Lonely Planet Writer

Around the world, liquor-free bars are taking off

Another non-alcoholic bar has opened in the United States, adding to an ever-growing list of international establishments catering to a teetotaling crowd.

Getaway bar Brooklyn guest sips drink
A guest sips a drink at Getaway, Brooklyn’s new nonalcoholic bar. Image courtesy Getaway

Located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Getaway debuted in April with a short list of complex drinks—proper cocktails, all of them, just missing that one little thing. Yes, they cost US$13 a pop, but that’s kind of the point: the booze-free beverage is finally getting the attention it deserves. 

Getaway bar interior
The bar at Getaway. Image courtesy Getaway

Buzzy Beverages, Minus the Buzz

The days of settling for a seltzer with lime are over, as around the world, mixologists are creating thoughtful, well-balanced, liquor-free drink programs, at serious cocktail dens and completely non-alcoholic bars alike. 

Raised by Wolves nonalcoholic cocktail Pirate's Anthem
General manager Jayson Wilde preps the Pirate’s Anthem at Raised by Wolves. Image by James Tran

In San Diego, hip speakeasy Raised by Wolves devotes a full page of its pamphlet-sized menu to alcohol-free drinks (“no booze, just sass,” it proclaims), like the Pirate’s Anthem, a mix of citrus, pineapple, black walnut, and allspice. And at New York’s Existing Conditions, opened last year by a team of bar-world stars, the non-alcoholic offerings are listed front and center—including one that features an expensive, hard-to-find Mexican honey made by endangered bees.

San Diego’s Raised by Wolves is a stunning speakeasy with an extensive drink list—a full page of which is devoted to non-alcoholic offerings. Image by Zack Benson

Intriguing ingredients presented in Instagram-worthy fashion, without the hangover? It’s no wonder the concept caught on. Even as recent research points to an increase in severe alcohol-related liver disease in the US, likely due to heavy binge-drinking among young adults in particular, indications remain that more and more youth are leaning into the wellness trend and curbing their drinking. Anecdotally, American millennials seem to be cutting back, and the New York Times reports that binge-drinking is down among adolescents too, especially for boys and those from higher socioeconomic groups. And as the “sober curious” movement gains traction stateside, the demand for alcohol-free spaces only looks poised to grow. “It just feels like there’s been a really profound shift in the way people are thinking about drinking,” writer Ruby Warrington told the Chicago Tribune.

Changes in Attitudes

London’s first alcohol-free cocktail bar opened in Covent Garden in December 2018. Image by honey_and_milk

It’s a sea change that’s making its way around the world. In London, Redemption’s owners said they were motivated to open their non-boozy bar for health reasons, calling it “a place where people can socialise free from all the usual toxins and temptations: alcohol-free, 100% vegan, sugar-free and wheat-free.” In Dublin, the man behind Ireland’s first non-alcoholic bar cited a gap in the market as his compatriots look to monitor their intake more closely, telling Extra.ie, “there has been a cultural shift from people towards alcohol, their moderation of alcohol and what they’re consuming.” And in Melbourne, one company has even started distilling non-alcoholic gin, using native Australian ingredients to mimic the botanical notes of the real thing.

Smallbluff cocktail Getaway bar
The Smallbluff cocktail from Getaway features Seedlip Spice, a nonalcoholic distilled spirit, alongside lemon juice, fennel shrub, and celery bitters. Image courtesy Getaway

For Getaway’s Sam Thonis, inspiration struck when his brother got sober and the siblings realized their options for evening outings had become limited. “They discovered there weren’t any social spaces—particularly ones open late at night—that didn’t revolve around alcohol, despite a large (and growing) number of people who don’t drink,” says co-owner Regina Dellea. “The community response has been overall great.” And given the menu, it’s not hard to see why. Sam‘s favorite is the Paper Train, which uses lemon juice, tobacco syrup, vanilla, and San Pellegrino Chinotto, while Regina prefers the Trip to Ikea, with lingonberry, cream, and cardamom. “We get a lot of ‘thank you for existing!’ both in person and written on receipts,” she says.

The Next Wave

The Getaway team can only rest on their laurels for so long, though. They’re about to have some competition: the non-alcoholic pop-up Listen Bar is currently crowdfunding for a permanent spot, throwing monthly parties at a bar in Noho in the meantime. And in the end, that’s going to be the main thing: buzzed or sober, everyone’s just looking to have a good time.

Listen Bar karaoke
The scene gets rowdy at Listen Bar, but not because of the booze. Image by Sasha Charoensub

“There’ve been moments…where people are dancing on tables and karaoke-ing their hearts out,” Listen Bar’s Lorelei Bandrovschi told the BBC. “It’s really liberating to create space for yourself and your life where a rowdy party vibe doesn’t mean a hangover and blurry memories.”