PublicUs, Las Vegas, NV
1126 Fremont St, Las Vegas, NV 89101
I joined the Air Force for a number of reasons, but I must say… one of the greatest perks of the job is the adventure. I travel A LOT. I kicked off 2019 with a five-week TDY (a military acronym for Temporary Duty) in Las Vegas. This extended stint that has given me ample time to really get to know the coffee culture in Sin City. Another perk of the job is having friends ALL OVER the U.S. (or the world for that matter). This weekend brought on a reunion with another coffeeholic currently stationed in Vegas, Zach, who became a great friend of mine while I was deployed in Qatar. We conquered the Doha coffee scene together and I was stoked to spend my first weekend in Vegas at coffee shop he recommended as an obvious choice.
PublicUs, who’s name comes from the Greek translation of the phrase ‘for the people',’ is appropriately nestled in old Las Vegas on Fremont Street. In 2019, most folks visiting Vegas head toward the bright lights and faux-luxury of ‘The Strip.’ But bit by bit, more are beginning to head back to Fremont - Vegas’ first paved road and site of the original ‘Strip.’ It’s the home of the infamous neon road seen in old-time movies, a road that was affectionately named ‘Glitter Gulch'.’ With the rise of big hotels and fast-and-furious corporate Las Vegas, it was forgotten for some time. However, in 2004, the city initiated an effort to revive the vintage glamour of the Fremont East District. This coffee shop is a component of this old-meets-new part of town. PublicUs - with its mission, its coffee, its food and its vibe - are a great representation what can Vegas offer in classic goodness and people-driven service.
Owner Kimo Akiona envisioned opening a shop that allowed him “to give back to the community that had always been so good to him.” After traveling the world and becoming enamored with the concept of a neighborhood coffee shop in Australia, Akiona worked with former coffee consultant Cole McBride and industrial designer Travis Landice to make magic happen in the desert. Akioma envisioned a coffee shop outside of the Starbucks-dominated drive-thru coffee culture that permeates Las Vegas. McBride helped create their specialty coffee menu and Landice drove the creative design of the shop. The result: a beautiful and uniquely designed space that emphasizes an eclectic menu, speciality coffee and a genuine heart for serving community.
The design of PublicUs is a feast for creative eyes. One side of the building is completely dominated by a black-shelved gallery wall, complete with scattered books, knickknacks, and Polaroid pictures. Surrounded by large windows, populated with indoor trees and filled with chic wooden picnic style tables, the wide-open seating area feels more like a courtyard than an indoor coffee shop. A far-facing wall features a giant 3D breakfast plate and another holds a texturized map of the world. Landice brought real energy into this space. Akiona described this design to Sprudge in 2016 as very intentional: “Design is important because it affects people’s psyche.”
Consider my psyched affected and impressed.
The coffee menu is generous. Unlike some specialty coffee shops that have a minimalist coffee menu, PublicUs has coffee options in addition to their manual brews. AND they feature some unique coffee cocktails (absent of alcohol). My friend and I chose two pour-overs for the sake of comparison between fruity and nutty notes: a Costa Rican and Ethiopian. Both Kalita pour-overs arrived in a beautiful tray display and our barista was kind enough to give us extra glasses so we could share our two pour-overs. Some fun options I’d like to try next time:
Macadamia Nut Paste Latte: two espressos, milk, and house-made macadamia nut paste
Espresso Old-Fashioned: two espressos, Ranier cherries, aromatic bitters, and orange peel garish
Coffee Soda: double espresso, simple syrup, lemon verbena, and Q-tonic water
Do they roast their own coffee?
Not quite. Our barista Eric explained that they’re incredibly focused on developing their shop as a whole right now. They do, however, sell their own roasts. How is that possible? PublicUs carefully selects roasts they’d like to have through Cafe Importers and use a special relationship a Seattle-based roaster, Velton Ross, to have it roasted just for them.
Oh my Lanta: The Food
I almost hesitate to put this section toward the end of the write-up, because the food is THAT GOOD. PublicUs has pushed beyond the avocado toast and pastry menus found in most specialty coffee shops. This is the first place I’d recommend to folks for a killer brunch. There are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and meat-lover options. In sum, EVERYTHING. I had their biscuits and gravy and annihilated every bite. I’ll name drop a few other options:
Mahalo Special: two farm eggs, SPAM, Portuguese sausage, steamed white rice, house pickles, and kimchi
Coffee Rubbed Roast Beef Sandwich: truffle aioli, roast beef, Swiss cheese, and apple Napa slaw
Freekeh Bowl: chick peas, roasted peppers, grilled eggplant, zucchini, lemon, pickled cucumber, chopped tomatoes, tzatziki, Arabic spices, mint, and cilantro
Buttermilk Fried Chicken Bowl: crispy fried chicken thighs with white rice, pickled ginger, cucumber, and kimchi with spicy bourbon sauce
Tofu Veggie Curry Bowl: cabbage, sweet potatoes, zucchini, bell pepper, red potatoes, onions, cilantro, and tofu in medium spicy coconut milk curry sauce
Public Us Coffee Bar (open Saturday & Sunday, 10 AM - 3 PM)
Exclusively open on weekends is a coffee bar next door. It’s a space where customers can come to chat with baristas and learn more about coffee and brewing processes. The barista, Eric, welcomed us and blew us away with his knowledge of coffee, espresso and extraction.
Though I’d already reached my self-imposed coffee limit for the day (hello pregnancy), my friend Zach ordered an espresso to sip straight. Eric talked us through his extraction process starting with the composition of our espresso blend. Our Seattle-roasted coffee was a mixture of two washed Ethiopians. As he pulled it through his shiny, wooden embellished Slayer espresso machine, he explained how the long pre-saturation pulled out a viscous and oily coffee that has both acidity and subtle sweetness. The result was a voluptuous shot of espresso that my friend described as the best he’d ever had. Needless to say, our time in the coffee bar was an experience we won’t forget and one we’d recommend to anyone who enters Vegas limits.
The Bottom Line
Make this a priority - you must visit PublicUs if you’re in town.
The staff was unbelievably friendly. The food was incredible. The coffee was both memorable and delicious. Thanks to the thoughtfulness of these three visionary owners and thoughtful staff, my visit was truly an experience that I will long remember.
My only caveat: go EARLY. We showed up at 9 AM, which was a good time for a Saturday. If you arrive after 10, you’ll almost certainly end up waiting in a long-line. It’ll be worth it, but if you’re looking for a calmer, quieter experience, hit this place up first thing and then be sure to check out the coffee bar next door.