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?"
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”