Reinventing Mocktails

Ushering in a new kind of bar menu as market demand increases.

WORDS BY MARTIN DEVANEY

When the founders of Zero Proof Collective talk about advancing the conversation about elevated NA drinks, these three places are doing the work. Whether you’re looking to enjoy a night of live music, a soccer game, or a meal, there’s a place to hang out without a hangover.

At the White Squirrel Bar, nestled in the West Seventh neighborhood of St. Paul, owner Jarret Oulman and bar manager Dinah Abraham have a vision: Respecting all types of patrons and artists who were looking to enjoy a night out. From the outset in June 2021, the bar and music venue has carried a number of non-alcoholic options, which Abraham says have not only been popular with sober people and musicians, but those looking to break up evening cocktails with something other than water or soda from a beverage gun. 

Initially, bartenders could serve THC cocktails for the “California sober” crowd, but the legalities of mixing cannabis drinks has gotten caught up in red tape, so they’ve pulled them from the menu for now. They now carry some canned THC seltzers, in addition to a selection of other NA beers and hop water. They also rotate in their own NA cocktails such as the East End Boys—an alcohol-free companion to their popular reposado and mezcal–based West End Girls drink—which contains lemon, ginger, and club soda.

Wes Burdine, owner of St. Paul’s LGBTQ soccer bar, Black Hart, sees the expanded field of NA beverages as positive not only for the fans crowding in for a game, but for those working in the bar industry. As gameday stretches on, Burdine wants to socialize with his patrons, but can’t be drinking all day. 

As he started to see demand increase for good NA beverages, friends began to bring in a selection of products to determine what soccer fans looking to have a gameday experience without alcohol might like. He echoes industry colleagues that there’s a need for a varied menu, such as stouts and sours, to stave off the boredom that comes from a limited menu and keep customers coming back. THC seltzers have proved especially popular, and Burdine recently hosted an informal taste test to determine which brands to carry. And, Burdine says, over the past couple years, vendors who dragged their feet when it came to carrying NA options are starting to come around. 

Another relatively new venture in the capital city, Chip’s Clubhouse is a cozy, unassuming pub and restaurant that offers a surprisingly robust NA cocktail menu. Bartender Tim Leary says he wants to “offer a handshake” of sorts to diners looking for a nice NA drink to have with dinner. There are six mocktails currently on the menu, and he says he is looking to rotate in new drinks all the time—with more complex drinks to challenge both customers and his own skill.

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