Being vegan doesn’t mean saying bye to booze, but the list of alcohol off-limits to vegans is longer than people who consume animal byproducts would think. That’s why there’s a growing number of bars catering to those of us who want to have dairy-free milk stouts and eat Buffalo cauliflower wings, too.
In cities around the globe, a market for vegan nightlife is emerging in the form of unpretentious, chic spaces where you don’t have to worry about animal byproducts killing your buzz. But vegan bars aren’t just about serving vegan food – they also ensure there’s plenty of vegan booze.
Portland, Oregon boasts the all-vegan bar Sweet Hereafter and the all-vegan-and-feminist-leaning strip club Casa Diablo; Chaostheorie and Viasko are just two of many notable vegan bars in Berlin; and earlier this year, London’s first all-vegan pub, Spread Eagle, hit the scene.
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But perhaps nowhere is the vegan bar trend more popular than in Los Angeles, where the plant-based population is growing – and wants to party. Restaurateur Tony Yanow owns Beelman’s, an entirely vegan pub in downtown LA. The Stalking Horse, Mohawk Bend, and Sixth Street Tavern are just a few of his many other venues where all menu items are vegan unless marked “NV.” Yanow wants to expose clientele who would never consider going to a vegan restaurant or bar to vegan food and drink.
“A vegan bar is the exact same as any other bar,” Yanow says. “It’s got to be fun and it’s got to be compelling. Loads of people come to our bars not knowing about our vegan bent and many order vegan food without even knowing it, and they usually come back for more.”
The vegan bar scene is also thriving in New York City, thanks in large part to Ravi DeRossi, the plant-based restaurateur behind vegan cocktail bars Ladybird and Cienfuegos, and restaurant-bar Mother of Pearl. DeRossi reports that business nearly doubled at the already-popular Mother of Pearl after it went vegan. But he’s certainly not alone: Pine Box Rock Shop, Urban Vegan Kitchen, and Poción are just a few of his many competitors in the city – although, as a vegan, DeRossi thinks of them as allies in the movement.
He cautions that starting a vegan bar isn’t as simple as changing your food menu; you need to look at the ingredients in your booze, too. “I don’t think people realize that there’s a lot of animal byproduct in certain alcohols,” DeRossi says. Some alcohol distillers use animal products like milk or egg whites directly in their products or in the filtration process. While spirits are generally a safe bet, DeRossi says that by his estimate, about 15%-20% of them still involve animal byproducts. Thankfully, apps like Barnivore and Vegaholic have wide-spanning databases that help users figure out whether their drinks are vegan.
But with so many manufacturers and new products out there, ensuring every cocktail is free of animal products can be a full-time job – literally. DeRossi’s staff members call manufacturers and ask about each product individually. “We won’t even order bottles if they have a leather-bound box,” DeRossi says. “When we turned Mother of Pearl vegan, we had to redo the menu completely, cause we were using egg whites in drinks and fizzes and stuff like that.” The bartenders started using aquafaba instead (the liquid in a can of chickpeas that is commonly used in baking) and it worked fantastically.
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DeRossi has several exciting new locations in the works and no plans to slow down. His mission is to make veganism a label all the cool kids proudly wear.
“These days, you can be vegan and go to a bar, eat amazing bar food, have amazing drinks, have a fun time, get drunk, and be in a cool place – and it will be better for the environment, better for your body, and better for animals.”
Of course, while a vegan diet can reduce inflammation, we can’t make any promises about your hangover.