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Going Public

Savvy sommelier Justin Vann uncorks a spirited new project.

Former Oxheart sommelier Justin Vann usually dresses as thoughtfully as he chooses wine. Lately, however, the bespectacled and scruffy Vann is more likely to be found sporting basketball shorts and a T-shirt. He’s been hard at work restoring a historic space in Downtown’s red-hot Market Square that will soon be home to his new bar.

Vann, who left widely lauded Oxheart last April after being named one of Food & Wine magazine’s top sommeliers, is slated to open Public Services Wine & Whiskey Bar (202 Travis St.) on the ground floor of the 1884-built Cotton Exchange Building. It’ll focus on small-production wines and whiskeys, bringing yet another new twist to the area’s burgeoning nightlife scene. “I love Downtown and the people who live and work here,” he says. “I cannot wait to have regulars.”

Although the bar will serve food—the project reunites Vann with Oxheart chef-owners Justin Yu and Karen Man, who’ll craft bar bites to complement the beverages—libations will take center stage. In addition to his expertise in vines—his current enthusiasm is Champagne’s hip younger sister Pétillant naturel, in case you wondered—Vann will also share his knowledge of whiskeys, which he studied and came to love while working at Vic & Anthony’s earlier in his career. “I feel like whiskey deserves to be treated singularly, not just as a cocktail ingredient,” he says adamantly, noting that he’ll showcase “several scotches finished in wine barrels instead of traditional casks.”

In the limited downtime between securing permits (“you can’t have a BYOB bar”), scrubbing floors and making the historic space shine, the UH grad practices hot yoga and crashes on the couch to watch TV shows like HBO’s True Detective and the Cohen brothers’ new series, Fargo.

And, come autumn, expect to see Vann back in style and behind the bar, living his passion for wine and spirits. He’ll be saving those basketball shorts for sofa-surfing privately at home.

Vann's Hots
Sherry, carbonic macerated red wines, the Cohen brothers

Vann's Nots
Remodeling in the summer heat, Bruno Mars, coffee-flavored wines