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Photo: Courtesy of Urbana
Photo: Courtesy of Urbana

DC’s Sustainable Dining Scene

Order up a drink at Hank’s Cocktail Bar and you may notice something’s missing when you take that first sip. The reason? This Petworth hangout, along with its five sister restaurants, only provide straws when requested. This shift is just one way the bar and its parent company, JL Restaurant Group, have been moving to improve sustainability.

“We work really, really hard to use things multiple ways and be as zero waste as possible there,” says beverage director Jess Weinstein, who oversees the bar program at all Hank’s properties.

For example, orange trimmings from the bar’s old-fashioned garnishes are saved and reduced down with sugar into a syrup that’s then used to make a Trash Gimlet cocktail. They dehydrate partially used limes from a night of service for use in future drinks rather than using fresh ones. Weinstein even uses liquid runoff from roasted red peppers in her negroni riff, the Bittersweet Surrender.

These steps toward sustainability might seem small, but they can noticeably improve a business’ carbon footprint and bottom line. And Hank’s is not alone in its quest to become greener. Last year, DC was named the first LEED “Platinum City,” a nod to its leadership in this area.

Urbana in Dupont Circle is the first DC restaurant to use a machine called a Bio-Digester, which converts food scraps into grey wastewater that is then transported for treatment through existing drain systems. Five to One, a craft cocktail bar on U Street, has opted to ditch garnishes entirely. The Dabney recycles all of its oyster shells through Oyster Recovery Partnership.

At Kyirisan in Shaw, chef and owner Tim Ma uses scraps and peelings from vegetables to create stocks for upcoming dishes. He is also one of three national chefs participating in the BlueCart Zero Waste Kitchen initiative, which uses technology to track food waste and map out improvement over time. Ma says thinking about sustainability and efficiency has always been a part of his day-to-day operations – both from an environmental and practical point of view.

“All my restaurants were very small, and it was only just me as the owner, so every percentage point counted to me,” he says.

Being nimble with menu development wherever possible can also pad profit margins as well as help the environment. Kyirisan gets regular emails from producers selling unwanted “ugly” vegetables, often at value prices. Urbana makes use of its rooftop garden for seasonal produce – it sourced 1,500 pounds from onsite growing in 2016.

Weinstein and the rest of the Hank’s Cocktail Bar team also look to the kitchen for ways to use surplus ingredients that would otherwise get thrown out. It’s all part of the push to make each dollar go further in a small profit margin world, while also being a good environmental steward.

There’s still work to be done, of course. Not all restaurants buy exclusively local produce or second-rate vegetables. And when it comes to balancing hospitality with sustainability, some guests still prefer a plastic straw or fresh citrus in cocktails – and may still be new to understanding the sustainability movement.

“That’s something that we are starting to see change in the food and beverage world,” Weinstein says. “But it’s not changed yet.”

Learn more about these eco-friendly spots below.


Dabney: 122 Blagden Alley, NW, DC; www.thedabney.com
Five to One: 903 U St. NW, DC; www.fivetoonedc.com
Hank’s Cocktail Bar: 819 Upshur St. NW, DC ; www.hankscocktailbar.com
Kyirisan: 1924 8th St. NW, DC; www.kyirisandc.com
Urbana: 2121 P St. NW, DC; www.urbanadc.com