Gyvas baras [the Alive Bar] is Lithuania’s first fully vegan bar. Here in Vilnius, as everywhere else, vegans often get asked: “So what do you actually eat?” This unique veg venue in the heart of our capital city answers that question in abundance.
We had the pleasure of being admitted backstage at Gyvas baras, where it was fun and informative talking to the people in charge. So grab your sporks and get ready to be inspired!
The magicians behind it all
Goda, a social economist by training, is the founder and co-manager of Gyvas baras. She’s not only responsible for ensuring smooth daily operations, but is the culinary artist behind the majority of the bar’s refined dishes. Vegetarian since the age of 14, Goda cannot remember exactly how or when she transitioned to veganism—it just happened naturally, brought on by her inherent love and compassion for animals.
Gabrielė is responsible for event planning and food preparation. She’s also an active member of “Tušti narvai” [Empty Cages], a nonprofit animal rights organization aiming to educate Lithuanians about the damage animal exploitation is doing to our planet and the benefits of a vegan lifestyle. Gabrielė’s transition to veganism happened in an instant—five years ago after watching the video Meet Your Meat.
Goda has never seen a single guest leave Gyvas baras disappointed. She does remember one instance when a group of omnivores seemed hesitant about whether or not to stay after learning the bar was fully vegan. They decided to stay—and ended up ordering second rounds and sending their compliments to the chef. In fact, one of Goda’s aims is to introduce great vegan food to omnivores, showing that dietary change is not only possible, but convenient and positive. New customers are often especially interested in trying the in-house falafels and veggie burgers.
Activities, teaching and events
From time to time, Gyvas baras organizes campaigns to raise money for animal advocacy groups. They have a close collaboration with ‘Trys paršeliai’ (Three Little Pigs), the first farm animal shelter in the Baltic region. Gyvas baras’s owners have generously made their homestead available to this group, and all of the rescued animals have now been moved there.
The bar has been asked several times to offer vegan cooking seminars, but Goda claims to be a lousy teacher. Her statement is strongly refuted by Gabrielė: “She’s great at teaching, but simply does not want to brag.”
Among other events, Gyvas baras organized the Global Falafel and Banana Lovers days this year. Both happenings were highly successful, and the bar owners have several more on their agenda.
Despite being a new downtown eatery, Gyvas baras seems to have a winning business strategy. Already there are times when long lines form outside its doors. The venue’s status as the only 100% vegan bar in the country (there are several vegetarian options in Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda) has generated quite a bit of excitement.
What kind of marketing is necessary to bring people out to try a new restaurant these days? Events and social media both have a strong pull, especially when used together. This summer, the team was part of “Open Kitchen,” a weekly local open air food market in Vilnius, which led to a constant flow of new taste seekers. The event’s organizers relied on Facebook as one of the best tools to reach new people as well as a platform for initiating positive change and sparking ideas. At the end of the day, though, Goda believes that word of mouth, however transmitted, is the most potent form of advertising.
Veganism in Lithuania
“Three years ago, I used to joke that I probably knew all Lithuanian vegans—all 6 of them,” Gabrielė told us half-jokingly, “and tofu used to be impossible to find!”
Goda explains that being vegetarian became socially acceptable only a couple of years ago, and that a similar paradigm shift needs to take place for veganism. Gabrielė believes that change is already happening—mentioning as evidence two firsts that happened in Lithuania this year: the openings of Gyvas baras and of Veggo, a vegan grocery store.
Indeed veganism is on the rise. The Lithuanian Vegan Facebook group recently went from 3,000 to 4,000 members in only a couple of months. More and more people are attending the vegan picnics organized by Tušti narvai. Plus an increasing number of restaurants are offering some vegan options and shopping for plant-based foods is becoming easier.
The chart below provides additional evidence from an informal survey we conducted of 10 eateries. We can see that the year 2010 saw the birth of Lithuania’s institutional veganism, followed by four years of limited growth until 2015, when the amount of vegan-friendly food providers increased more than twofold. These encouraging data show that we’re on our way to an animal friendly world—and since Goda already has plans for a full-service vegan restaurant, the 2016 numbers may be even more impressive!
Asked what it would take for more people to become vegan, Gabrielė responds: “I believe that most individuals inherently have compassion for animals. However, being vegan in a carnist society often requires great will and massive effort. At least that’s the general perception. Unfortunately, the harder something looks, the fewer people take up the challenge. That’s one reason why veganism must be promoted and made attractive, fashionable and easily accessible to all. Only then will more people be able to live in accordance with their moral values.”