Kindred Spirits: Austin’s Best Bars for Booze-Free Cocktails
Mattie’s at Green Pastures, Olamaie and more embrace the N/A movement with creative flair
By Laurel Miller
Here’s the thing about non-alcoholic drinks on bar and restaurant menus: they’re usually pretty terrible, because they’re an afterthought. Admittedly, most people don’t go to bars to not drink alcohol, but if the sober-curious movement has taught the industry anything, it’s that there’s a niche that needed filling.
A growing number of consumers are choosing to eschew alcohol – permanently, or just for a night – and they deserve beverages made with the same thought and care dedicated to craft cocktails and free of high-fructose corn syrup and other nastiness. Running a bar is a business, so while it behooves owners to turn a profit from teetotalers, it’s also in keeping with the hospitality industry to make menus more inclusive.
Building great drinks, regardless of alcohol content, requires a discerning palate, creativity and an understanding of flavor profiles. The following bar programs have elevated their N/A game, featuring well-balanced, sometimes seasonal, booze-free libations worth trying, even if you’re not the designated driver.
Sans Bar: Austin’s first brick-and-mortar “sober bar” is redefining what founder and addiction specialist Chris Marshall (who is in long-term recovery himself) calls, “sober socialization.” It’s open to anyone, if you’re sober when you visit. In addition to a cozy, chilled out vibe (stamped tin ceiling, sofas, candlelight, patio, indoor and outdoor stages), the drinks are seriously good. Try the Garden Dandy, made with Ritual Zero Proof gin – as the name implies, an alcohol-free sip distilled with juniper, angelica, pine and other botanicals – muddled cucumbers, DRY Sparkling Cucumber soda and a green pea garnish. The Winter Rose is more in the tonic space, made with lemon, ginger echinacea and elderflower, garnished with rose petals, while the Ginger Beer Mule gets a resinous boost from the addition of simple syrup.
Mattie’s at Green Pastures: The Valley Daisy (Rio Star grapefruit, Texas rosemary, bergamot, lemon) is a bright, refreshing companion for rich brunch fare. Feeling run down (or, ahem, hungover)? The Saratoga Buck (ginger, apple-cranberry jam, Chinese five-spice, lime, mint) is a zingy pick-me-up.
Garage: I’m a big fan of the libations at this mid-century-styled bar, and that includes rotating N/A offerings like the Third Verse (carrot, Thai chile, spicy ginger, lime, soda).
Olamaie: Seasonal “virgin cocktails” like Grapefruit Soda (grapefruit, lemon, Tabasco, Topo Chico) and Orange Crush (Passion fruit, orange, honey, lime, ginger beer) from acclaimed bar manager, Erin Ashford, are worth a try.
Not everyone wants a drink that offers the complexity of a cocktail; if you’re simply looking healthier alternatives to soda or sweet tea, Sway offers house-brewed kombucha infused with lemongrass, kaffir lime and young coconut water as well as housemade drinking vinegars.
At Hillside Farmacy, order a gussied-up housemade fountain soda, like the Pickpocket (strawberry, basil, balsamic) and Turmeric (lemon, ginger, black pepper).