When chef Nick Elmi stopped drinking alcohol four years ago, he remembers being surprised how often he’d ask for a non-alcoholic drink at a restaurant and be offered only a Coke or Sprite. As a sober hospitality professional, it disappointed him. “If you’re not thinking about everybody, then you’re not thinking about anybody,” he says.
Today, the Top Chef winner and owner of Laurel, ITV, Lark, and the Landing Kitchen says bar programs in Philadelphia have changed for the better. Whether it’s due to sobriety, pregnancy, health concerns, and any number of personal reasons, more and more people are saying “no thanks” to booze. And many restaurants and bars have added non-alcoholic cocktails — also referred to as mocktails, N.A. (non-alcoholic) beverages, zero-proof drinks, and other cutesy monikers like “uncocktails” — to their menus.
“We’ve moved beyond 10 years ago when you’d walk into any bar and the only things they’d have are orange juice, pineapple juice, and cranberry juice on the [soda] gun,” says Resa Mueller, bartender at R&D in Fishtown and cocktail curator at the W hotel’s bar.
The cocktail wiz appreciates the challenge of creating good alcohol-free drinks. It’s hard to replicate the structure, nuance, and silky texture, that alcohol can lend to drinks, but she’s found a number of alternatives that work. For example, Mueller likes to use fresh juices, housemade syrups, small batch sodas, tannic teas, glycerin-based bitters, and coconut or oat milk in her N.A. drinks.
She’s also been incorporating non-alcoholic spirits — a new segment of the beverage market that’s grown explosively in recent years — into her drinks. “I really like Ritual,” she says. “They make a zero-proof spirit called Tequila Alternative that’s agave based, which is pretty cool, and [one called] Whiskey Alternative.”
Elmi looks for “creativity and balance” in the zero-proof drinks he serves in his restaurants and the ones he orders when out to dinner. “It’s pretty easy to challenge your bar team to come up with something fun, so that people who want to have an N.A. cocktail don’t feel out of place asking for it,” he says. “Whether you’re sober or taking a month off or a night off, it’s still nice to be able to have something creative and fun when out eating and drinking.”
Here’s where to find some of the region’s best alcohol-free drinks. Each place on this list features their spirit-free drinks right on the menu — so that you don’t have to ask for something special, it’s right there waiting for you.
Considered by many to be among the best cocktail bars in the city, R&D is part of the Suraya, Pizzeria Beddia, and Condesa family of restaurants. Mueller creates new zero-proof cocktails every few months. She says that tiki drinks lend themselves to being alcohol-free, thanks to their use of fresh juices and coconut. That’s why you’ll often find a virgin colada with fresh pineapple, coconut cream, and grated nutmeg on the R&D menu. Or a negroni-inspired drink that features non-alcoholic spirits from the South African brand Abstinence, and a honey grapefruit cordial, which adds “viscosity and brightness” to give it a real cocktail feel.
With a menu full of unusual dishes like lamb tongue, pig’s head, and pig’s blood cannoli, Ember & Ash couldn’t go with a standard “mocktail” or “zero-proof cocktail” menu. No, the newish East Passyunk restaurant named its alcohol-free drinks “Non-Booze Jawns.” Beverage manager Kristian Fidrych offers four drinks to pair with the kitchen’s wood-fired meat-centric offerings. There’s a watermelon spritz brightened with turmeric vinegar, a spicy take on a margarita, a berry-forward sipper, but the real draw here is the negroni — it’s made entirely from three house-made non-alcoholic spirits. The team creates the bitter flavors that we’ve come to expect from a traditional negroni with herbs, spices, botanicals, fruit peels, and burnt sugar.
People have been drinking shrubs since the 1600s, but you may not know much about these drinking vinegars. They combine fresh fruit or juice with sugar and vinegar to form a refreshing, pleasantly tart yet sweet drink that makes an excellent alcohol alternative. On Head House Square, Bloomsday goes all in on local and seasonal ingredients for its housemade shrubs by using fruit from Pennsylvania farms. The friendly spot makes two fizzy N.A. drinks using Three Springs fruit, one with a blueberry shrub, tea, and thyme, and one with a plum shrub and tea.
When San Francisco-based cocktail expert Rohini Moradi created the bar menu for Solstice in Newtown, she focused on a signature ingredient for the alcohol-free collection: aloe juice. Its texture and earthy notes work well as an alcohol replacement in Solstice’s “un-cocktails,” which borrow everything but the booze from a few of its cocktails — and come with photogenic garnishes like gold-tipped mint leaves and candied rosemary.
In West Philly, Renata’s mocktail menu is nearly as long as its cocktail list. Hand-squeezed lemonade is the base for a few of these refreshing drinks — bartenders then add colorful mix-ins, like wild blueberries, rosewater, and wild mint. If lemonade isn’t your drink-of-choice, the Mediterranean all-day cafe also offers a pomegranate molasses-infused soda and a grenadine and cream option.
In Ardmore, Lola’s Garden takes a page from its substantial cocktail menu to offer five mocktails. Bartenders at this new Main Line hotspot use grilled pineapple juice for an alcohol-free version of a popular tequila-based cocktail, with a hint of heat from fresno pepper extract. They also make a color-changing drink using butterfly pea flower and lime juice to add some wow factor to a zero-proof drink. Lola’s offers extensive outdoor seating and an al fresco bar, making it a comfortable space if you’re not ready for indoor dining yet.
The most family-friendly bar in town — you know, the one with the playground in it — doesn’t forget about four-legged friends. That’s right: Craft Hall offers a doggie mocktail menu. These “dogua frescas” involve fresh fruit and vegetables blended smooth with coconut water and served in your dog’s water dish. Don’t worry, the Delaware Avenue destination also offers four human-friendly mocktails that center around fresh fruit purees — and go for just $6.
Zahav has long been a destination for non-drinkers — thanks to its owner, Michael Solomonov, who has been sober for years. With its newest restaurant, his restaurant group has leaned into alcohol-free libations even more. Fans of zero-proof drinks praise Laser Wolf’s fruit-forward offerings, with passionfruit, salted beets, tamarind, and sour cherry dotting the menu. The Kensington restaurant has become one of the tougher tables to get, so book early or try to snag a seat at the bar.
Because chef Jen Carroll doesn’t drink alcohol, she made sure to incorporate N.A. drinks onto her Spice Finch bar menu. “We wanted the cocktails to be special and accessible to everyone whether or not you choose to indulge in alcohol… whatever your reason is,” she explains. Her Rittenhouse restaurant serves what might be the city’s only non-alcoholic shot. Feel the Fire Tonic is made with freshly juiced ginger, lemon, turmeric, and honey. Throw one back and chase it with an alcohol-free negroni or a carrot-based concoction called Pretty Gritty.
In Cherry Hill, bar pro Danny Childs is known for foraging for ingredients, fermenting in-house, and making much of the bar menu himself, including zero-proof drinks. Childs is particularly proud of his house-fermented sodas, which combine “citrus, sweet, bubbles.” In addition to those sodas and the house-made kombucha, mocktails here feature herbs from the restaurant’s garden and a vinegar-based shrub combination.
For more than three decades, White Dog Cafe has won fans for its local, farm-to-table cuisine. That ethos finds its way to the bar menu as well. The restaurant, which started in University City and now has outposts in Glen Mills, Haverford, and Wayne, leans seasonal for its mocktails. That could mean apple cider and caramelized sugar in the fall, and peach mojitos in the summer.
Always on the forefront of drinking culture and distilling, Old City’s Art in the Age is basing its alcohol-free drinks around one signature zero-proof spirit: The Pathfinder Hemp & Root. Art in the Age founder Steven Grasse co-founded this hemp-based and botanical-forward non-alcoholic spirit, which has notes of fir, sage, juniper, saffron, wormwood, and angelica root. Try it in the Art in the Age tasting room in a mocktail created by resident mixologist Lee Noble.