Berg and Kratena on opening their first London barBy Owen Bellwood
Monica Berg and Alex Kratena have an impressive list of accolades to their names – but their new bar could be their biggest achievement yet.
*This feature was originally published in the February 2019 issue of The Spirits Business
It’s 9am when I meet Alex Kratena and Monica Berg, and by this time they have already spent several hours tackling the latest issue to face Tayēr + Elementary, the bartending duo’s first London venue.
“It’s very challenging,” says Berg. “I would say that everything around opening the bar, learning how to open a bar and learning how to be a business owner, has had its challenges.”
Tayēr + Elementary will be Berg and Kratena’s first venture as bar owners. “It’s been very different to the work we do as a consultancy,” comments Berg.
Having started her hospitality career selling ice cream in an amusement park in her native Norway – “I always imagine you wearing a goofy costume back then,” quips Kratena – Berg gained her first taste of life behind the bar when she spent an afternoon serving G&Ts in the park.
She recalls: “Someone asked me to step behind the bar, which was completely illegal because I wasn’t old enough.” From that moment Berg was hooked, so she decided to move to Greece, where she was old enough to find a job mixing drinks. She worked in the country until she could return home to tend bar in Norway.
As well as being Kratena’s first owned venue, Tayēr + Elementary will mark the first time Kratena has run a venue since he left Artesian at London’s Langham Hotel, which was named world’s best bar under his guidance. The life of head bartender at a five-star London hotel bar seems a different world to where he started his bartending career.
“When I was 16, I got kicked out of my parents’ house and I needed to make money,” the Czech says. “So working in hospitality was the only option because I could still attend school during the day then work during the evening.”
Since then, he has worked in bars all around the world. “I never worked as hard as I did in Japan, and I never had as much of a relaxing life as I did in Spain,” he recalls.
Today, the pair are settled in London, and as well as having plans to open Tayēr + Elementary in the capital they have also announced that P(our), the bartending symposium they co-founded, will be moving from Paris to the city. Berg says: “We very much belong to the London bartending community. The bar scene here is unique and very inclusive, and it would be nice to give something back to that.”
The duo has spent three years developing Tayēr + Elementary, which they hope to open in April. “We always wanted to open somewhere that was fast casual and somewhere that we would like to hang out,” says Kratena.
The new bar will be based in London’s Old Street and is separated into three areas. Elementary will be a “casual all-day” bar serving simple drinks and snacks, Tayēr will be a “progressive bar focused on what’s inside the glass and on the plate”, while the third section will be used for research, development and training.
“It’s going to be quite open and the three spaces will be connected to each other,” Kratena explains. “Everything complements each other. For example, where our training and R&D will take place during the day, in the evenings it can be opened up to become part of the bar, adding a little extra capacity.”
FOCUS ON SEASONALITY
In Elementary, customers will be able to enjoy coffee, snacks and cocktails with a “strong focus on seasonality”. Meanwhile Tayēr will mix “modern techniques and long-established practices to create cocktails and food that express purity, freshness and simplicity of ingredients”.
“The philosophy behind Tayēr is to bring the focus onto what’s important, and that is the liquid,” says Kratena. “We wanted to make drinks that people can’t get anywhere else, so it was important for us to source as many things as possible to our specifications.”
To fulfil this vision, Kratena and Berg have turned to the vast number of contacts and friends they have made over their years in the on-trade. “We enjoy working in a collaborative way, and we enjoy working with people who are really good at what they do,” says Berg. “Now that we have a home we want our collaborations to continue and go even further. We worked with a lot of people from London and from other places. For example, Alex was in Copenhagen to do a collaboration with Empirical Spirits the other day – this will be an ongoing collaboration that should always be available at the bar.”
While they are used to working with spirit producers and other hospitality professionals, opening Tayēr + Elementary has seen them turn their attention to areas they had not encountered before. “I had never thought about air exchanges and filtration before we started this,” says Kratena. “We have had a massive learning curve covering everything from finance, planning, licensing and construction. It is insane how many things there are to consider.”
Despite the challenges along the way, the pair’s motivation to open the venue comes from their love of the job. Berg says: “We do whatever it takes to be behind the bar, because that’s where we enjoy being.”
This admiration for the on-trade is what inspired Berg and Kratena to create industry symposium P(our) with fellow bartending royalty Simone Caporale, Jim Meehan, Joerg Meyer, Ryan Chetiyawardana and Xavier Padovani. Now in its fourth year, P(our), which tackles a different topic each year, will focus on understanding. Berg says: “P(our) is about observing what the industry is going through and listening to people. There are a lot of issues in our industry that arise when people are not willing to listen to what others say. With better understanding a lot of conflicts could be prevented.”
A WIDER UNDERSTANDING
At the 2018 symposium, speakers included a psychologist, a ballerina and an architect discussing perfection, and Berg says speakers such as these can help attendees gain a wider understanding of the issues facing the on-trade. “If you want to say to bartenders that it is important to work as a team, don’t just say to them ‘don’t let your ego get in the way’,” explains Berg. “Instead, maybe it’s better to have a football player talk about teamwork or even an architect who could talk about how they work with the community.”
The move to London does not signal the start of a roving symposium, and can instead be seen as another part of the duo’s attempts to “give something back” to the London bartending scene. As the event prepares to put the bartending community at its heart once again, Kratena says it is this focus that makes P(our) stand out. “P(our) is about taking a step back. Most of the shows today focus on a specific subject, whereas P(our) is aimed at understanding the general direction of the industry and discussing what bartenders should be aware of.”
With the pair now planning a symposium and building a bar, Berg and Kratena could be in the running for the title of hardest working bartenders. “Don’t even ask me how many things we have left to do,” says Kratena, as they return to the task of understanding building regulations and ventilation systems in London. Who says the life of a bartender isn’t glamorous?