The mocktail gets its moment

A few highlights from Atlanta’s burgeoning zero-proof scene

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The mocktail gets its moment
The Zero Co. carries a wide variety of nonalcoholic spirits and mixers.

Photograph courtesy of the Zero Co.

When I first got sober a decade ago, there weren’t many alternatives to liquor, beer, or wine in restaurants and bars. If I went out on the town (yes, folks in recovery still make merry) the game plan was usually club soda or Red Bull: O’Doul’s was about the only nonalcoholic beer game in town, and—forgive me, Prince of Malt—it wasn’t very good.

In recent years, however, there’s been a flourishing of “zero-proof” craftsmanship. Companies like Ritual, Seedlip, or Lyres offer nonalcoholic versions of spirits like tequila, vodka, and bourbon. You can even find mixed zero-proof cocktails, like St. Agrestis’ puntastic, Campari-costumed “Phony Negroni.” Through the inventive alchemy of natural botanicals, these drinks mimic, with astonishing verisimilitude, the flavors and smells of booze—all without the booze.

Whether you’ve committed to a “Dry July” or plan to stay sober for the long haul, like me, this latest trend opens new avenues. With nonalcoholic offerings, you become a connoisseur, opting for drinks not just for their necessary absence of alcohol, but based on their taste and personality, be it zesty, bubbly, or bitter. The variation lets nondrinkers participate more fully in some social settings, all while staying safe.

Here are a few highlights from Atlanta’s burgeoning zero-proof scene, where you can explore this brave and inclusive new world. We looked for locales with two key ingredients: zero-proof options that won’t break the bank ($10 or less per drink), and a regular rotation of non-alcoholic menu offerings.

The mocktail gets its moment
The Zero Co.

Photograph courtesy of the Zero Co.

The Zero Co.
This neatly designed, high-end bottle shop stocks just about every kind of nonalcoholic wine and spirit you care to explore. Friendly staff members can offer thoughtful recommendations based on your taste preferences, and a sample station lets you try before you buy. Poncey-Highland

Vesper
Taken shaken or stirred, the mocktail menu at this slick James Bond-themed bar is the most robust we’ve ever seen. You can order zero-proof versions of just about any classic cocktail, including a Gimlet, Old-Fashioned, or the “Not So Stormy,” which mixes Ritual’s zero-proof rum with a swirl of lime juice and Fever-Tree ginger beer. Glenwood Park

Lyla Lila
Inside Lyla Lila

Photograph by Gabriella Valladares

Lyla Lila
Lyla Lila makes for a gorgeous date-night dinner, but their zero-proof drinks are also worth a sample. The lineup includes some snazzy craft club sodas: we like the “Onda,” with lemon, sage leaf, rhubarb, chinotto, juniper, and anise. Your taste buds will be tickling. Midtown

BoccaLupo
The zero-proof entryway here is for insiders only: ask the bartender or server for an off-menu option, and be delighted by the craft mocktail du jour. You might get sweet, you might get smokey, but chances are, you’ve never tasted anything quite like it. Inman Park

Distillery of Modern Art
It might sound counterintuitive to send nondrinkers to a distillery, but this local spirits-maker has a surprisingly decent roster of nonalcoholic options, made in-house, including horchata and a superlatively fresh sparkling lemonade. A small art gallery in the back gives this spot its name, another great reason to stop by. Chamblee

A version of this article appears in our May 2024 issue.

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