A husband-and-wife duo of restaurant industry veterans just signed on another longtime player in the Boston beverage world to develop a cocktail program for their forthcoming restaurant. Last month, Conor Dennehy and Danielle Ayer shared the news that they purchased the former T.W. Food (and briefly Self Portrait) space, planning to open a new restaurant there named for their infant daughter, Talulla.
Now, they’ve partnered with bar guru Matt Schrage, who will design the restaurant’s cocktail program to “align with [Dennehy and Ayer’s] vision of fine, warm, and approachable dining,” as Ayer told Eater.
Schrage first crossed paths with Ayer when she served as manager at Bronwyn, where she “provided one of the best service experiences of that year,” Schrage told Eater in an email, calling her service “thoughtful and impassioned...super impressive.” They later collided at Ribelle in Brookline, and again at Menton, which Schrage helped open as service director.
Schrage has been around Boston’s bar world for years, with a long tenure at Brick & Mortar and time spent consulting on bar programs for other venues, including La Brasa. Now, he’ll add Talulla to his list, where he is working to develop a carefully designed program to accommodate both the restaurant space and Ayer and Dennehy’s vision.
“I see my role as helping to bookend the main story of Talulla, which is the marriage of Chef Conor’s cuisine with Danielle’s wine selections,” Schrage told Eater.
The beverage menu will be small, featuring aperitif-style cocktails and a selection of spirits and amari that Schrage will curate. Schrage said the original cocktails would be “bright and refreshing, some effervescent, low ABV, all intended to awaken the palate,” in addition to “three classic cocktails, prepared in ratios that complement the beginning of the meal.”
There will also be classic aperitifs like Salers, Cocchi Americano, vermouth, and sherry. After dinner, the drinks will shift towards the spirits, amari, and herbal liquors, like malted whiskey and cognac.
“One of the challenges of Talulla is that there is no physical bar, and as such, the selection of spirits will need to be very thoughtfully selected,” Schrage said. “At the end of the day, the spirits selection will be a collaboration between myself, Danielle and Conor, the staff, and ultimately the guests.”
Without an actual bar, Schrage will find ways for the restaurant to prepare the drinks effectively, including through batching and bottling, with stirred cocktails pre-chilled and ready from the bottle.
“This allows for the measuring of the cocktails well before the heat of service and for anyone on the service team to make the drinks quickly and easily when they are needed,” Schrage said. “I’m very excited to help bring this to program into existence.”
Both Dennehy and Ayer were alums of T.W. Food, and after its replacement Self Portrait closed, the pair made an arrangement with owners Tim and Bronwyn Wiechmann to purchase the space, as previously reported. Dennehy and Ayer plan to pay tribute to what the Wiechmanns did in their small Cambridge restaurant by continuing the tradition of weekly wine dinners, featuring four courses every Tuesday night.
Talulla plans to use Tock, a system that allows guests to pre-pay or reserve tickets for dining, in addition to accepting standard reservations. Locally, Juliet and Tanám are among the small group of Boston-area restaurants that use Tock.
“By using the Tock reservation system, we truly feel we can better understand our guests and give the greatest hospitality that we can offer,” Ayer said. “Using Tock will also allow us the opportunity to give our guests better rates during the slow season, or on less busy nights.”
Talulla’s Kickstarter fundraising campaign is also going strong, surpassing the halfway point with approximately a month remaining. Dennehy and Ayer have secured the necessary license transfers from Self Portrait and are still on target to open Talulla in early April.
Update, 2/7, 9 a.m.: This story has been updated with information from Talulla’s bar program designer, Matthew Schrage.