Totally organic bars: realistic or ridiculous?
Considering you can find Silk Soymilk at Walgreen's these days, buying organic food products is hardly the elitist, eco-warrior practice it was once considered to be.
As organic food seeps further into the mainstream, the focus is starting to shift to our other purchases. While some products' popularity -- the environmentally-friendly shampoos, the kitty treats, the laundry detergent -- remains marginal, other industries, like beer, wine and spirits, are finding an all-natural niche at bars that place an organic label above all others.
Chicago's Butterfly Social Club, 722 W. Grand Ave., for example, has taken eco-consciousness to the next level. Hailed by the Chicago Tribune as the "eco-friendliest bar in Chicago," this year-and-a-half-old Warehouse District establishment goes beyond a menu dotted with organic craft beer and sulfite-free wines. It was constructed with completely sustainable materials, uses pre-purchased drink tickets rather than "dirty" money and the bar's spirits and mixers -- think agave nectar and coconut water instead of Coke in a Long Island iced tea -- are either certified organic or grown and produced in an eco-friendly environment.
Even the ice cubes are formed from natural spring water.
If it sounds like owner Mark Klemen hopped on the green bandwagon just as it passed through Hypesville, remember that he's also operated the neighboring Funky Buddha Lounge, 728 W. Grand Ave., for more than a decade. This bar boasts more organic and chemical-free spirits than anyone in the country and is the only clean-air certified nightclub in the Windy City.
Believe it or not, some places get even more eco-tastic. H. Joseph Ehrmann, owner of San Francisco's Elixir, 3200 16th St., only offers alcohol that was manufactured with Mother Earth in mind. Square One Vodka, for instance, is certified organic and prints its labels with soy ink. Rain Vodka is made from organically-grown Midwestern grain.
New York, Atlanta and Portland have over-the-top organic bars too. But Milwaukee, the town of a million taverns, is not on this list at the moment. Could this idea flourish here?
Scott Johnson, co-owner of Palomino, Comet Café and Fuel Café, admits that, on a surface level, going organic makes all the sense in the world.
"Who wouldn't want to assume that everything that they're putting in their body would be free of harmful chemicals or additives?" he says. "Everything as pure as if it came out of the backyard? Sweet!"
But of course, going green almost always entails spending the green, which has undoubtedly kept business owners, and consumers, at bay. Plus, he says he hasn't seen a rise in demand.
"I think that as things like organic beers, wines and juices become more and more available and prices come into line with non-organics, people will start buying them like mad," Johnson continues. "Unfortunately, right now, in this economy, everyone is looking for deals. People will still splurge on the one or two things that they like and make them feel good about what they're doing to be green / sustainable / local, but very few people can afford to choose that way all time."
Greg Landig opened The Bomb Shelter, 1517 S. 2nd St., this past February as a beer-centric bar that pays tribute to the classic corner varieties that flourished during a time when locally-brewed beer seeped from this city's pores.
As a bar owner thriving on people's nostalgia for a simpler, more accessible drinking experience, making the save-the-planet switch doesn't make sense.
"I think the audience would be small and (we) would have a hard time making a go of the business sticking to a strictly organic rule," he says. "Now, for a restaurant, I would think that is a good idea and would be a popular one, but not practical as I see it for a bar. It's not something I would consider doing in the future."
What it boils down to for both bar owners is taste.
"No matter where it came from or how it was produced, if it isn't as good as your favorite bottle of cheap Chilean Sauvignon Blanc or your locally adored Lakefront / Sprecher / Furthermore / New Glarus / Harbor City brew," says Johnson, "it's just not going to sell. Right?"
Until there is Milwaukee's Best Organic Ice... it's elitist. Vegetarian? GOOD! Vegan? GREAT? ORGANIC??! I could care freaking less. Organic on urban rooftops, next to highways and pollution? How pure is anything considering it acid rains on both poles and everywhere inbetween and almost everything on earth has traces of synthetics in it nowadays. I bet you could find traces of synthetic particles on any "organic" product. It's okay folks are bodies were made to handle impurity. I thought bottling tap water was the biggest scam ever... no "ORGANIC" is. Plus, "SYNTHETIC" has more taste even a dumb bear knows that.
By the way... Have you tried that ESB? Pretty gross
Why should a bar be non smoking? Organic... Sure. Non smoking? Smoking is still legal as far as I know. Organic is a choice. Do not confuse what is a legal with what is a choice! I would much prefer a smoky bar that practices cleanliness. Such as cleaning and sanitizing glasses. Cleaning garnishes.
It's funny that Scott Johnson mentioned Lakefront at the end of the article, because one of their standard beers is Organic E.S.B., and the price is the same as the rest. I'm not sure if I'd say that Milwaukee is ready for an all-organic bar, but you never know. One of my "hobbies" is trying different organic liquors and a lot of them aren't THAT much more expensive than their non-organic counterparts. I think I have 7 or 8 different organic liquors at home right now, including several vodkas, rum and gin and I think they were all under $30 for a 1.75L bottle. But I don't think price is going to be the main consideration. People usually end up going to particular bars because of the atmosphere, neighborhood, crowd, etc. I think for it to truly work, the main crowd you drew would have to be going to it despite it being an organic bar, rather than because of it.
To answer the question: ridiculous. At, least at this point in time. I would probably patronize one though, because odds are it would be a non smoking business. That should be an article. Milwaukee's Aldermen + The Tavern League: Who's more ignorant?
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