Booze-free bars? Why some restaurants and bars are taking alcohol off the menu

·6 min read
What are alcohol-free bars? The newest trend in bar and restaurant ownership involves creating a booze-free space where patrons don't feel the pressure to imbibe. (Photo: Getty Creative)
What are alcohol-free bars? The newest trend in bar and restaurant ownership involves creating a booze-free space where patrons don't feel the pressure to imbibe. (Photo: Getty Creative)

On menus across the country, alcohol-free mocktails are popping up in abundance. These specialty drinks are just as delicious as their cocktail cousins, but serve as a great option for people who choose not to imbibe, whatever the reason. Mocktails and zero-proof cocktails have become so popular, in fact, that some restaurants and bars are saying bye-bye to booze — serving only these creative concoctions.

Abby Ehmann is the owner of Hekate Cafe and Elixir Lounge in New York, a completely sober bar and specialty tea shop. Ehmann says she wanted to create a place where people could spend time together — one that was not based on drinking alcohol.

"So much of our socializing is built around the consumption of alcohol," Ehmann tells Yahoo Life. "What neighborhood bars offer — in addition to booze — is a community."

"You can stop in after work and likely see someone you know — even if it's just the bartender — and have a conversation." she continues. "People who live alone in tiny apartments need an extended living room. If someone chooses to abstain from alcohol — for a day, a week or a lifetime — this becomes less available. Yes, you can go to a bar and have a seltzer, but then you're surrounded by drunk people. I was inspired to offer this same comfortable 'home base' but without the booze."

While Ehmann experiences many misconceptions in her line of work, she says there's nothing dull about a booze-free drink. "Many people assume 'no booze' means boring," she says. "Probably the most surprising thing is how similar the ambience is to a 'regular' bar, but without all the slurring and spilling. And of course, the audience for our events is more attentive since they aren't smashed."

The idea of sober spaces is continuing to grow across the country. In Florida, newly opened the Bandbox Orlando serves up exclusively non-alcoholic drinks in a 1920s-themed speakeasy.

Kevin Zepf, owner of the Bandbox, says after researching the non-alcoholic market in the area, his team decided it would be the perfect opportunity to introduce the Orlando area to the booming non-alcoholic drink industry.

"The dry bar, sober bar or so-bar, as they are sometimes referred to, have been popping up in cities across the U.S. within the past few years — primarily in larger markets like New York, Denver, Austin and California," says Zepf. "To date, there are roughly 20 sober bars throughout the country, and that number continues to increase."

"This is due to the increasing number of younger folks in their 20s or 30s that have either cut back on drinking alcohol significantly, or have stopped drinking alcohol altogether," he adds.

According to Zepf, this idea is not as new as we might believe: Sober drinking establishments date back to the late 1800s, when temperance bars and taverns started springing up. These establishments served a variety of non-alcoholic elixirs as well as popular sodas of the time. In fact, Zepf says even modern-day favorite Coca-Cola was first introduced in the early 1900s in such a location.

Even more unique, some restaurants are removing alcohol from the menu completely. Salt and the Cellar, located inside the Ette Hotel in Kissimmee, Fla. Is an upscale dining experience with a laundry list of creative drinks on its menu — not even one of which contains traditional alcohol.

Alex Ekbatani, owner and CEO of Ette Hotel says it took the sober plunge as part of its mission to provide an experience centered on health and wellness, while still allowing guests to experience the same upscale, curated cocktail culture found in world-class hotels across the globe.

"We are thrilled to say business is going extremely well," Ekbatani shares. "Salt and the Cellar has been filling up quickly every weekend and we are excited to open [a rooftop bar] shortly for guests to enjoy."

"Our alcohol-free offerings have been such a success with all guests, regardless of their preferences," he adds. "Almost everyone who has enjoyed a meal at Salt and the Cellar has specifically told us they didn't feel like they were missing alcohol from the evening."

For those who don't have an alcohol-free elixir bar or restaurant nearby, mocktails can even be shipped directly. When Abbie Romanul quit drinking, she found herself frustrated with the lack of "grown-up" alcohol-free options beyond just seltzer water and citrus. So, she founded Raising the Bar, a zero-proof cocktail subscription box. Each box delivers innovative ingredients to make alcohol-free drinks at home.

"Mocktails are not just for teetotalers," says Romanul. "Anyone can enjoy a well-crafted drink without booze — whether you're the designated driver, the host who wants to have inclusive options on hand or you're just interested in more mindful drinking."

"Making the choice to go alcohol-free was a hugely important choice for me," she adds, "but it also made me feel a bit anxious, as drinking had always been a big part of how I socialized and made new connections. I wanted to have something fun, delicious and beautiful to drink at social occasions — even without the alcohol."

From upscale restaurants to farmer's markets across the country, mocktails truly are popping up everywhere. Drinks from Grandma's Goodies, served at the Ocala Farmers Market in Ocala, Fla., are whimsical and pure fun for the entire family, from the beverage to the glass. Co-owner Carolyn Hall says the business began when she and her husband wanted to create family-friendly drinks utilizing ingredients from their family peach and blueberry farm.

"[My husband] dreamed up the food cart along with the harvest stand for fun and to extend our season," she says. "We decided to try mocktails because we thought they would be fun for the entire family. [My husband] enjoys finding unusual items for the drinks, like eyeglass straws and our 'indecisive' cup that's split in half."

Hall says the whole family gets in on the mocktail fun, sharing alcohol-free creations with the community. "Our children and grandchildren help with the booth each week and the grandchildren have been saving the proceeds from pretzel sales for college," she says. "We believe most of our customers are looking for a warm friendly experience along with their drink from Grandma, and the family vibe seemed like a good fit."

Wellness, parenting, body image and more: Get to know the who behind the hoo with Yahoo Life's newsletter. Sign up here.