Café 21 in San Diego always has fresh herbs at the ready, thanks to a living wall behind its bar. The restaurant works with Vertical Garden Solutions, which starts the herbs in a pot then transplants them to the restaurant. The herbs continue to grow along two 3‘ x 4’ ft. panels along each side of the backbar.
Café 21 features mint and basil in the garden all year and seasonal herbs, too, such as tarragon and sage.
Mint used regularly in Mojitos, while the basil goes into one of the bar’s most-popular cocktails, the Cucumber Basil Smash. “We smash [the basil] and add rum and agave syrup,” says Café 21 owner Alex Javadov.
Sometimes he grows jalapeños on the wall and uses them to infuse in vodka or tequila for about a month; the peppery vodka is for Bloody Marys, while the tequila goes into the Jalapeño Pear cocktail ($10), which also includes muddled pear, lime juice and agave.
“The wall isn’t a lot of work,” Javadov says, “and someone comes and maintains it for us once a week.” It’s not cheap, however: The wall itself cost around $4,000, and monthly maintenance costs range from $1,500 to $2,000.
“We can serve our guests drinks the same way we serve our food—every ingredient that can be made fresh and in-house is made in-house,” says Javadov. “[Customers] appreciate the wall, and I think more people want simply know more about what they are consuming and what the ingredients are exactly.”
Amanda Baltazar is a freelance writer based in the Pacific Northwest who frequently writes about food and beverages.