Flash back to 2018 when the anti-straw movement caused one of the industry’s biggest ripples. (Ahhh, the Before Times.) Footage of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck up its nose had everyone swapping out plastic with paper. The image even spawned a Denver Facebook Group: StrawFree303. But for all their eco-friendly and swirly, cute vibes, not all paper straws are created equal. At best they become limp, at worst they unwind and disintegrate mid-drink.
Jen Mattioni, Colorado Bartenders Guild board member, says that a bad straw can mar the cocktail experience, and that a strong straw game is an integral part of any top-tier bar program. For paper, she recommends Aardvark Straws in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “They’re compostable and biodegradable and they hold up, even when you’re just sipping,” she says. And although Mattioni now only garnishes with a straw (wrapped, of course) on request, quality and durability are still key to the dine-in or take-out experience.
Mike Huggins and Lenka Juchelkova, who own Arvada Tavern, Union Lodge No. 1, and Tatarian in Denver, use only paper and metal straws—and have since 2013. “We were full no plastic straws for most of our operating years, even before the sea turtle pic was out,” Huggins says. Initially the decision was aesthetic (driven by a popular St-Germain cocktail that had a metal straw) but the added bonus was an eco-friendly bent.
The pandemic has underscored that small details still matter to the customer. Aesthetics are one thing, but so is having a conscience. The larger impact of reverting back to cheaper plastic straws is this: While the pandemic will eventually pass, the declining health of the ocean will not. The metal or paper straw represents an opportunity to maximize a fleeting moment.
What are the little things you’re still committed to providing to diners and drinks? Email your experiences (and thoughts, opinions, and questions—even just a rant about the worst paper straws you’ve ever used) to firstname.lastname@example.org and we may publish it.