Bartenders Finding New Ways to Conserve Water in Face of Drought

In light of the drought, bartenders are finding new ways to conserve ice.
Some rain may have fallen in the Bay Area over the weekend, but concerns about the drought are far from over. A handful of local bars have gotten into conservation mode, implementing programs like only offering customers drinking water when they request it, reserving unused ice at the end of service to use for a variety of purposes the next day, or pushing drinks served up instead of on the rocks to customers.

"Our industry uses a lot of water, and we could be more conscientious about how we use it," says Jen Ackrill, who has worked with her staff on a few of these concepts at Rye, the Tenderloin cocktail bar she manages. Instead of "burning" ice at the end of the night -- industry slang for pouring hot water over leftover ice to melt it, wasting even more water in the process -- she and her bartenders have been saving unused at the end of the night and use it to make simple syrups, water the ivy out front, or clean the bar. She's also been suggesting iceless drinks to customers, both on the board of specials and if they order a drink like the Negroni, which can be served up or on the rocks.

A few blocks away at Novela, general manager Alex Smith is pushing many of the same water-saving programs. In a memo to his staff, he outlined a number of mandatory new measures for employees, from only offering customers a drink when they ask for it (though he notes that bartenders can suggest water if a customer looks like they've had one too many), to only bringing up as much ice per shift as needed to alleviate the need for burning it at the end of the night. Running full dishwashers, not leaving a faucet running and walking away from it, and other small measures are also encouraged.

I asked Ackrill of Rye how much saving a few ice cubes would really help. "It doesn't not help," she says. "Just because we can [save water] just means we should."

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