Virtuoso Life November 2018 The Trend: Virgin Cocktails Around the World

The Trend: Virgin Cocktails Around the World

Denver’s Death & Co.
Denver’s Death & Co.

Let’s raise a glass of citrus-infused, custom-carbonated temperance to the recent proliferation of fancy spirit-free cocktails – and the bartenders who are championing them. First things first: These drinks won’t help you lose weight and aren’t necessarily low in calories, but they do eliminate alcohol and its harmful effects (not to mention hangovers). This growing desire to drink but not “drink” comes as no big surprise, given the widespread interest in clean living and wellness.

According to food writer Julia Bainbridge, whose book on nonalcoholic cocktails will be published by Ten Speed Press in 2020, “Even those who aren’t sober are becoming more mindful drinkers and are unashamed to order something nonalcoholic – and demand that it not be an afterthought.” What’s more, the explosion of ingredients such as shrubs and glycerin-based bitters is making it easier for bartenders to concoct great-tasting options that far surpass a sad soda water and lime. And let’s not forget Seedlip – the first distilled nonalcoholic spirit to hit the market – which comes in three flavors (Spice 94, Garden 108, and Grove 42) and may trick you into thinking you’re drinking the real thing. Below, find six places that make it easy to say, “Hold the vodka.”

Nonalcoholic spirit Seedlip Garden 108.
Nonalcoholic spirit Seedlip Garden 108.
Photo by Chris Plavidal

American Bar at The Savoy, London

It doesn’t get more classic than this art deco spot, known as London’s oldest surviving cocktail bar. It’s set inside the city’s first-ever luxury hotel, which opened in 1889. Named the World’s Best Bar in 2017 and 2018, the American Bar recently welcomed to its white-jacketed ranks wunderkind Maxim Schulte as head bartender – only the 11th person in the hotel’s history to hold the title.

What to order: The Afternoon Reviver – made with Seedlip’s Garden 108, cold-brew coffee, grapefruit juice, tonic, and mint – or the Safer Cider, whose ingredients include cinnamon syrup, cloudy apple juice, and a smoky ginger ale.

Maxim Schulte, the new head bartender at The Savoy’s American Bar.
Maxim Schulte, the new head bartender at The Savoy’s American Bar.

Le Bar at Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Paris

A transparent U-shaped bar, moody blue lighting, and a showstopping ceiling installation made of thick folds of blue fabric set the stage for sipping cocktails at the flashy yet intimate Le Bar, located in an iconic 1913 hotel just steps from the Champs-Élysées. Prices are steep – alcohol-free cocktails go for 20 euros – but the experience is about more than what you’re drinking.

What to order: The Skull, a mix of fresh mint, Granny Smith apple, aloe vera, ginger ale, lime, and elderflower syrup.

The Skull by Le Bar at Hôtel Plaza Athénée.
The Skull by Le Bar at Hôtel Plaza Athénée.
Photo by Chris Plavidal. Styling by Heidi Adams

Kumiko, Chicago

In October, star bartender Julia Momose – who has run the cocktail program at Noah Sandoval’s acclaimed Oriole restaurant since 2017 – helped open this intimate West Loop spot named for a type of delicate Japanese woodworking. Drawing from her childhood spent in Japan, she created a reservation-only, omakase-inspired experience at the cozy eight-seat bar that pairs dishes by Sandoval with meticulously crafted cocktails based on the individual tastes of the drinkers. In a small yet open dining area, patrons can order from an à la carte menu of food, spirit-free drinks, and cocktails with a focus on sake and shochu.

What to order: Try a Pepperberry Tonic: Tasmanian pepperberry, sansho (a citrusy Asian peppercorn), angelica root, verjus rouge (the pressed juice of unripened red grapes), and Fever-Tree elderflower tonic.

Fundamental DTLA, Los Angeles

This stylish downtown L.A. restaurant’s nonalcoholic drinks are practically a given: Its cocktail menu is the brainchild of industry vet Gaby Mlynarczyk, author of Clean + Dirty Drinking: 100+ Recipes for Making Delicious Elixirs, with or without Booze. It’s open for all three meals, but weekend brunch is especially festive – and diners can pair dishes such as house-made cinnamon granola or chilaquiles with the opposite of a hair of the dog.

What to order: The Alphonso Mango, a blend of tikka masala spices, coconut, and lime, or the refreshing Peas + Mint, with English peas, mint, yuzu, and Kimino yuzu soda.

Fundamental DTLA’s Alphonso Mango.
Fundamental DTLA’s Alphonso Mango.

Existing Conditions, New York City

Representatives from food-science development company Booker and Dax, PDT bar, and the barware shop Cocktail Kingdom came together to launch this white, brick-walled watering hole in Greenwich Village. Every drink on the menu costs $15 and is driven by science: There’s a custom carbonation system and painstaking ingredient prep (fat washing, pressure cooking, and lots of clarification, for instance).

What to order: The savory and tropical Serendipity, with clarified tomato and passionfruit. For something bubbly, request the Stingless, made with carbonated Melipona bee honey, clarified lemon, and vanilla.

A Serendipity at Existing Conditions in NYC.
A Serendipity at Existing Conditions in NYC.

Death & Co, Denver

The famed NYC cocktail hot spot recently debuted an outpost in Denver’s buzzy RiNo neighborhood. The all-day lounge doesn’t relegate NA drinks to the bottom of the menu, though. Rather, they’re mixed right in with the rest (including a fair share of low-alcohol-by-volume options) and organized by flavor profile – think “bright and confident” and “elegant and timeless.”

What to order: The “fresh and lively” Alpenglow, with bay leaf, flor de Jamaica (hibiscus tea), and seltzer or the “light and playful” King Palm with kefir whey, coconut water, and cinnamon.

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