Publico Kitchen and Tap, the restaurant at 2013 Greene St. in Five Points, got a key zoning variance it needs to close the parking lot behind its building to make way for an expanded outdoor patio and recreation area.
The City of Columbia's zoning board gave unanimous approval for the variance on Dec. 11 at City Hall. Publico needed the approval of the board in order to operate without any designated off-street parking. The restaurant currently has 18 spaces behind its building, but because of the small size of the parking lot and the narrow driveway leading to it, Publico owners say it is rarely used.
Publico, which has been operating in Five Points since 2015, specializes in Latin-Asian fusion cuisine, and also has a number of craft beers on tap.
Paperwork submitted to the zoning board indicates Publico plans to increase seating behind the restaurant, set aside a designated area for corn hole, add an area for various other games (like Connect 4, Jenga and beer pong) and put in a bocce ball court.
"People love to socialize," Publico co-owner Bob McCarthy told Free Times. "There's a lot of socialization. So, there will be corn hole and bocce ball and those type of things."
In addressing the zoning board, McCarthy stressed the reasons the owners think Publico doesn't need its rear lot for parking, and could make better use of it as a place with extra tables and recreation opportunities. He said many of those who come to the restaurant, and Five Points in general, use a rideshare service or some form of public transit.
"In the last three years it has become increasingly obvious that consumers have altered their habits when it comes to transportation," McCarthy said. "The proliferation of services such as Uber and Lyft have shown that many more people choose not to drive personal vehicles when going out socially for both safety and economical reasons."
The Publico co-owner says adding the outdoor space will also allow the restaurant to serve more patrons with pets. He says he has seen an uptick in customers who want to bring their dogs with them. He says being pet-friendly has become "a requirement, not an option."
"Believe it or not, we do a made-from-scratch dog menu, and 100 percent of [funds from] that goes to the Humane Society," McCarthy tells Free Times.
Joe Azar is the owner of Upstairs Audio in Five Points, and was at the zoning board meeting to ask for a parking variance of his own. On Dec. 11 he spoke in favor of the zoning variance for Publico, saying the restaurant has been a good neighbor since moving into the space formerly occupied by Garibaldi's, which was an Italian fine dining establishment, in 2015.
"When Garibaldi's closed down, we were so afraid of, 'Here comes another late-night bar and all the garbage and trash and everything,'" Azar said, as a nod to the many college bars in the nightlife district. "Publico has done a wonderful job. They have great tacos and they have an excellent hamburger. ... I have to agree with [McCarthy]. People are taking Uber and Lyft now. We don't need as much [off-street] parking sometimes."
Amy Beth Franks, director of the Five Points Association merchants group, told the zoning board the association was in favor of the Publico's request to eliminate its off-street parking to make way for more outdoor seating and recreation.
"[Publico] has been a stellar member of our community and we are happy that they are working to improve [Five Points'] image," Franks said.