NATIVE BAR: Sustainability and Spirit


TraditionRespect. Community. Flavour. 

Collectively these ideals are at the heart of Native. It seems no stone was left unturned in Vijay Mudaliar’s mind when it came to developing his bar. Working in some of the world’s most renowned bars for nearly a decade, he wanted to move into his own venture. It wasn’t easy. He and a small group of friends lost funding numerous times, but eventually, Native bar went from dream to reality. 

Its roots stem from the idea that a small bar can work together with other small businesses to create a community, that together is stronger than its individual parts. How does Native do this? A whole myriad of both traditional and innovative ways.  

Firstly, they only stock Asian spirits, companies they believe in, and are aligned with, from a production and sustainability point of view. From rum to arak to whiskey, there is a mixed array of exciting spirits on the shelves that run along the 180-year-old brick walls. They use local breweries who are happy to have clean bottles returned and refilled; they stay away from using plastic containers, bottles, or sous vide bags.

That ethos carries beyond the backbar. Native keep production as local as they can to Singapore, and maintain a high level of sustainable bartending or ‘mindful bartending’. 

When a bartender passes your negroni across the bar, how often is there a tissue napkin underneath? Sodden with condensation, it ends up in the bar trash. At Native, they cut coasters from lotus leaves. Reusable up to 20 times, they are dried and used again,. Once the lotus leaves are worn – they go in the bars compost.

There are two stages of composting in Native. First, they start with a primary compost, Bokashi composting – adding enzymes to the waste material. The resulting leachate after a couple of weeks is diluted and used in the mop bucket to clean the bar floors at the end of the shift. In turn that goes into the secondary compost bin, or to clean the toilets. After several months the compost is then ready to go into the bars small garden where they now grow some produce for the bar. It’s the perfect example of the circular economy in motion. 

This attention to detail and commitment to the environment and each other means the experience of drinking at Native will stay with you, long after the taste of Vijay’s incredible cocktails fade.

Native bar - Singapore

‘The ant cocktail has become the drink Native is best known for

And citrus? Well, the bar doesnuse traditional citrus sources such as lemons and limes, whose rinds accumulate quickly behind a traditional bar, they find other sources such as making their own vinegar shrubs or whey and famously, weaver ants.

‘The ant cocktail has become the drink Native is best known for. It is not just gimmick. The ants, abundantly available, produce formic and ascorbic acid as a mechanism to prevent disease within the colony. The ants are frozen rather than dried (as drying prevents the acids being preserved) then they are served to create natural tanginess in the cocktail. 

The bar’s bones are old – the street in the heart of Chinatown is full of historic buildings, and the bar exposes the bricks. The differing colours of the handmade bricks is a result of them being dried on days of varying heat. On some walls, the ancient Japanese planter technique shikkui, has been applied to include algae and eggshells. These living walls absorb CO2, help regulate humidity and air quality, thus meaning there is a little less reliance on the dull hum of an air conditioning unit. The whole bar is powered by solar energy.

And so, the list of quirks and tweaks goes on.  Details have been considered to a local level down to the bar’s ambience; Native’s music playlist, while available for anyone to listen to on Spotify, is composed of local and Asian artists – some may never be played on the radio but at Native on Amoy Street, there is space for all!

The furniture is made locally, the aprons too are recycled. The ceramicware that the cocktails are served in are created by Singaporean art teacher and potter, Ummu Nabilah; each one designed to represent the story of each drink. There is a mutual respect for local makers and artists, again the idea that all the little guys working together and supporting each other, can ultimately be a stronger community. 

Foraged cocktails at Native bar

Vijay began to forage in Singapore from a desire to find the local flavour and look back on the tradition of his parents and grandparents who used these flavours.

But what about the drinks? Vijay began to forage in Singapore from a desire to find the local flavour and look back on the tradition of his parents and grandparents who used these flavours. Vijay fully admitted that in his learning curve he made mistakes. There weren’t many other people out there foraging in Singapore, so he had to teach himself. But it was always done in a careful way.

In Singapore there are pockets of green in the cityscape that provide them with an opportunity to ‘urban forage’. From jackfruit to durian, turmeric and balimbing, pink Jasmin, bettel leaves, wood sorrel; there is plenty to be found. To Vijay, ensuring sustainability is of paramount importance when they capture and preserve these, because wild sources are precious in such a built-up landscape. They only take a small bit of what they need and got to great lengths in extracting the flavour to make it last as long as they can. From roto-vap extractions to fermentations, pickling, vinegar and infusions in coconut water stretching out the flavour of the plant is key, and exciting to Vijay. He also tries to use all parts of the plant. It might sound newfangled, but he looked back on the traditional uses of flavours and how they were preserved by past generations for his inspiration. 

Indeed, looking back to tradition is at the core of Native. Rather than reinventing classic cocktails with Asian spirits, the menu goes back to looking at how these local flavours were used within the melting pot of Singaporean culture. The Name NATIVE is even traced back to Singapore’s history. Within the logo N T I V and E are all derived from the famed Singapore Stone at the mouth of the river, an historic relic of native Singaporean scripture, from the 10th or 11th century. The Δ is in fact the international sign for explore

Together these symbolise the roots of Native but also the global reach of the like-minded community Vijay works so hard to engage and work with. Together they are stronger, pushing the boundaries of this sustainable mindset.

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