As every bartender knows, bars double up as community hubs. But simply serving the community – providing a space to meet up with old friends or make new ones – is very different from being a part of it.
If a noticeboard loaded with flyers for local events isn’t quite in keeping with your aesthetic, that’s fine – even the least casual of venues can work with their wider community in meaningful ways, and, in doing so, not only project an innovative, inclusive image, but also help to raise standards and reduce overheads.
As Dre Masso, of bar group Potato Head, explains, it’s beneficial for new bars to be sensitive to their surroundings from the very start. In 2015, Dre opened a big-name bar in a small town in Singapore. ‘We knew we would be perceived as the big corporate company coming with an element of arrogance, even though this wasn’t the case,’ says Dre. So how did he avoid falling out with the neighbours before the bar had even opened? Simple – he got them involved. ‘We collaborated with local artists and craftspeople for the design of the venue. Bread was supplied by a local baker, coffee was roasted six shops away and we outsourced all of our sauces and syrups to a nearby social enterprise that taught culinary skills to kids with special needs.’
These sorts of things may make for nice soundbites to drop, but they’re not simply selfless gestures – you have as much to gain from your community as it does from you. ‘Working with local suppliers means quality is almost always guaranteed,’ says Nick Wu, of East End Bar in Taipei. ‘Not only do we save on transportation fees, we also get better service, as we can always go back to them should something go wrong.’ Meanwhile, getting your money back on a batch goods that’s come from the other side of the country can be far more difficult.
This way of working has its limits, of course, and balancing the benefits of sourcing produce based on proximity versus quality is tricky. As Allan Gage, co- owner of Nine Lives in London, advises, the first step is to accept that, as awesome as your neighbours are, they don’t have all the answers. Allan says, ‘Our customers are at the centre of all of this, and they demand decent Margaritas! So don’t beat yourself up for importing Latin American limes, just find out what else is being grown nearby, and don’t just blindly send your fruit supplier an order every night.’
If you’re really going to get the most out of your community, sourcing ingredients is only half of the story. A lot of the ‘waste’ your bar produces needn’t go into the bin – work out who it could be useful to and give (hey, maybe even sell) it to them. At East End Bar, Nick makes tea syrups to use in cocktails, but those leaves needn’t go to waste after he’s taken the first flush. ‘We dry the tea leaves and make them into a solid cake form,’ says Nick. ‘Then we give these to people in the community who may have a use for them.’ It’s the same for fruit, too. Even if you’re not going to use the rinds to make cordials (as Allan does at Nine Lives), a soap or candle maker may find all those citrus oils useful, or, at the very least, there’s bound to be a gardener nearby looking to add to their compost heap.
‘Waste is the common enemy,’ says Allan. ‘Not just what goes in the bin, but wasting space, wasting water, wasting energy and wasting time. With a bit of thought, and a reasonable discount, we can share all of our surpluses with our neighbours.’