This Sheffield bar has just been named the best place to drink in the UK 

A speakeasy-style bar in a former men’s toilets in Sheffield has tonight been named the best place to drink in the country – less than a year after opening.   

Hidden gem Public, which has transformed the disused, 19th century toilets under Sheffield Town Hall on Surrey Street into a stylish destination for innovative cocktails and imaginative food, claimed the ‘best place to drink’ prize in the prestigious Observer Food Monthly Awards held in London. 

Public, a speakeasy style cocktail bar under Sheffield Town Hall, has won a national award less than a year after opening

Public, a speakeasy style cocktail bar under Sheffield Town Hall, has won a national award less than a year after opening

The awards, co-hosted by chef Nigella Lawson, recognise the finest food and drink establishments and the ‘best place to drink’ category was voted for by Observer readers across the nation.

Public is the fourth venue from James O’ Hara and James Hill, who also run Picture House Social on Abbeydale Road, plus The Great Gatsby and Daisy’s on Division Street.

It opened less than a year ago, and favourite features include its subtle nods to Sheffield in both the curated drinks and decor, and the snazzy mirror-walled toilet. There are just 36 seats in the intimate venue, which specialises in small plates, and cocktails listed under ‘public holiday, public footpath, public awareness, public liability or public health.’

James, speaking from London just before the awards ceremony, said: “We’re very shocked and really proud of it, and all the staff.

James Hill and James O'Hara, owners of Public

James Hill and James O'Hara, owners of Public

“We opened on November 22 last year so it’s almost exactly 11 months, not even a year, so it is bonkers to win something like this.”

James said previous winners of the award included Dandelyan of London, since voted the best bar in the world, and were generally based in the capital.
He added: “It’s basically won by places that we’ve always looked up to – places that are over and above what we ever thought we could achieve.”
Several Sheffield businesses have worked together with the Public team, including photographer India Hobson, and ceramicist Grey Suit Clay, which produced their tableware. 
James said it had been a ‘collaboration’ with city suppliers and praised bartender Jack Wakelin for developing the cocktails. 

“We’re going to surprise them with the award and have a bit of a do”, he added. 

Other winners in the awards tonight included ‘best food personality’, campaigner and budget cooking expert Jack Monroe, while best new cookbook was given to Anna Jones for The Modern Cook’s Year, which features over 250 vegetarian recipes. Best restaurant was presented to Hang Fire Southern Kitchen in Barry, South Wales. 

Observer Food Monthly editor Allan Jenkins said: “From Belfast to Barry, a Michelin starred Cornwall cook to a proper Yorkshire pub, the OFM Awards 2018 show the depth of food talent embedded all over the UK.

“Readers championed their local heroes and voted with their hearts as well as their stomachs. Cooking to cope with chemotherapy, a cafe giving life opportunities to young people with learning difficulties, a Sikh ‘SWAT’ team feeding the homeless. Exactly the people and projects these awards were set up to honour.

“There hasn’t been a dry eye in OFM Towers.”