From clarifications to coconut whey, today, the world of booze-free beverages doesn’t just come down to juice and sugar. We chatted with some of the bar teams at America’s most respected restaurants to understand what’s guiding the zero-proof drinks world for those sober-curious (we are in Dry January, after all), and it’s fair to say that the non-alcoholic options of today are far more progressive than just a few years back. Below, some of the more forward-thinking and inspiring non-alcoholic (n/a) drink programs in the U.S. right now.
Bacchanalia is one of only five One MICHELIN Star restaurants in Georgia: a 30-year-old institution from chef Anne Quatrano where the four-course set menu is seasonal, changes each evening, and is entirely comprised of organic ingredients, many of which come from the chef’s own farm. Naturally, the à la carte zero-proof cocktail options heavily rely on fresh ingredients and farm-soured honey as a sweetener in what the team describes as a “garden to glass” approach. Think a zero-proof No-Jito with lime, mint, Seedlip Garden, and Pentire Seaward; and the almond-y Sober Amaretto with a citrus blend plus Lyre's Amaretti.
Simon Kim’s grand, One MICHELIN Star New York-based Korean steakhouse Cote isn’t just known for its buttery beef. The perpetually packed place is as lauded for its excellent wine list (with secret well-priced hidden gems) as it is for the botanical cocktails on offer at lower-level bar Undercote. So when Kim expanded Cote to Miami three years ago, it’s no surprise that he debuted an equally strong beverage program. The overarching theme designed by principal bartender Sondre Kasin is beverages “with a purpose;” meaning libations––both with and without booze––that are not only delicious, but offer an additional benefit such as energizing, calming or hydrating. To unwind, order the signature Downtown with Aplós Calme, hibiscus syrup, plus fresh orange and lemon juice.
Eleven Madison Park, New York
Of course one of the world’s top destinations for plant-based cookery offers a sophisticated spirit-free drinks program to match. Since 2021, beverage director Sebastian Tollius has spearheaded the drinks program at Three MICHELIN Star Eleven Madison Park, and his primary focus with regard to booze-free options has been “to figure out how to create texture and body within these drinks.” Beyond house-made purées, juices, and syrups, techniques including fermentation and clarification, alongside bittering agents such as gentian root, and non-alcoholic spirits (Seedlip, Lyres, Pathfinder) guide the efforts. Customers can order n/a drinks at the bar, but Tollius designed a totally unique menu for those sampling one of the two dining room tasting menus. Expect options like Fennel, a carbonated cocktail that uses clarified amazake (a Japanese fermented rice drink) along with fennel seed, elderflower tea, and spirulina; and Ginger, made from clarified coconut whey with pomegranate juice, rosemary, and Seedlip Spice.
Chef Jenner Tomaska and Katrina Bravo, the husband-and-wife team behind Chicago’s One MICHELIN Star and progressive tasting menu haunt Esmé, just brought on a new beverage director. And in addition to designing sophisticated booze-free drink pairings that jive with Esme’s oft-changing artist collaboration-inspired menus, those looking for a quick sip can also grab a seat at the bar. On offer, culinary cocktails like the carbonated vanilla cream soda, coconut powder, and miso mushroom foam-capped Sandwich & Soda; and Dents de Lions, inspired by the healing powers of dandelion root with a distillation of dandelion root, turmeric syrup, and cinnamon-rosehip-accented clementine zest.
Greywind, New York
Just under a year ago, beloved New York chef Dan Kluger of Loring Place brought his signature American market-driven cuisine to a new home near Hudson Yards. And while beverage director Shane Anglin has offered a number of non-alcoholic drinks since opening, as of this month he has unveiled a new menu of drinks that honor clean living. It would only make sense that the same local and seasonal produce that fortify the vegetable-forward plates here also shape the spirit-free drinks program. And new to the menu this month comes a sparkling clarified yogurt number dosed with matcha, and a take on the Negroni, shaken with fresh grapefruit juice, a pomelo-infused spirit-free vermouth, and Giffard’s non-alcoholic Aperitif.
Jeune et Jolie, Carlsbad, California
Bright and sunny, blush-toned Jeune et Jolie is putting Carlsbad on the map with its fresh One MICHELIN Star French technique-rooted, California cooking. And beyond its set-menu, seasonally driven meals, last month beverage director Andrew Cordero unveiled the city’s first spirit-free beverage pairing. Hinged on both taste and texture, Cordero has designed a sophisticated four-course pairing with drinks like a passionfruit milk punch to accompany harissa-glazed lobster, and a booze-free version of one of the hottest cocktails of the moment: the espresso martini. His take calls for Lyre’s Coffee Originale, local bean-based cold brew coffee, plus roasted kabocha squash for a sweet earthiness, while koji adds umami. To finish: a whipped cream float.
Maydān, Washington, DC
Rose Previte wants customers to feel a sense of wonder when they enter Maydān, her One MICHELIN Star Middle Eastern grill-guided restaurant that’s become a staple in the DC area. Known for dishes like a whole, turmeric-topped roasted cauliflower, and coriander-cardamom-spiced lamb shoulder, in tandem comes a refreshing non-alcoholic drinks program that relies on seasonality and unsung ingredients from the Middle East and eastern Europe. Drew Hairston is in charge of the beverage show here, and he looks to “interpret traditional products through the lens of modern bartending.” Guests can order sprit-free options à la carte, as well as part of a tasting menu that accompanies Maydān's Tawle set menu. For example, guests might begin with a traditional Moroccan mint tea to kick off a meal, while a tart sumac lemonade or preserved black lime loomi soda (made with a bay leaf and cardamom- flavored sun-dried lime stock flipped into a mocktail) could appear as a mid-course palate cleanser. But Hairston notes that the list fluctuates. For example, when a drink like quince tea––which he sources from the country of Georgia––runs out, he might replace it with a kishk (a fermented Middle Eastern dairy product) milk punch or barberry (tart tic-tac-shaped red berries common in Middle Eastern cooking) soda.
Meteora, Los Angeles
Chef Jordan Kahn heads up Vespertine, which was one of Los Angeles’ few Two Michelin Starred restaurants until the place shuttered during the pandemic. (Vespertine is slated to reopen later this year.) But at his more relaxed, rustic, and earthy Meteora––an abode that looks plucked out of Tulum, Mexico––the focus is wild and organic, hyper seasonal ingredients. The kitchen here works in tandem with the bar to ensure there’s zero waste, meaning ingredients are cross-utilized from cup to plate. Guest can sign up for the spirit-free drink pairing that aligns with the dining room tasting menu (mocktails are also available in the bar/lounge à la carte); Kahn explains that when designing the zero-proof pairings, the team looks for “inherent qualities of ingredients and [applies] them to our beverage in a way that makes a logical link to the dish with which it will pair.” For example, the team might pair acorn-fed pork with a brown butter-spruce sauce alongside a mocktail made from purple corn tea plus juices from blood orange, pomegranate, and green tomato. Explains Kahn, it’s “less about how [the green tomato] tastes in the individual drink, but more about how it tastes when it’s eaten and consumed with the dish.” Primitive techniques like live fire cooking and fermentation influence both menus, and yeast in particular enables the team to design drinks with similar flavors found in alcohol––but that are totally booze-free.
Frasca Food + Wine, Colorado
Frasca Food + Wine is Boulder, Colorado's One MICHELIN Star bastion of regional northeast Italian cooking. And in response to a growing number of Rocky Mountain guests seeking non-alcoholic drinks, the team continues to build out the white tablecloth, fine dining staple’s spirit-free selections. Lead bartender Ross Calhoun designed the à la carte program with beverage director Carlin Karr, and the duo seeks to build layers of complementary flavors akin to complexity one finds in traditional spirits. Calhoun explains that much of a cocktail’s taste comes from not just the main spirit itself, but “the influence of the vessel it aged in, and the flavors extracted by the alcohol.” To achieve their desired results, Frasca’s spirit-free program relies on house-made syrups and infusions like the shiso-ginger syrup found in the Collins-inspired, genmaicha, and jasmine green-flavored Spring Dream.
Providence, Los Angeles
One of Los Angeles’ longest-standing fine dining institutions is chef Michael Cimarusti’s Two MICHELIN Star Providence, where elegant, seasonal, and sustainable California cooking is heightened with the best local ingredients. Recently, bar director Kim Stodel and wine director David Osenbach teamed up on a non-alcoholic drink pairing that accompanies the seafood-forward, eight-course tasting menu (customers can also order those same drinks à la carte at the bar). To kick off a meal alongside an aerated mashed potato purée crowned with Kaluga caviar, the team offers an herbal soda infused with parsley, chervil, and tarragon from the restaurant’s rooftop garden; meanwhile rhubarb juice steeped with cracked black pepper and tarragon complements the smokiness of the seared swordfish belly with black truffles.