Thu, Sep 05, 2019 - Page 14 News List

With a nudge from the young and sober, mocktails taking hold

Alcohol-free mixed drinks grew 35 percent as a beverage type on the menus of bars and restaurants in the US from 2016 to this year

AP, New York

Bartenders Matthew Bray, left, looks on while Crystal Chasse prepares mocktails at Listen bar in New York.. Regular bars and restaurants are cluing into the idea that alcohol-free customers want more than a splash of cranberry with a spritz. The interest is also driven by the wellness movement and higher quality ingredients.

photo: AP

Five years ago, for her 27th birthday, Lorelei Bandrovschi gave up drinking for a month on a dare. She was a casual drinker and figured it would be easy. It was, but she hadn’t banked on learning so much about herself in the process.

“I realized that going out without drinking was something that I really enjoyed and that I was very well suited for,” she said. “I realized I’m a pretty extroverted, spontaneous, uninhibited person.”

And that’s how Listen Bar was born on Bleecker Street downtown. At just under a year old, the bar that Bandrovschi opens only once a month is alcohol-free, one of a growing number of sober bars popping up around the country.

Booze-free bars serving elevated “mocktails” are attracting more young people than ever before, especially women. The uptick comes as fewer people overall are drinking alcohol away from home and the #MeToo movement has women seeking a more comfortable bar environment, said Amanda Topper, associate director of food-service research for the global market research firm Mintel.

Mocktails aren’t just proliferating at sober bars. Regular bars and restaurants are cluing into the idea that alcohol-free customers want more than a Shirley Temple or a splash of cranberry with a spritz.

Alcohol-free mixed drinks grew 35 percent as a beverage type on the menus of bars and restaurants from 2016 to this year, according to Mintel. Topper said 17 percent of 1,288 people surveyed between the ages of 22 to 24 who drink away from home said they’re interested in mocktails.

The interest, she said, is also driven in part by the health and wellness movement, and the availability of higher quality ingredients as bartenders take mocktails more seriously.

“It really started a few years ago with the whole idea of dry January, when consumers cut out alcohol for that month,” Topper said. “It’s shifted to a long-term movement and lifestyle choice.”

Listen Bar recently hosted a mocktail competition for mixologists, who whipped up drinks that included The Holy Would, comprised of citrusy, distilled, non-alcoholic Seedlip Grove 42, palo santo syrup, low-acid apple juice, lemon and lime bitters produced with glycerin, and verjus, the pressed juice of unripened grapes. The drink is the brainchild of Fred Beebe, a bartender at Sunday in Brooklyn. The restaurant isn’t alcohol-free, but Beebe helped create an extensive mocktail menu that goes well beyond the sugary choices of yore, using unique ingredients.

Palo santo, for instance, is a tree native to Peru, Venezuela and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that loosely translates to “holy wood” and is widely used in folk remedies.

“Everybody should be able to have a delicious drink at a bar,” Beebe said. “Hospitality is making sure everybody has a good time. Alcohol, for me, is not the most important part of a cocktail anymore. The cool juices and syrups and tinctures and mixtures and all that stuff makes a lot of the fun.”

Listen Bar has enjoyed packed houses every month. Photographer Zach Hilty, 40, was a first-time guest on competition night. He said he drinks alcohol occasionally.

“My girlfriend and I are interested in the health benefits of different botanicals and such,” he said.

Cat Tjan, 27, of Jersey City, New Jersey, was also on hand and brought a colleague, Ammar Farooqi, 26, from Williamstown in southern New Jersey. Neither drinks alcohol. Tjan said Listen Bar is the only sober bar she could find in Manhattan, where she works for a drug company.

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