Aimee Olexy, Owner,
Talula’s Garden, Philadelphia
By alia akkam
Pennsylvania native Aimee Olexy
elevated Philadelphia’s BYOB scene
when she opened the Society Hill
restaurant Django back in 2001. To-
day, in partnership with Stephen Starr,
she brings seasonal-minded dining
to new heights at Talula’s Garden.
Here, sustainable wine and sophisti-
cated cocktails are just as important
as the farmers’ market greens and
The Beverage Network:
Philadelphia is known for BYOB
restaurants yet there are many
vibrant wine lists and cocktail menus
as well. How do you approach your
I sit down and think
about what we want to serve, what
customers are interested in and what
is current. I love talking to producers,
asking them how we can begin serving
What is the inspiration for
selecting your wines?
My starting ground comes from
personal experiences, because as a
restaurant, we want to share the per-
sonality of our team and staff. Traveling
to different regions like the southwest
of France, California and New York has
inspired my knowledge. I would keep
scrapbooks from my travels to vine-
yards and turn to them when I wanted
to have their wines on our menu.
Do you see your wine list as a
platform for earth-conscious wines?
As with our food, we want to bring
producers that practice good farming to
the forefront. We want our wines to be
a catalyst of tableside discussion be-
tween both the guests and our staff.
What are some of the wines
you have introduced that seem to be
especially popular with your diners?
The Millbrook Cabernet Franc from
New York is a great varietal and appella-
tion; the family farmed wines from the tiny
producer Va La Vineyards in Pennsylva-
nia; and the Soos Creek “Sundance” from
Columbia Valley, Washington, which has
great texture and juiciness. I also want to
return faith back to the elegance of Char-
donnay with two great wines on our list:
Lioco from Sonoma and Bergstrom Old
Stones from the Willamette Valley.
Anything new you’re excited
Wines from Georgia and Greece.
There are some great food-friendly wines
coming out of these regions, bringing
value back to the guest as well.
Beyond the wine list, you also
have devised a cocktail menu that
pays mind to the seasons. How do
you think your wine knowledge has
helped inform your cocktails?
Just as with wine, cocktails should
have real punch and make an impact: full
flavored, higher alcohol with a more pe-
tite serving. We create them to be food-
friendly and exciting to the palate; lots of
high acid and juicy fruit with freshness.
Any cocktails on the fall menu
you are particularly excited about?
The Loner. It is a take on a Cran-
berry Smash featuring wonderful hand-
harvested cranberries from New Jersey
with rye, black walnut bitters and fresh
fruit. We also have our version of a
Sidecar with local Art in the Age’s [gin-
ger] Snap, brandy and a cinnamon-
sugar rim. The Haymaker, a muddled
pear cooler, is also a great represen-
tation of fall, featuring pear vodka with
citrus and clove.
For a restaurant that is so
wine-centric how do you encourage
guests to enter cocktail territory?
Like everything we do, we keep
things changing, which reflects our in-
spiration to the guests. We believe in
the elegance of our cocktails and try to
keep them simply understated. One ex-
ample is The Purist, our margarita made
with tequila, lime, agave and spiced salt,
full of freshness and flavor.
How do you think the definition
of hospitality has evolved since you
first embarked on Django?
My principle is to connect with the
staff and our diners. Their stories, travels
and palates inform our view of hospital-
ity. Through our menus we are constantly
creating a strong connection and sense