Vetiver at Tayer + Elementary in London (image: Nancy H. Gibbs)
“We always ask ourselves, Would we serve it to our moms?” It might not be a philosophy you’d expect from two of the world’s most accomplished and successful bartenders. But Monica Berg and Alex Kratena (Artesian, Himkok, Marque D’Amour) are clearly going back to fundamentals with new venture Tayer + Elementary, which opened in London’s Shoreditch neighborhood last summer.
“The thing is, I think cocktails have become very specialized and intimidating for a lot of people,” says Berg. “If you really want them to become mainstream, you have to democratize them. In a wider sense, would your mother understand this drink? If the answer is no, you have to rethink it.”
Tayer + Elementary is the duo’s own answer to the question. As the name suggests, it’s a bar of two halves, with Elementary offering counter space for day drinkers and co-workers, while Tayer caters to the evening crowd seeking a more pure cocktail bar experience. The contrast between the two is subtle but clearly articulated. Elementary’s bright, minimal design evokes a canteen or coffee shop, while Tayer’s chrome, deep green ceramic and dark wood suggests a laid-back twist on a school chemistry lab.
From the bar’s original conception in 2015, the idea was always to balance a space that caters to the local neighborhood with one that could be a little more experimental. “We are very much into innovation, and we like discovering new things,” says Berg. “At the same time, we like to make sure that we’re accessible—simplistic without being basic.”
At Tayer + Elementary, the devil is very much in the details. Decor, atmosphere, cocktails—every element has a story, but nothing is shouted about. The same ethos of thoughtful authenticity also extends to the drinks. Here, Berg discusses three cocktails that capture the essence of Tayer + Elementary.
“When we put this drink on our menu for the first time, we did it just for fun, but people loved it so much that we brought it back,” says Berg. “It’s a lunchtime favorite. Sometimes a Martini should just be one sip.”
But in fact, it may take a couple more. The gargantuan olive at the drink’s center, stuffed with Gorgonzola, makes the One Sip feel larger than it has any right to be. It also adds a creamy finish to a smooth, subtle Martini that captures both the minimalism and playfulness of Elementary.
“This, for us, is the perfect ratio of Martini to a single olive. It’s also easy for people who don’t like Martinis to try.”
Tayer doesn’t give its cocktails names, instead simply highlighting the key ingredient in a bid to boost accessibility. Served in an elegant gossamer-stemmed glass and topped with a garnish of grapefruit zest, the Vetiver is smoky and seductive yet gentle on the palette, perfectly complementing the atmosphere of the backroom bar.
“Every element of this drink is important,” says Berg. “The flavors are very familiar, but the way we get the end result isn’t. I think that’s very typical of our bar. It’s definitely toward the Negroni scale but is a bit more aromatic perhaps. It’s also a drink where the mezcal is there for flavor rather than pungency.”
Sweet, lively and stunningly refreshing, Elementary’s Palo Santo Gimlet brings a unique Latin American wood together with cutting-edge tap technology.
“We serve this from one of the most advanced tap systems in the world,” says Berg. “It goes into the glass at minus 4 degrees, which is key for the taste. The ice cube is also really high quality and melts very slowly, so you can nurse the drink for a long time as it dilutes.”
Berg and Kratena discovered palo santo wood while on a sourcing trip in the Amazon, a journey they also credit with helping them to rethink how they look at ingredients in general. The wood’s flavor is extracted in a high-proof alcohol before being redistilled and made into a tincture. In the gimlet, it carries notes of coconut and eucalyptus.