Not far off the beaten path from MacEwan University Mercer Tavern, a local gastropub that offers fare suitable for anyone from the local hipster to the local bro. Its cuisine caters to a variety of tastes, with a menu selection ranging from deep-dish pizza to seared Arctic Char, paired with an extensive drink menu and a selection of beers too great to count. Tying it all together is the personable service and the friendly atmosphere created by the customers. A scan across the bar will rarely find two similar individuals, as each person that comes to Mercer seems to bring a unique story with them.
The Mercer building, which was beautifully renovated within the last five years, is one of the oldest structures in the downtown Warehouse District. The surrounding area is currently undergoing extreme renovations. The tavern sits directly across from the upcoming $2.5-billion development known as the Ice District.
Located in one of the oldest buildings in the downtown Warehouse District, the surrounding area is currently undergoing extreme renovations. The tavern sits directly across from the new $2.5 billion development known as the Ice District, which will become Canada’s largest mixed-use sports and entertainment district, with the Rogers Place arena acting as an entertainment hub in the middle of it all.
We sat down with Taylor Zottl, one of the managers of Mercer Tavern, to learn more about the beloved pub and how it will adapt during this time of change in the region.
How would you describe Mercer Tavern?
Oh, that’s tough. I hate the term “gastropub,” but it’s the easiest way to classify us because we are a small, locally owned, locally operated business (I say small as there are only so many hands in the pot of owning the tavern and the businesses within the building). We are fluid. [pullquote]We are able to take the pulse of the neighbourhood with the people that accompany it and adjust to that accordingly.[/pullquote] This will help us when the arena goes up, as we’ll have to think on our feet. At the end of the day, we want to make sure we stay true to our roots of being locally owned and operated, having locally sourced food and beer on tap, and being a really great atmosphere for people to come in and enjoy themselves. It’s not going to be a place for people to come in before the game and trash themselves with cheap beer and food then leave.We are going to make sure we provide the best food, drink, and experience possible.
What type of a crowd does the pub normally host?
I don’t know if there is a recent version of a yuppie — I guess a hipster, so kind of like a yuppie-hipster crowd. The people are a bit more mature in the sense that they are in the mid-twenties to early-thirties range. Definitely a very respectful and discerning crowd — people who care about the product that gets put in front of them and the atmosphere we provide.
And how would you describe the atmosphere?
It’s vibrant. There’s a lot of energy. People here are engaged, and the room itself is dimly lit with exposed brick. It’s warm, it’s cozy and you can sit down and always see familiar faces.
Are you familiar with how Mercer Tavern was able to settle into one of the oldest buildings in Edmonton?
I’m not entirely sure how the building landed in the current landowner’s possession, but I know that their company is based upstairs in the building. It’s called Gather & Co. It’s a father and son team who run it. They have always had this vision of downtown Edmonton being this thriving and prosperous place, similar to a vision of the building when it was first built in 1911. The landowners took it easy on rent in order to see the restaurant thrive, and now the same courtesy is extended throughout the whole building, which includes a startup company, a coffee shop, a hair salon, and another restaurant. Their M.O. is to get creative people in the building and make sure the space works for the health of downtown Edmonton, as opposed to letting in renters who are grabbing the spot because it’s right across from the arena and then cashing out when they can.
What type of changes are you expecting to see in the pub, given the development of the new Ice District?
[pullquote]The phrase I like to use is “cautiously optimistic” when it comes to anything involving the Oilers.[/pullquote] They have a way of making you feel like everything is going in the right direction, and then they manage to blow it all up. I feel the same way about the arena. It’s going to mean a line-up out the door whenever there is something happening, which I’ve heard will be over 200 nights per year. It’s exciting, but it’s going to be challenging. We are a small, independent place with a couple of owners who had never had previous restaurant experience but managed to surround themselves with individuals who did, making the transition smooth. The biggest challenge we are going to see is volume problems — frankly, the best problem to have.
Has there been any talk about commercialization?
We are a small and local group still trying to figure out the direction we want to go. We feel comfortable with what we are doing now. If there were chances in the future to expand the Mercer brand, I think we’d be foolish not to, but only if it came up organically and we weren’t letting the tavern suffer in order to build something new.
How does the Mercer staff feel about the changes the new arena will bring?
We are all really excited. I mean, it would be a lie to say that we weren’t looking forward to making more money and an increase in people and revenue. At the end of the day, it’s still our job to be as successful as possible, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be one or the other — and I’m referring to the customer service aspect — or that anything really has to suffer. If we can balance the work-life quality, making more money with the new arena coming in, and stay true to what we’ve always strived to do here, then that’s the biggest success we could ever hope for.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Photo by Madison Kerr.