The ubiquity of the espresso martini can’t be understated. Especially within the last five years, the cocktail has become a staple on bar menus across Los Angeles and beyond. In Highland Park, a new restaurant is hoping that those who want the experience of the trending cocktail, sans alcohol, can still sip satisfied — rich, creamy and often sweet.
When all-day cafe Highly Likely debuted its Highland Park location in late 2023, the restaurant also launched its first cocktail program — a departure from the original West Adams location — and with it, a small but thoughtful collection of nonalcoholic drinks that both beverage director José Bejarano and bar manager Diana Danaila hope to grow over time.
“Building up the zero-proof category is super important to me; it’s something that’s very, very near and dear to my heart,” Bejarano said. “For the longest time, sober people would go out and order a drink and it would be either a combination of every juice that was behind the bar or a ginger beer.”
Adding depth to avoid the juice-forward pitfall of nonalcoholic drinks is key at Highly Likely. In addition to water conservation and other sustainability-minded measures employed throughout the full cocktail program, Danaila and Bejarano rely on a number of zero-proof spirits, such as Lyre’s, to add layers of flavor and familiarity to their no-ABV concoctions.
The NA-Spresso Martini leans on two Lyre’s products: the spiced Kahlua-like Coffee Origionale, and the brand’s take on a malt bourbon. Fresh orange peel brightens the drink with citrusy complexity, while a vigorous shake with plenty of ice — a necessary step for this particular recipe — lends a thick and fragrant foam, which also adds body to each sip.
But it isn’t simply about replicating the flavor of an espresso martini; both Danaila and Bejarano wanted to be sure that all of the restaurant’s nonalcoholic cocktails are presented almost identically to their boozy counterparts so that no customer feels excluded.
“If you’re at a table with five of your friends and you’re the only one not consuming alcohol, the aesthetics of it are the same,” Danaila said. “And on a flavor note, it’s going to be as smooth as it can possibly be.”
Using a vegetable peeler, peel a 1-inch wide, 3 inch long swath of zest from the orange. Combine the Lyre’s American Malt, Lyre’s Coffee Originale, espresso, simple syrup, salt and orange peel in a cocktail tin. Add 2 to 3 ice cubes, cover and shake vigorously for 20 seconds. Use a mesh tea strainer to strain into a coupe glass for best mouthfeel and appearance. Garnish with 3 espresso beans, and enjoy!
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