7 exceptional places to try nonalcoholic cocktails in Los Angeles
After the holidays, like many, we get burned out on the rich comfort foods and sugary drinks that define the season: Come January, a break feels not just necessary but like a welcome refresh.
For anyone who is abstaining from wine, beer or spirits, for any reason, the reset is all the better amid a new era of nonalcoholic cocktails.
We might gravitate to alcohol as a social lubricant and for its ability to play off the flavors on our plates, telling the stories of multigenerational winemakers, expert distillers or maestros of agave. But as the demand for no- and low-alcohol options grows — the industry surpassed $11 billion in market value in 2022, up from $9 billion in 2018 — brands are determined to deliver an equitable experience with dealcoholized wine and booze-free beer, nonalcoholic spirit replacements and ready-to-drink beverages that tout nootropics, or cognitive enhancers, to help you feel good without risking a hangover.
As demand for nonalcoholic options grow, Los Angeles restaurants and bars show there’s no limit to the creativity behind booze-free cocktails, crafting thoughtful recipes that take inspiration from our seasonal bounty.
It’s a new frontier for mixologists and chefs who are taking a chemist’s approach to building out their nonalcoholic beverage programs, replacing the unique mouthfeel of alcohol with ingredients like aloe juice or sparkling hops.
Geared toward New Year resolutions, challenges like Dry January, which involves quitting alcohol for the month, and Veganuary, when participants cut out meat, arose as ways for people to rethink their eating and drinking habits following seasonal indulgence and, in some cases, make significant lifestyle shifts. Whatever your motivation may be for tempering your alcohol intake, you’ll find a handful of local bars and restaurants that are creating their zero-proof beverage menus with intention and care, sourcing alcohol-free wines for dialed-in pairings and crafting mocktails with layered flavor profiles.
Some of the city’s most exciting NA programs involve a 10-course pairing with an omakase-style dinner; a modern Chinese tea house that gets creative after dark; and L.A.’s first alcohol-free lounge, which debuted on New Year’s Eve. Here are seven of the best spots to sample the NA trend right now. — Danielle Dorsey
The menu changes every three months, or every equinox or solstice. On the winter menu, the Un-Gin is a spirit-free take on a gimlet with fresh lime juice and aloe juice, but the addition of a house-made pine syrup nails the complex botanical taste of gin. Other new additions include Un-Vodka 2.2, which uses tart kumquat syrup, mint, lime and saffron for a pleasingly acidic drink, and the Un-Tiki, which leans more warm spice than tropical, with a house-made horchata mix topped with a cinnamon espresso foam.
The Un-Tequila 1 is the only unchanging drink on the NA cocktail list. It starts with a hibiscus tea brewed with sage and a hint of jalapeño, house-made grenadine and lime juice, and is finished with sage and dried hibiscus that gives you everything you would expect from a good hibiscus margarita, except the headache.
Stay Zero Proof
While all three NA options were delicious, the Garden Variety felt the most like a cocktail replacement. I’ll admit I was skeptical when I saw the ingredient list: cucumber, mint, lime and serrano peppers, sure, but garlic and pickled onion? The aroma of cooked, almost buttery garlic wafted over the table, seeming to underline my concerns. But somehow it all worked, with the alliums adding a slight minerality and bitterness to replicate the missing booze. The other NA options, a strawberry and pistachio concoction aptly titled Pistachiberry, and Asparagurt with juiced asparagus and fennel bulb, Greek yogurt and lime, were good, if a bit reminiscent of fresh-pressed juice. It’s also worth noting that the mocktails here are appropriately priced at $8 apiece. Aside from creative and classic cocktails, the menu from chef Laurent Quenioux fits the setting with French-inspired bites like black mussels and frites, escargots, smoked duck wings and ratatouille.
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