It’s a cold Wednesday night in Berlin’s Schoenberg district. The streets appear empty although the odd cyclist and car passes by on Goltzstrasse. Inside the dimly lit interior of Bonvivant Bistro, a small group of patrons are gathered around wooden tables, savoring innovative vegetarian cuisine by Chef Nikodemus Berger. While the food is exceptional, I am here to try the mocktails, alcohol-free cocktails Bonvivant is becoming known for. While most people abstaining from alcohol have only Coke or juices as a drinking option, at Bonvivant, the drinks are a lavish mishmash of elixirs, grains and alcohol-free spirits.
“We do drink pairings. Our chef has an idea of a dish and I try to make a drink that goes perfectly with the food,” says Elias Heintz, bar manager at Bonvivant. Heintz uses self-harvested ingredients such as black garlic, lemon verbena, wheatgrass, anise and mustard seeds as well as fats such as clarified butter to give the drinks a punch.
“The drink has to have aroma and viscosity and look nice and taste well,” Heinz says. “[It] should have a profile [so] that you can’t taste the difference between an alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink.”
Mocktails have been around forever but great tasting mocktails are something new and this January is the perfect time to try a non-alcoholic drink. Dry Januaries, a time to detox from the excesses of the holiday season, have become the norm. While taking time off from drinking is a good thing, it doesn’t mean your social calendar has to be bereft of convivial pleasures. Mocktail menus, like the one at Bonvivant Bistro, and mocktail bars have sprung up in recent years, from NYC to Hong Kong. While alcohol-free cocktails can be enjoyed all year, January is the perfect time to test their flavor profiles. Here are our top mocktail bars in the world.
Kava Social, Brooklyn, New York
The United States is arguably the leader in the mocktail bar trend. As of this writing, there are more than 20 mocktail bars across the United States. New York City boasts the most per capita. While The Gateway and Hexcate have their admirers, it’s Kava Social in Williamsburg that gets our pick, thanks to its kitschy atmosphere—think colorful floors that evoke the feeling of being on the sea, and gray polyester couches—and use of kava, a relaxing, plant-based drink from Polynesia.
The woman-owned Kava Social boasts a vast array of “elixirs”—their name for mocktails—both cold and warm, to soothe the savage beast. Expect grapefruit soda mixed with orange bitters or a virgin hot toddy with blueberry rooibos tea and ginger.
NoLo, Dubai, UAE
As most people know, devout Muslims don’t drink alcohol but in the Gulf States what is one to do when everyday is a dry January? Enter NoLo, a tony new bar in the Dusit Thani hotel in Dubai that is dedicated to alcohol-free imbibing.
Dress to impress as you explore a nearly 800-square-foot space, replete with colorful velvet seating, wrought-iron chandeliers and checkered floors. Savor a wealth of mocktails crafted with Lyre’s, an alcohol-free spirit brand from the United Kingdom.
Menu highlights include the Thai Basil smash (Lyre’s dry “gin,” basil and lemongrass shrubs and lemon juice) and the Deli Sour (malt, and orgeat and pistachio syrups topped with a curry leaf).
Proudfoot & Co., Hampshire, England
Tradition meets sustainability at Proudfoot & Co., a cozy, foliage-lined lounge in Hampshire, England, southeast of London. Owner Eoghan Proudfoot opened the bright and inviting bar before the pandemic to battle climate change via locally sourced products.
Proudfoot researched the ways of yore and reintroduced ancient methods of production that have become a lost art. This means foraging daily for ingredients, bee keeping and fermenting everything onsite. The ever-changing non-alcoholic drinks list includes endangered ingredients you might not see on other menus—think rowans (cherry-red autumnal berries) from Whitebeam trees, meadowsweet petals and guelder rose. The result are mocktails like the Woodsman and the Hedgerow Sour crafted with care and elevated to a flavor profile beyond imagination.
Sans Bar, Austin, Texas
One of the first mocktail bars in the world, Sans Bar in hip East Austin, Texas, is a place of refuge for anyone who wants a social but sober atmosphere. Owner Chris Marshall opened the bar in 2017 after witnessing the effects of alcohol on his patients when he was a social worker.
Recline on comfortable gray couches as you people watch under recessed lighting. Marshall created a space where one can be convivial and never worry about how many drinks are too many to drive home. The impressive drinks list includes alcohol-free wine and beer as well as mocktails with zero-proof spirits such as Dromme and Amethyst as their base. Highlights include the Gold Fashioned with ritual “whiskey” and orange bitters, and the Nada Colada with white “rum” and coconut cream.
The Virgin Mary, Dublin, Ireland
The Irish love to drink—bars exist for social interaction as much as imbibing. In a country where the average adult drinks about 13 liters of alcohol a year, The Virgin Mary bar in Dublin is an outlier. One of the first mocktail bars in the world, The Virgin Mary is renowned for revolutionizing the industry and expectations. Alcohol-free drinks (.5% and lower) and pub fare lure locals and tourists alike to a space with a half-moon-shaped bar, private leather banquettes and welcoming staff.
What sets The Virgin Mary apart from other mocktail bars in the world is its use of CBD oil in many of its elixirs. The PBJ, a mocktail version of the popular American sandwich, boasts a mishmash of ingredients including Sentia spirits, powdered peanut butter, raspberry tea jam and CBD oil. It packs a flavor wallop that will have you reminiscing about childhood lunches.