with ice. “In the late 1900s Michigan was one of the main sources of ice harvesting for the rest of the United States. Bay City’s downtown is located on the Saginaw river which, contrasting today’s quality, was comparable to the purity of the Great Lakes back then. Ice houses were common in our town to supply residents and businesses with ice for the year,” Edmonds says. “We use finely tuned ice machines that make 300-pound, crystal-clear blocks, pebble ice machines that produce extra-soft chewable ice, and perfect 1.25-inch square cubes.”
Nods to Michigan’s ice trade can also be found in the decor. “To tie in this piece of our history, we have authentic ice grippers donated by a customer who’s family worked in the industry,” Edmonds says. “Not only does it add to the aesthetics, but it tells a story that speaks beyond a cocktail. We’re making the old new again.”
For rest of the interior, Edmonds gave the space a bright, minimal, West Coast-inspired feel. “Bay City is an old lumber town, most of the bars here are very dark, with original brick walls and dark wood bars. We wanted to show people a different design aesthetic.” Citing L.A.’s Butcher’s Daughter as inspiration, Edmonds exposed all the brick walls and original wood floors, painted the walls white and installed a concrete bar with a live plant wall as the back bar. “Public House quite literally means ‘public home,’ so we want our guests to feel at home, but with the volume turned up,” Edmonds says. “They should leave feeling elevated.”
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