“‘Creative waste management’ is what I’d call it,” says bartender Daniel Monk about the ethos behind the Sea Turtle Club, his new sustainable tiki bar in Fitzroy.
The bar is running as a summer pop-up in what Monk describes as “a useless, unused smokers’ area” at the Rum Diary where he used to work. Monk now spends his days blending that bar’s branded spiced rum. The move to day work provided the first bolt of inspiration for the Sea Turtle Club.
“I was here in the mornings seeing the aftermath of a night of binge drinking, with four bins full of rubbish and recycling and everything just a mess, left out and waiting for the garbage man,” says Monk, who admits he’s hardly been an eco-warrior in the past himself. “Thinking back … I’ve been as bad as everyone else. I’ve been throwing out straws, throwing out rubbish, using plastic like it was nothing … if this is just one bar then it’s a huge issue.”
Monk is trying to get his customers thinking about the issue by actively involving them in the sustainable project. All beer is served in cans and customers are encouraged to use the supplied crusher and recycle their empty tins. Instead of using plastic straws, customers are asked to purchase reusable metal straws, which they can take with them on their night out or return to the bar for a refund.
“It’s about reinforcing their thinking. Now they have the option to use [the straw] in every bar down the street or keep it in their bag and use it every time they go out,” Monk says.
Sustainable thinking extends to the drinks list, too. To avoid wasting citrus Monk created a drink made with spoiled white wine and cold-pressed nectarine juice. He then creates a shrub (like a syrup) by soaking the nectarine pulp in apple-cider vinegar and sugar. The three acids negate the need for lemon or lime to balance the drink. Another drink uses a banana-skin tincture that involves soaking the skins in high-proof alcohol before finally clarifying the mixture.
“People are amazed that you can use banana skins for something other than slipping over,” says Monk.
Running a bar with heavy restrictions means Monk can’t always provide exactly what the customer wants. Some have even raised an eyebrow at the plastic he is using in the bar, which includes plastic coolers to store ice in, rather than using electric refrigeration.
“People say, ‘Well, your Esky’s plastic’. But I don’t plan on throwing it out every time I use it,” says Monk. “I don’t have any mixers because they use too much packaging. But normally I can chat to them and help them understand why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
He hopes the bar will eventually be free of single-use plastic, but is constantly presented with obstacles. Bartenders the nation over face the daily headache of removing hundreds of tiny stickers from individual Tahitian limes at prep time. Monk avoids this nightmare by ordering seconds limes for juicing from the Vegetable Connection on Brunswick Street, which buys direct from market suppliers.
“Those stickers are the bane of my existence. They still come on the apples, though, so I need to find another supplier,” says Monk. “Even the metal straws come wrapped in plastic. You’re just like, ‘Whoa, this is fucking stupid.”
In Monk’s words, the whole bar is made of rubbish.
“The back bar is a bookshelf we found in the trash. We covered it in papier-mache to look like a tiki beach shack.
“It’s got a real shanty-shack look … It’s just two benches, a book shelf, a broken steel rack and old photos.”
Monk began sourcing the photos on Google before putting out an open call to fellow bartenders for their holiday snaps.
“I’d rather have my friends be a part of this. They all love tiki, they all love drinks. They’ll come up and say: “That’s me, I’m a part of something for a summer.”
The Sea Turtle Club is open now until the end of April, or as long as the warm nights last.
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