Sobriety is currently having a moment in America, as plenty of folks have decided they no longer need (or want) booze to drive their social life. A recent Forbes article cited a distilled spirits survey where 83 percent of Los Angeles bartenders confirmed that zero- alcohol drinks were a legit trend. 83!
As a person fairly new to recovery, I took some time during the first part of the year to travel the country and explore some of these hot spots. I was skeptical, but I enjoyed them much more than I anticipated. My favorites are listed below.
Yippee Dry Yay – Houston, Texas
Started by former rodeo clown Gil Fench, this country-and-western-themed hangout is perfect for those guys or gals who love line-dancing, but hate it when beer gets spilled on their boots. Gil’s project began after a bronco kicked him in the spine in 2010. “That horse saved my life,” he said “I hung up clown clothes, burned my barrel and traded it in for a four year lease for this place.” Gil’s original plan was to build an exotic pet store with a liquor license, but a trip to the doctor revealed he had acute pancreatitis so that dream died. Fench survived, though, and a year later he suckered the owner of Woody and Sons’ Big Tire to sell his locale, just as his new life of teetotaling and a commitment to better health began. Fench says he is in this for the long haul, even if mocktail bars are just a fad: “I actually love the taste of all this fruity stuff and so do my insides–my stool isn’t black anymore!”
Specialty mocktail: The Rusty Spur
- Pear juice
- Shaved cloves
- Four dashes of white vinegar
Top with a splash of Sprite and a horseshoe-shaped pepperoni garnish. Serve in a frozen mug.
Ocean’s 12 and 12 – Sea Isle City, N.J.
Owner/operator Jimmy McHumfrey was born in Northeast Philly, but he’s spent every summer he can remember down the Jersey Shore with his family. By age 19, he was a bartender at some of the most notorious dives, which didn’t help his burgeoning alcoholism. That lifestyle resulted in multiple DUI arrests, including one while operating a horse and buggy stolen from a wedding ceremony in Cape May. Now ten years sober, McHumfrey has transformed himself and hopes to do the same to the bar scene he once terrorized. Ocean’s 12 and 12 is his booze-free hangout for the shore crowd seeking an alternative to smoky, pukey bars up and down Landis Avenue. He’s even replaced all the barstools with meditation cushions. “Not everybody needs to party like a cretin,” he says, while feeding a couple of nosy seagulls some pomegranate seeds. “I guess I grew up.” McHumfrey says he’s become a fitness maniac—he’s run four triathlons this week alone. “I used to come down here in the ’90s to try to run the Tim Kerr 5k. I’d slam four Yuenglings and never finish.” He plans to open Ocean’s 13th Step in Margate next year.
Specialty Mocktail: The Bloody Cherry
- Old Bay Seasoning
- Leftover pomegranate seeds the seagulls wouldn’t eat
- A splash of Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak.
Serve over ice, garnish with a crab leg you found on the beach.
Zen Vessel – Cuyahoga River
I’m happy to report that a 45-foot casino ferry with a hologram of former Major League catcher Mike Napoli dancing on the hull actually exists. I’m also happy to report that there is not one drop of alcohol onsite. Owners William and Shiloh Wezenka partnered with Napoli during the 2016 season when his folk-hero status was at its peak with the Tribe’s World Series run. Napoli signed his name and likeness over to Wezenka, a prominent business owner in Shaker Heights who made a fortune franchising environmentally safe dry cleaning products, but he misunderstood the business plan: “I thought he was gonna open a big tavern. Ya know, the whole ‘Party At Napoli’s’ thing. But he got all weird.” Despite his confusion and open contempt, Nap stuck to the deal, even though he feels a little hypocritical because he still “gets after it” every now and again. “I’m definitely not a lame-o that’s for sure,” he said. Napoli also added that he thinks the non-alcoholic bar trend is “stupid and pointless.” Plus, he’s afraid of the water. “I’m gonna need like six drinks to step into a hot tub.” There are four massive hot tubs on the ZV, actually, each retrofitted with its own floating tea bar and backgammon boards. When I asked him about the hologram, Napoli screamed for eight seconds then hung up the phone.
Specialty Mocktail: The Velvet Puss:
- Italian crabapple nectar
- Sparkling coconut water
- Candied peach fuzz
- Chocolate coffee essence
Garnish with a dove’s feather.
ZERO DARK FLIRTY – San Diego, California
Zero is the alcohol percentage of the drinks, Dark because it’s dark in here, and Flirty…well… Nestled off I-125 near Chula Vista, Zero Dark Flirty is definitely not the spot for an uptight mocktail crowd. However once you’re able to navigate the darkness and the random strangers groping you, it delivers one of the more eclectic experiences and delicious menus in the country.
ZDF owner Sebastian Von Veensungfloop was a world-renowned rock climber before he snapped an ankle in 2006 trying to scale an aircraft carrier. Being off his feet for a few months allowed him the “conceptual space to create a non-alcoholic escape for adventurous people.” He even ordered special lightbulbs that replicate the lighting conditions inside a cave he explored once in Belize. Staying on brand, he tells me this fact while he strokes my arm and asks if I’d like to take a jet-ski ride later.
Specialty Mocktail: Old Floozy
- Fresh-pressed cantaloupe juice
- Sardine oil
- Lemon zest
- Compressed air
- Corn compost
- Three ounces of eggnog.
Mix cantaloupe juice, sardine oil and lemon zest in a brandy snifter. Throw lemon out the window after zest. Slowly add corn compost as you hold the eggnog in your mouth, then place your mouth over the rim of the glass and aim the compressed air canister at the back of your throat, allowing jets of compressed air to circulate through your oral cavity, carrying the eggnog into the snifter. Serve immediately.