UPDATED: Merrill & Co. Taps Matthew Schrage to Develop Its New Booze Identity

The South End spot has reinvented itself again.

Merrill & Co.

The bar at Merrill & Co. / Photo provided

UPDATE, November 24, 4 p.m.: Matthew Schrage let us know that after just one week, he has stepped away from the Merrill & Co. operation.

If at first you don’t succeed, try reinventing yourself as a food truck incubator and easy-going neighborhood bar. The BiNA Hospitality Group (jm Curley, Bogie’s Place, Lala Rokh, Sunny Boy) took this route last week when it debuted a partnership with commissary kitchen Stock Pot Malden.

Called Truck and Mortar at Merrill & Co., the South End restaurant—which already changed course once in its sub-two year existence—will host local food trucks for limited runs, with the offerings changing frequently. 

To complement the new concept, the company has brought on beverage manager Matthew Schrage. “We want to create a symbiotic relationship between the food and cocktail program. Importantly, that means picking a price point that is more in line with what someone is spending on dishes,” said BiNA Group owner Babak Bina said. 

The first two resident food trucks, Sheherazad and Heritage, offer items like slow-roasted lamb with Turkish baldo rice, nuts, raisins, ground beef, and orange blossom ($15); and braised short ribs over creamy grits with mushrooms ($13). The cocktails will range from $8-$10, Schrage said.

Schrage is a hospitality consultant and once and future mixologist at some of the area’s most lauded libationaries. He started his bartending career at the influential East Village restaurant WD-50, before moving to Boston and managing bar and front-of-house teams at No. 9 Park, Menton, and the Hawthorne. Along with fellow Menton alumni, he was a founding partner of the Brasstacks supper club.

Since 2012, he has consulted for several area restaurants, including Ribelle, La Brasa, the Blue Room, Belly, and Area Four, and has run the bar programs at Central Square spots Brick & Mortar and Central Kitchen, he said. In his newest consulting role, Schrage plans to build and educate Merrill & Co.’s new beverage team, and establish the bar’s creative direction.

The cocktail program is going to be pretty nimble to keep up with the fluidity of the changing kitchens, but a few things will stay constant: Bright refreshing flavors, lots of citrus, spice, and aromatic elements,” Schrage said. While a classic Manhattan or Vieux Carre will be available, the house drinks “will almost all lie in this high acidity/refreshing/lower alcohol zone, to keep them suited to food in general.”

Schrage added he plans to maintain the venerable sherry program Merrill & Co. opening bar manager Kevin Mabry institutedSherry is going to play a major role. We’re going to be both mixing with it and sipping it straight. Sherry goes with everything; its natural salinity and high acid can complete a meal.”

“The hope is that we can create a bar program that both complements the various moving parts of the food programs while standing alone as a fun bar that can attract people from the neighborhood, not just fans of food trucks,” he said.

Merrill & Co., 1 Appleton St., Boston; 617-728-0728 or merrillandcoboston.com.