Westchester Restaurants Are On The Front Line Against Bad-For-The-Environment Bottle Water

Back in the day, it was hard to avoid bottles in restaurants. They were the foundation of the wine list, of course, but there was frequently a bottled-water push, too. You probably remember some of the egregious offenders in this tactic: They approached your table, an $8 bottle in each hand, to inquire whether you’d like still or sparkling water with your meal. I know, it’s evil of me—but I always loved the way those reaching bottles sank when I said, “Just tap water, please.” 

Though bottled water is costly, it isn’t the expense that’s causing it to disappear from restaurants. Bottled water is going away because it’s an ecological nightmare. Those pretty bottles have often been filled half a world away, and then packed into inefficient cases and then shipped—via sea and road—to distributors, who then load the cases back onto trucks and then drive them to your neighborhood restaurant. Then, after you’ve enjoyed your water, those bottles must be trucked somewhere else to be recycled, though a few will end up languishing in perpetuity somewhere in a landfill. From a carbon-footprint point of view, that sparkling sip of European water is Satan himself.

In Port Chester, Tarry Lodge has started to bottle its own water in-house. The still and sparkling waters—whose bottles are sanitized and reused by the restaurant—cost diners $7. “Well, it was a decision made by our restaurant group, B&B [Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group]. And, at first, I didn’t really embrace it,” says Tarry Lodge Co-Owner and Executive Chef Andy Nusser, “because, at Casa Mono in the City, I loved Vichy Catalan.” This Spanish water, which originates in the thermal baths at Caldes de Malavella in Catalonia, has been bottled at the source since 1889. “It’s the best bottled water that you could ever find, and it was a staple on the tables at Casa Mono. So when B&B made this decision, I was like [feigns being wounded], ‘Aaah, God, really?’ But, I realized, in the long run, that if I had a battle to pick, this would not be it.” It became apparent, says Nusser, “that all of our restaurants wanted to be Certified Green Restaurants. And you can’t have a Green Restaurant certification if you serve bottled water.”  

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The Green Restaurant certification program rates the degree to which restaurants comply with specific ecologically minded practices. To earn a Green Restaurant certification, a restaurant must, among other things, reduce waste, use green cleaning products, and not serve bottled water. (For more details, and to see Tarry Lodge’s Green Restaurant score, visit its website at www.tarrylodge.com.) Which is all fine and good until a customer sits down to his Tarry Lodge dinner and requests a pretty bottle of Italian acqua minerale, say San Pellegrino or Lurisia, to go with it. “Well, when that happens,” says Nusser, “we tell them we have our own bottled water and that we make it in-house.”

Chef Nusser hasn’t seen any backlash among bottled-water drinkers at Tarry Lodge. “It’s weird. Do you remember way back when corks were disappearing and wine bottles all suddenly had twist-off caps? And everyone was going, ‘Oh my Gaaad. It’s a twist-off wine.’ And now everyone is completely over that. All of a sudden, those twisties are great.” He continues, “It reminds me of The Muppet Movie when Kermit the Frog had his big date with Miss Piggy. The waiter comes by with a twist-off wine and says, really condescendingly, ‘Don’t you want to smell the bottle cap?’ But that whole thing is gone—it’s no longer with us. Twist-off wine is totally acceptable. I think it’ll only be a few years until people are thinking the same thing about house-bottled water.”

Tarry Lodge in Port Chester uses the Vero Water system to house-bottle water.

Emerging water filtration and carbonation technologies are contributing to the trend of house-bottled water. The new systems, like the Vero Water system employed at Tarry Lodge, not only filter tap water with multiple processes, but, also, correct for final taste with the addition of minerals. What emerges at the end is a mineral water that is as consistent and tasty as one imported from a European source, but one that ultimately came from the tap. Says Nusser, “We’re charging for water that is—in essence—the same thing, if not better, than what you would get in a bottle, without the bottle. I mean, we serve it in a bottle, but it’s a bottle that we use again and again.”

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House-bottled water joins the growing popularity of bottle-free tap wines sold at trendy restaurants like The Parlor in Dobbs Ferry and RiverMarket Bar and Kitchen in Tarrytown. In these, wine is vended from pressurized canisters, just like soda. Also putting the knife in bottle sales, restaurants like Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills and Restaurant North in Armonk have adopted the locally made organic soda concentrates made in Beacon, New York, by Drink More Good.

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