Photo of Jac’s on Bond by William Jess Laird.
Forget staying in during dry January. As the ritual of going sober for January gains popularity — as do sober/sober-curious lifestyles — the options for non-alcoholic (N/A) cocktails, a.k.a mocktails, have boomed over the past few years. And now, more than ever, mocktails have been elevated so high that they bear no resemblance to the plain soda water and lime of yesteryear.
“In the past decade, primarily in the fine dining sphere of Michelin-starred restaurants, have all been vying to up the ante and give guests an authentic N/A experience,” Chris Clark, beverage director at Oiji Mi in Flatiron, said. “Only in the last three to five years have bars and even local neighborhood places have really been starting to get in the game as well…We treat our N/A program with the same attention to detail as our cocktails.”
This year, Michelin star-rated Le Jardinier has even gone so far as to plan an entire five-course dinner and non-alcoholic cocktail pairing. “Created by bartender and conservation biologist, Paul Matthew, Everleaf’s (the non-alcoholic spirits brand used) three expressions – Forest, Mountain, and Marine – are all anchored in different parts of the natural world, which act as both inspiration for flavor profiles and sources for key botanicals,” a press release states.
“Mocktails are certainly not new but they have definitely seen a rise in popularity over the past five years as people are leaning towards healthier choices,” Fiorella Vasquez, Le Jardinier’s assistant general manager, goes on to say. “It’s an exciting time in the space, as it’s important that we continue to push the boundaries and become even more inventive as we look at the complexity, flavor and enhancement of a meal all with one drink (with or without alcohol in it).”
Though one of the more involved celebrations of Dry January, Le Jardinier’s tasting menu is certainly not the only way to experience high-end mocktails in the city this January (and beyond). Below, check out a few places to get fancy with your mocktails in NYC.
610 Lexington Avenue
Fine French dining in a garden setting — but in the heart of Midtown is what you’ll get at Le Jardinier. Throughout January, guests can experience the Dry January pairing with the Seasonal Expression dinner tasting menu:
First course: A fish dish paired with “Ever Spritz” (Everleaf Mountain and Marine served in a spritz style with N/A champagne)
Second course: Cabbage lasagna paired with “Cucumber Leaf” (Everleaf Marine, vanilla syrup, cucumber juice, yuzu, and lemon).
Third course: Lobster dish paired with “Ever Fall” (Everleaf Forest, pear purée, chamomile syrup, lemon juice, and candied ginger).
Fourth course: Duck dish paired with “Lever” (Everleaf Mountain, raspberry puree, cherry, lemon).
Fifth course: Dessert paired with Neat Everleaf Forest served as a digestif.
“We have been utilizing the Everleaf product on our menu at Le Jardinier for quite some time, as its ethos and philosophy of using sustainably sourced botanicals very much aligns with ours at Le Jardinier,” said Vasquez.
“One of our mocktails using Everleaf quickly became the best-selling one on our list, as it surprised both drinkers and non-drinkers on how it replicated so closely the experience of a cocktail. We felt it important that we add an N/A pairing experience to our tasting menu, especially as so many people experiment with lowering their alcohol intake for the start of the New Year.”
Vasquez’s favorite mocktail is the “Ever Fall” with notes of saffron and vanilla mixed with pear puree, chamomile syrup, and fresh lime juice. “It’s served up and garnished with a candied ginger and can perfectly stand next to any classic cocktail in complexity and taste. It can be enjoyed at both LJ Bar and Bar Bastion.”
17 West 19th Street
High-end, contemporary Korean dining is on the menu at Michelin-star-rated Oiji Mi in Flatiron. And, mocktails are too. “For us at Oiji Mi, a zero-proof and low-alcoholic beverage program was a no-brainer. With a diverse set of guests, coupled with the younger generation’s trend towards more health-conscious and responsible drinking; we wanted to be able to give the same experience and fun factor to guests that may not choose to imbibe as those that do,” said Clark. “It’s also a great opportunity to showcase some of the fun produce and products we are using, giving a window into what the chefs generally get to utilize in the kitchen.”
Clark shares his personal favorite, the “Ecto-Cooler.”
“This is bottled soda that starts with the idea of a traditional Sujeonggwa tea, but blends the more playful concept of boba tea. The combination of sweet and spice, seen throughout much Korean cooking is used here with tapioca pearls scented with asian five spice, and a tepache made with dates and ginger. It’s also a dramatically visual drink, hence its name ‘Ecto-Cooler.’”
The N/A menu includes nine beverage options (though some have a very low alcohol content of under 1%). “Childish Cosmino” has pineapple tepache, Pentire seaward, cranberry and saline foam; “Jatchata” is made with pinenut, cinnamon, and vanilla.
26 Bond Street
Located on trendy Bond Street in the former home of The Smile, Jac’s On Bond is a chic contemporary cocktail bar and eatery located in a historic 1800s townhouse in Noho. The specialty mocktails on the menu lack all of the alcohol but none of the flair of their regular craft cocktails. “As time goes on there’s been a noticeable increase in people who are transitioning to a sober lifestyle or are sober-curious, so why not have offerings for those who still want to have layered drink?” Trevor Langer, head bartender, said.
“Brands continue to churn out superior non alcoholic spirit options as the market demands and it makes it much easier and more fun for someone in my position to create something that I feel is not compromising on flavor, texture, etc.”
For something botanical, the “No Tox” is made with elderflower tonic, celery, lemon, coriander, salt and the “Early Start” is like vacation in a glass with carrot, pineapple, lime, honey, soda.
“My favorite on the menu is our Mai-Dry, a combination of the delectable Ritual Run which has molasses, cinnamon, and banana notes, along with a house-made orgeat, fresh lime juice, orange flower water, and garnished with a bushel of mint,” said Langer. “It tastes just as good as any traditional Mai-Tai I’ve made in my day.”
310 West 4th Street
Under Executive Chef Santiago Astudillo whose resume includes the prestigious French restaurant Le Bernardin, The Wesley is a sustainable eatery focusing almost exclusively on vegan, gluten-free dishes. After reopening at the end of January following a revamp of its food and beverage program, the Wesley will be up and running for those who go beyond Dry January. “People have many reasons for not wanting to consume alcohol when they go out, which are both temporary and permanent. However, this doesn’t necessarily mitigate the desire for something refreshing to drink, so really, I think there has always been a need for mocktails made with integrity on a menu,” Dana Lachenmayer, head bartender, said.
“Starting in 2020, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, there was definitely a saturation of N/A products in the market that fueled the ‘mocktail renaissance’ we are still experiencing today.”
She highlights the “Shrub 310” made with a “champagne-inspired tomatillo-shiso shrub” and a lychee foam. Other mocktails on the menu are “Fruits & Roots” with apple, chicory, spiced buckwheat tea, and aquafaba, and “Hot House,” a simple and refreshing combo of cucumber, ginger, and lime.
30 Rockefeller Plaza
Rink level at the heart of 30 Rock, Smith & Mills offers up a quintessential NYC dining experience, including some newly-added mocktails: “Pineapple Grove” with Lyre’s London (0%), Giffard Aperitif, pineapple, lime and cinnamon and “Hello, Lovely” with white tea, white grapefruit, lemon and Soda.
“There’s been a great expansion in the availability of ‘non-alc’ spirits and mixers which are both sophisticated in flavor profile and branding. It’s easy to grab one of them and put them in place of a spirit in a classic, but often cocktails have more than one element that contains alcohol which makes it difficult to sub them out completely without wrecking the effect,” said beverage Director Rob Krueger. “‘The Pineapple Grove’ is an example of this kind of drink where, thanks to there being both a mock spirit and a faux aperitif available we can make this ‘Jungle Bird’ type cocktail really successful.”
Though the two menu items are great options, Smith & Mills is somewhat of a mocktail “hidden gem” as Krueger shares that the bar team has the freedom to get creative with its craft and whip up off-menu creations as well. “Often I’ve found it productive to be inspired by individual ingredients and just try to find ways to put them in a delicious context so that they can speak for themselves,” said Krueger.
“Having a bartender carefully choose ingredients and craft something for you that doesn’t come out of a plastic bottle or tube is clearly a more intentional form of consumption,” he added.
“I’ve taken some pride whenever guests double-check that I didn’t accidentally make them a drink with alcohol! If the drink is that well constructed and satisfying that they think I’m trying to fool them, we’ve had some success.”