Drinking responsibly: is this Southeast Asia’s most eco-friendly bar?

By: Madeleine Keck - Posted on: October 2, 2017 | Culture & Life

From carving drinks coasters out of leaves to generating less than 100g of waste in a night, Singapore’s Native cocktail bar is raising the bar for sustainability in the region

The interior of Native cocktail bar in Singapore

What do you get when you cross a Singaporean environmental activist with refined mixology skills? Southeast Asia’s most eco-friendly bar, of course. At least, that’s the aim of Vijay Mudaliar, a self-described “green activist” and the founder and chief bartender behind Native.

“As restaurants and bars are one of the main contributors to waste I think we should be the ones to start making sustainable changes,” said Mudaliar. “It’s the small things that are really going to make a difference.”

The bar’s coasters are a case in point. Made entirely from lotus leaves, which are cut into circles by hand and then dehydrated, once the coaster is no longer fit for purpose they are used as compost for Native’s vertical garden. The bar also occasionally reaches heroic levels of sustainability – Mudaliar claims that on a recent Friday night the bar generated just 100g of waste. What’s more, most of that ended up in the bar’s bokashi compost bin, a Japanese system of composting that pickles waste. Of course, the all natural antibacterial liquid it yields is then used by the team to clean the bar and mop the floor.

Such eco-minded steps have not come at the expense of creativity, either, with Native placing as a new entry in the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list for 2017, as well as being awarded Best Creative Bar and Mudaliar named Best Bartender at the Singapore-based Bar Awards.

Mudaliar is also a champion of local ingredients, boasting that the bar does not use anything made or grown outside of South, Southeast and East Asia, from turmeric and curry leaves sourced from neighbourhood gardens in Singapore to Ceylon Arrack, a Sri Lankan spirit distilled from the sap of the coconut flower.

The menu itself changes regularly but can be relied upon to offer a taste of the unusual.

One menu regular, known as Antz, blends soursop, coconut yoghurt, Chalong Bay rum, salt-baked tapioca and, last but not least, weaver ants from Thailand.

“We wanted to do something different and create an experience that was going to be interesting for our customers… but that also included ingredients they have grown up with,” he said. “We want to work on building… a good community that supports and spreads the idea of sustainability.”

This article was published in the August​ edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine. For full access, subscribe here