For nearly a decade, the issue of restaurant waste has made headlines as a new approach to sustainable eating. From London’s “Feeding the 5000” event, which transforms food waste into a meal for 5,000 people; to the zero-waste restaurant Silo; to Dan Barber’s $15-a-plate pop-up wastED, which featured dishes made entirely of restaurant scraps, it’s been adopted by acclaimed chefs as a cause du jour.
The bar world, however, is only just catching up.
“When we were first talking about it, there really was nothing out there,” Ryan Chetiyawardana says of opening his London bar White Lyan in 2013, which championed a zero-waste philosophy. At the time it was a radical concept, but as the experimental “closed-loop cocktails” attracted global attention, so did its sustainable ethos. “The creative minds of the industry are finding new solutions to the series of hurdles we face,” says Chetiyawardana. “It goes far beyond what does or doesn’t end up in the bin.”
In many ways, we’re experiencing a second wave of sustainability, building on the work of leaders like Chetiyawardana and Barber. While many venues are implementing small changes—offering biodegradable straws or repurposing old fruit juice as cordials—there’s a growing number of bartenders and bar owners who are designing bar programs with sustainability at the core of their vision. Here are five new pioneers.
Tin Roof Drink Community | San Francisco + Brooklyn
Back in 2013, Claire Sprouse and Chad Arnholt were working on a design concept for a bar in the midst of the California drought. They did extensive research to investigate the footprint of each cocktail and every piece of equipment used to find room for improvement, from the method they use to rinse tools to the shape of glassware and how well it stacks in the dishwasher. This research culminated, a year later, in Tin Roof Drink Community, which offers bar consultancy, menu programming and education, with a few key tenets: reduce water waste; conserve energy from refrigeration and lighting; responsibly source and transport ingredients; and repurpose bar byproducts.
“This movement is still in its infancy,” says Arnholt, “but there is a rallying cry around environmental issues now.”
In their consultation work with NOLA-themed The Bywater in Los Gatos, California, they looked to cut waste while upholding the venue’s design objectives and business model. They chose an ice machine that runs at 80 to 90 percent efficiency compared to the average 50 to 60 percent, reconfigured the menu to prioritize low-footprint cocktails and cut back on the amount of ice used in each drink, saving water as a result. For example, a Hurricane made at a standard cocktail bar uses an estimated 1,250 milliliters of water between the ice machine, the rinse water and the dishwasher; at The Bywater, it uses just 470 milliliters. If they serve 30 Hurricanes a day, they save around 8,000 liters of water a year, on just one drink.
HIMKOK | Oslo
Shipping is amongst the largest sources of waste in the industry, but HIMKOK bar in Oslo has come up with an innovative solution. The cocktail bar doubles as a micro-distillery, producing 80 percent of the spirits they use in-house. Focusing on Norwegian aquavit, gin and vodka, it began as an effort to tailor the spirits to fit the house cocktails, and, by happy accident, reduced almost all waste from glass bottles, as well as the carbon footprint from shipping. (They don’t stock soft drinks either; rather, they make their own kombucha and flavored water kefir.
The high-concept bar is a two-floor playground for the bartenders, who move around in white lab coats distilling small-batch spirits and growing herbs in hydroponic turbines. They order “ugly” produce, normally thrown away for cosmetic reasons, and come summer they rely on their small garden for ingredients. It’s mad-cap science with rural sensibilities.
Bar manager Monica Berg is passionate about fostering a sense of human sustainability, as well. “Sustainability is not just being mindful about the environment and nature; it’s also about creating a good environment for your team,” says Berg. “It’s no use recycling bottles if you treat your team like they are disposable.”
Olmsted | Brooklyn
Chef Greg Baxtrom and horticulturist Ian Rothman, who met at Atera, would often talk about the problems they observed in the restaurant industry and how they could solve them. The result of six years of conversation is Olmsted.
Dedicated to a culinary closed-loop philosophy, the 800-square-foot garden—which includes a composter, bird coop and fish pond—keeps much of the usual waste from going out the back door. “The largest thing for me was food waste,” say Rothman, who also founded a 10-acre farm in Massachusetts. “If we bring something in, how do we use all of it?”
Part of the answer lies at at the bar. Head bartender Mike Bohn is in constant communication with the kitchen, looking for creative ways to make use of its byproducts—and vice versa. Bohn has, for example, turned rhubarb trimmings into a cordial and integrated the poaching liquid from a batch of quinces into a small-format drink, layering it with Salers Aperitif. He’s also transformed dehydrated citrus peels into coasters.
The Indigenous Bartender | Seminyak, Bali
The Indigenous Bartender is an online platform dedicated to local flavors, cultures, methods and crafts. Based in Indonesia, the website offers a deep dive into ingredients, such as assam kranji, a tropical tree yielding grape-sized fruits, and palm sugar, as well as interviews with industry leaders keen to share their knowledge on sustainable bar practices.
It’s the brainchild of Dré Masso and Kamil Foltán, both of Potato Head Group hospitality, which adopts a sustainable approach across all of its venues, several of them high-volume. That means not only recycling and composting, but also a dedication to economic sustainability by supporting the rich Indonesian tradition of craftsmanship by commissioning ceramic Martini glasses and hand-carved teak cups from local producers. In addition, they make an effort to integrate the local white spirit, arak, into drinks on their cocktail menus. They’ve also paired with organizations like Eco Bali, which taught them how to rework their glass bottles into water glasses and ashtrays.
“If we can do it on such a big scale, it’s inspiration for [others] to do it,” says Masso, “and we’re happy to give people our network and contacts.”
Jimmy’s | Aspen
While new bars can be designed with sustainable practices in mind, at Jimmy’s—an Aspen institution run by local restaurateur and bartender Jimmy Yeager—they implemented a thorough program of waste reduction retroactively.
Back in 2014, when Yeager made the move to only offer straws on request, general manager Jessica Lischka, an environmental studies major and sustainability advocate, was inspired to speak up about some other ideas she had.
Since then, they’ve stopped offering bottled water, eliminated table cloths and installed energy-efficient lighting. But the biggest initiative has been to create a composting program facilitated by Aspen’s forward-thinking trash service, which offers training and provides materials. Jimmy’s now composts 75 percent of their trash.
Next on the agenda is a partnership with the city to create a pilot program to help other businesses retroactively upgrade their operations. “We want to make it easy for a business that’s already established to reduce their energy,” says Lischka. “The best thing that can happen from this is education.”