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A Tiki Bar That’s Gone Totally Vegan

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In February, Mother of Pearl, a Polynesian-inspired bar in New York’s East Village, went 100 percent vegan. And that includes the Instagram-catnip drinks served in shark mugs, too. A vegan Tiki bar? The news came as part of owner Ravi DeRossi’s vision to shift the focus at some of this other properties, too, including his then newly opened Avant Garden restaurant, around the corner from Mother of Pearl.

“The opening of my vegan restaurant, Avant Garden, and the launch of my nonprofit organization, BEAST, were both longtime passion projects for me,” says DeRossi. “I want to take my company in a new direction, one that is very personal for me, and I’m starting by changing the menus at Mother of Pearl to vegan. The vibe and overall concept will remain the same; we’re just making a concerted effort to end the inhumane treatment of animals and do my part for environmental sustainability.”

All of Mother of Pearl’s cocktails are now vegan, including the Tiki Peat, made with blended scotch, and the nonalcoholic Greenhouse and Forbidden Fruit, from left.

As part of the shift, he brought in chef Daphne Cheng to helm the kitchen and revamp the menu to include dishes such as Green Mango Poke and Apple and Oyster Mushroom Skewers, while bartender Jane Danger reimagined Mother of Pearl’s cocktail program. Luckily, the drinks haven’t changed too much. The Shark stays on the menu, as do most of the classics. And there’s also the Warm in the Winter, made with Citadelle gin, Krogstad Festlig aquavit, sugar cane syrup, house-made pepper tincture, Bittermens Elemakule Tiki bitters and house-made Laura’s mix (made of banana liqueur, dry curaçao and cinnamon syrup).

“We had a cream drink on the menu we had to take off, but that was the only one,” says Danger. “We never had an egg white cocktail.”

Yet the move to a vegan-compatible bar has involved a great deal of behind-the-scenes research. “I’ve been learning about the brands we’re used to using, their backstory and what processes could compromise a spirit and make it not animal-friendly or cruelty-free,” she says. Wines and beers that use eggs or other animal products during the filtering process had to go, as did certain ciders aged using animal fat inside the barrels. Charcoal-filtered products are okay, she rules, “as long as they don’t use charred bone.”

A number of familiar liqueurs didn’t make the cut. “I really enjoy using honey, but you can’t have that,” which knocked out Bärenjäger, Drambuie and even much-loved Bénédictine. Dairy-based liqueurs like Baileys Irish Cream and RumChata also had to go.

Warm in the Winter cocktail

Sometimes the culprit wasn’t inside the bottle. “We don’t carry any products in leather packaging,” says Danger. “And you say, ‘Why is it like that?’ It’s a perfectly good spirit, but there’s leather wrapped around the neck of the bottle.” But overall, she says, very few products had to be taken off the bar.

“We’re just trying our best to keep the experience all the way. But in no way has it compromised the bar program,” she says. “If anything, it strengthened what we were going for. Everyone had to be a little more thoughtful.”

The evolution of Mother of Pearl is DeRossi’s first step toward the direction he’s taking his company, working to make his establishments as sustainable as possible and with the ultimate goal to serve only plant-based fare.

This summer, DeRossi will close The Bourgeois Pig and reopen it as LadyBird, a vegan wine and tapas bar.  

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