Even in cocktail-crazy New Orleans, dry (or damp) January is a thing. For Minnesota transplant Nicole Draeger, taking a break from the party scene, especially leading up to Mardi Gras, is beyond necessary.
“New Year, new liver!?” said the project manager, whose go-to pub for socializing is the R Bar in the Marigny. She’s a big proponent of the Try Dry: The Dry January App, which offers financial insights (I saved HOW much this week by not drinking??) along with reminders of health benefits to reducing alcohol consumption.
“It’s also fun to plan what the first cocktail will be once the month is over,” she said. “First time I did it, it was a frozen Irish coffee from Molly’s on Decatur.” Draeger’s regular mocktail is soda water with lemon or bitters. “Totally don’t notice the lack of vodka, but people are definitely more annoying when you’re not drinking,” she said.
The annoyance factor aside, the incentives to cut out or reduce booze are huge. These include everything from losing weight and getting a better night’s sleep to brighter skin, more energy and reducing the long-term risk of serious illnesses such as cancer and liver and heart disease, according to Drinkaware, a U.K. site that promotes mindful consumption.
The thing is, whether planning a month on the wagon or an ongoing mindful approach to cocktailing, taste still matters. New Orleanians would rather skip a meal – or a beverage – then settle for boring. Thankfully, there are plenty of options.
Consumer interest in low- and no- alcohol products has been gaining pace over the past few years, especially as part of the larger health and wellness movement, according to research by IWSR Drinks Research Analysis. But these same consumers want the interest, excitement and textures of a quality cocktail, a simple mix of juice and soda don’t do. If a restaurant or bar can deliver a quality non-alcoholic drink, with the same good taste, flair, presentation and garnishes of a cocktail, it’s going to sell. Make it Instagram-worthy, even better.
Seedlip is one of the emerging brands in the distilled, zero-proof base liquid, on the market for six years and already an important player in the ever-growing no- and low-alcohol category. Launched in London back in 2015, the alcohol, sugar and calorie-free brand offers three flavor profiles, powered by citrus, botanicals and aromatics – think classy spirits, without the booze. The distinctive bottles are showing up all around town, from the Chandelier Bar at the Four Seasons to Davenport Lounge at the Ritz and smaller restaurants like Saba Uptown and MRB in the Quarter, which includes Seedlip martinis on its Martini Monday menu.
In her position as the Eat Fit Nola founder for Ochsner, registered dietician Molly Kimball extends her health expertise into the beverage arena. Kimball works with 550 Eat Fit restaurant partners throughout six regions of the state, some of whom also feature craft, zero-proof cocktails. In fact, that’s the title of a soon to be released book she wrote with Ethan Skaggs, bar manager at Gris-Gris. The idea dates back to 2016 when she started the annual Ochsner Alcohol Free for 40 program, corresponding with Lent and kicking off the day after Fat Tuesday. Using data drawn from a pre- and post- series of physical metrics, from measuring inflammatory markers and blood pressure to liver enzymes and skin and eye clarity, the benefits from the 40-ish days of sobriety come into clear focus. “One guy last year said it saved his marriage,” she said. Zero-proof craft cocktails in step with the Eat Fit Nola program are featured on some menus – including Gris-Gris,’ during the challenge period. One partner, Commander’s Palace, always features Eat Fit Craft Zero Proof options. “We want to highlight low-sugar ingredients, the idea isn’t to drink a high-calorie mocktail, but a satisfying and flavorful adult-style beverage.
From spiked seltzers and fruit-flavored beers to spirits producers like Seedlip, with its alcohol-free category, and William Grant & Sons’ launch of Atopia an ultra-low alcohol spirit at 0.5% ABV, bartenders have a lot to work with. Here are some local places, creative movers and (cocktail) shakers, that deliver a powerful flavor bang for the no/low alcohol buck.
Farm to bar and table is the deal at The Bower, a modern farm-fueled eatery tucked away in the Framework, a cluster of eateries and shops in the Lower Garden District on Magazine. The word bower conjures a leafy country lane, a welcoming respite from city life rich with greenery and ease. That’s exactly the vibe here, where Mickey Mullins’ cocktail program rivals any bar in town, with infused spirits making drinking your vegetables super fun, and low/no ABV drinks always an option. Try “The Four Horseman,” a Poblano pepper infused watermelon shrub bright with citrus notes and spiked with ginger beer. The “Mockly Eye Opener” – great for brunch – is a shake of tangerine, lemon and peach juices, brought to lofty heights with bits of fresh basil and lemongrass. “Mockly Love Bite” adds tonic into a mix of pomegranate, ginger, lemon and apple juice, with nibs of rosemary adding savory notes. The “Kin Spritz” pairs hibiscus syrup with citrus and soda water, a bubbly treat that’s festive enough for an occasion. When you’re hungry, talented chef Marcus Woodham turns out brilliant small plates, housemade charcuterie and pastas and lovingly simple treatment of seafood and heritage meats.
1320 Magazine St., 582-9738, TheBowerNola.com.
This newly rebranded brewery with a local history that dates back to 1907 is a haven for sessionable craft brews and light lagers on tap, including low ABV sips like Faubourg Blueberry Lager (4 percent) made with malted wheat and fermented with blueberry juice and the popular Hefferson Parish Wheat Beer (4.5 percent) a traditional brew using yeast from a Munich brewery. All the beers are great with the tasty food from Fete Au Fete on weekends, including munches like an oversized soft pretzel with mustard, boudin egg rolls and a generous cochon de lait sammie on a buttered bun. But there’s more. “Faubourg’s taproom offers exclusive house-made seltzer cocktails,” noted brewery VP of marketing Jason Daniel, flavors that include strawberry daiquiri, ginger mule, hurricane, peach Bellini and French 75. “The seltzer cocktails are super-popular especially during summer when our guests are enjoying free live music on weekends at our expansive outdoor 15-acre brew park in New Orleans East,” said Daniel. The Brewery deserves a medal for offering a fab and safe family-friendly setting and a program of live music that dates back to mid-pandemic. Now that’s a community service.
3501 Jourdan Rd., 867-4000, FaubourgBrewery.com.
Drink & Learn, New Orleans Magazine contributor
“There are so many more non-alcoholic options and drink replacements in a variety of categories including wine, sparkling wine and liqueurs,” noted Elizabeth Pearce, whose company Drink & Learn crafts interactive experiences that use famous drinks and ingredients to tell the rich history of New Orleans. “Also, the non-alcoholic beer category is really expanding. This means that bartenders have a lot more to play with which gives them flexibility in working with customers who want to cut out or reduce the booze in their drink.” When she’s looking for a low impact beverage, one of her favorite spots is Bar Tonique on North Rampart on the edge of the French Quarter. “They’ve been doing no- and low-alcohol drinks for years.”
Jewel of the South
Chris Hannah’s gem of a restaurant and cocktail bar on the edge of the Quarter never disappoints, and no wonder. Hannah earned a 2017 James Beard Award for best bar in America (he ran Arnaud’s French 75 at the time) and he’s only getting better. Besides a startlingly original full-proof drinks menu (the “Righteous Harlot” is a case in point, a combo of vodka with dragon fruit St. Germain, citrus and bubbles), he always features some low APV options. Along with carrying Mockly no alcohol cocktails that are premade right here in New Orleans, he’s mixing the sherry-based “Nutcracker Cobbler” and the “Feast of Avalon” built on the French aperitif Pineau des Charente. Come hungry, because chef Phil Whitmarsh’s cuisine is impossible to resist. Between his European culinary background and the Louisiana Cajun food world he married into, dishes like lump local crab salad with fried bread and radishes and Alaskan cod with white beans hit every flavor note.
1026 St. Louis St., 265-8816, JewelNola.com.
The retro Creole dishes on chef Eric Cook’s Saint John’s menu open a world of flavor, resonating with nostalgia for New Orleanians who have celebrated family milestones over platters of chicken Clemenceau and oyster patties. Dishes like chicken and shrimp maque choux, courtbouillon, and pork belly cassoulet all reveal the diversity of influences that created New Orleans cuisine, ranging from Sicilian and French to Spanish, African, German and Caribbean. Cook was laser-focused on the dishes he wanted to create with chef de cuisine Daren Porretto. At the bar, zero proof options include the Detox Punch, a fresh cucumber clarified punch with lime and rosemary. Then there’s the Floral Fizz, made with hibiscus and rosebud sweet tea topped with soda and mint. The Cider No. 98 is a house made apple pie shrub served hot toddy style. All that’s missing is the roaring fire.
1117 Decatur St., 581-8120, SaintJohnNola.com.
The Will & The Way
The Will & the Way is the latest from local hospitality company LeBlanc+Smith (Sylvain, Anna’s, Barrel Proof, The Chloe), taking the place of the former Longway Tavern in the French Quarter. With a strong team in place – general manager Bar Amar came over from Vessel, chef Josh Williams and bar director Thomas Linville sidestepped from The Chloe – TWTW is already a force to be reckoned with. Redone to lose a divisive wall and line of booths, the reimagined space is expansive and open. With room for nearly 70 inside (125 if it’s a standing party) and 40 outside, the idea is to welcome locals into a relaxing space where hanging out is welcome. The bar menu is a good one – the Saint Giles Rookery doesn’t need the gin to shine with its lineup of blackberry, cardamom, lemon and Gunpowder tea. Chef Williams – who LeBlanc says “cooks delicious food with his heart and soul,” has crafted an array of small plates rife with bold Asian flavors and twists on Spanish specialties.
719 Toulouse St., 354-1139, TheWillandTheWay.com.
Sherry is Caring
0.75oz Charred Citrus Cordial*
2oz Fino Sherry
4 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Add lime-charred citrus cordial, and fino sherry into a hurricane glass. Fill the glassware 3/4 with pebble ice, swizzle, top with more ice. Garnish top with Peychaud’s Bitters and top with a mint sprig bouquet.
*Charred Citrus Cordial
Using oranges and grapefruit (at The Will & The Way, we use ones that have been peeled to make sure we reduce our waste), slice the citrus in half, and sear on a grill until it has a nice char. Juice the charred citrus and add to a small saucepan. Add equal parts by volume of sugar and 1 tsp of vanilla extract to the saucepan. Whisk over low heat until the sugar dissolves and allow to cool before using. Add to the fridge to use at a later time.
Sipping cocktails on the newly expanded veranda and patio at Columns, the sounds of the rumbling streetcar in the background is one of the great pleasures along stately St. Charles Avenue. Under the new stewardships (since 2019) of Jayson Seidman, the old girl’s luster was brought back to its original sheen. Executive Chef Paul Terrebonne took a similar approach to the food menu, paying homage to old school New Orleans while introducing more veggies and fresh options into the mix. Bar manager Carlos Quinonez mixes up all kinds of mocktails, some based on the non-alcoholic Dhos “gin” made in the U.S. and coming in under 5 calories a serving. There’s also non-alcoholic beers on the menu.
3811 St. Charles Ave., 899-9308, TheColumns.com.
Zero-Proof Peppermint Hot Chocolate
4 cups milk
1/3 cup hot water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 dashes salt
5 oz El Guapo® Candy Cane Syrup
Melted chocolate, crushed candy canes and marshmallows, for garnish
Combine cocoa powder, sugar, salt and water in a saucepan. Stir with a whisk over medium heat until mixture begins to bubble. Bring to a boil and stir continuously for two minutes. Slowly pour in milk, reducing to a simmer. Simmer until hot, but not boiling. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract and Candy Cane Syrup. Dip mugs in melted chocolate and dredge rim with crushed candy canes. Allow to dry before ladling 1 cup of hot chocolate into each mug. Garnish with marshmallows and serve immediately. Makes 4-6 servings.
Source: Christa Cotton/El Guapo Bitters
Elysian Bar, from the team behind Bacchanal, offers a religious experience. And that not just because it’s housed in the converted church compound that is Hotel Peter and Paul in the Marigny. Although the menu is vast and inspired, the offering of low-alcohol spritzes, aperitivos and tonics is special. Named one of the best bars in America by Esquire for 2021, the space and setting is heavily influenced by European design that encourages long conversations over drinks that are sipped at a slow pace. The dozen Aperitivo’s on the menu are low in alcohol but pack a big flavor wallop. Served with a splash of soda and sparkling wine, the spritz incorporate the likes of Aperol – from Padua, Cocchi Americano from Asti and Lillet from Podensac in France. On the tonic side, vermouths with flavor notes from alpine flowers to thyme and chamomile are enhanced with a topper of Fevertree Mediterranean tonic. Work up your appetite in the bar or lovely courtyard, with its towering wall of stained-glass windows and then have your fill of chef Jonathan Klaskala’s Mediterranean and Asian inspired menu. Next date night? The Elysian Bar won’t disappoint.
2317 Burgundy St., 356-6769, TheElysianBar.com.
Low-proof drinking has always been really important to the team at Cure, even from the early days when the elegantly reimagined firehouse turned bar opened 13 years ago. Neal Bodenheimer partnered with longtime friend Matt Kohnke and fellow bartender Kirk Estopinal to open the James Beard Award-winning bar in 2009. Largely credited with sparking the city’s craft cocktail renaissance and absolutely an early adopter in turning Freret Street into a restaurant and bar destination, Cure saved a place on its menu for a low-proof seasonal shrub and champagne cocktail from the start. “We found that it is always one of our most successful drinks,” said Bodenheimer, who is also co-owner of Tales of the Cocktail, which features Beyond the Bar health and wellness programming and even offers AA meetings daily during the annual event. Cure’s menu is about to change for the season – look for the likes of Nobody’s Darling, a low-proof martini from Colin Bugbee, heading the low-ABV list.
4905 Freret St., 302-2357, CureNola.com
It’s been 7 years since Brennan’s, the storied restaurant that has anchored Creole dining on Royal Street since 1946, was treated to a stunning $20 million redo. The appeal is still going strong at this French Quarter gem owned by restaurateur Ralph Brennan and partner Terry Whit, with its menu of modern Creole dishes and the ever-popular bananas Foster flaming dessert. Having a drink at The Roost bar, with its tropical homage to ornithology, is always a special occasion, whether sipping the Bubbles at Brennan’s Happy Hour Thursday-Sunday starting at 5 p.m., sipping one of the house cocktails – there are three different Sazeracs along with seasonal specials – or a slightly healthier pour called the Brown Derby, not so much low ABV as lower in calories. Built on Redemption Rye, with fresh grapefruit juice ich in antioxidants and local honey instead of sugar gives this pour has a downright smug appeal.
417 Royal St., 525-9711, BrennansNewOrleans.com.
Chandelier Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans
“At Chandelier Bar, we’ve built a menu with something for everyone, no matter how you choose to imbibe,” said Hadi Ktiri, beverage manager for Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans. “Our zero-proof cocktails draw inspiration from the city, whether it’s our position as the northernmost port in the Caribbean for the ‘Nada Colada,’ or our sultry and spiced history for the ‘Storyland.’ As with all of our cocktails, these drinks have been well-considered from idea to glass using the highest quality ingredients.” The Storyland features Seedlip Spice 94, pomegranate, hibiscus and El Guapo Polynesian Kiss Bitters. The tropics rule the
Nada Colada, with its flavors of coconut, pineapple, lime and orange.
2 Canal St., 434-5100, FourSeasons.com.
Founder and CEO, El Guapo Bitters
“Not every night can be a wild night, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t have a nuanced adult beverage,” said Christa Cotton, whose creative line of 100% alcohol-free bitters help bartenders all over town build a better cocktail. Cotton, who is opening a bitters distillery in 2022 on Gravier Street, suggests reaching for high-quality products that deliver flavor without the proof, whether you’re a professional bartender or a home mixologist.
Having a drink at the tropically-themed bar at Mister Mao is a spirited blast anytime, thanks to the retro vibe and fun menu of drinks like Uncle Butthead and Man Hands. Categorized by Stripmall Cocktails and Virgins, there’s always a mocktail available as well as at least one 4 percent APV beer, most recently Zony Mash’s The Big Peel wheat. Try a hibiscus Masala limeade, a Coffee Science shrub and tonic and a tamarind soda – all flavors that hint at the restaurants non-conforming flavor palate. Mister Mao is a cool, funky restaurant serving fun dishes across global spectrums with a cocktail list to match. Chef owner Sophina Uong and her husband and partner William “Wildcat” Greenwell opened Mister Mao July 24 in the former Dick and Jenny’s Uptown on Tchoupitoulas with a menu that taps into all of their favorite foods, dishes reflecting the bold flavors and interesting textures from culinary traditions and cultures around the globe. The couple lived in the Bay Area for years and regularly mined restaurants inspired by other cultures. They love Thai flavors, hot spice, and riffs on Southern cuisine using locally sourced ingredients. They proudly call their food “inauthentic” which makes it all the more captivating.
4501 Tchoupitoulas St., 345-2056, MisterMaoNola.com.
James Beard award-winning chef Nina Compton opened her first restaurant Compère Lapin in the Old No. 77 Hotel in 2015, and the cocktails were the bomb from the jump. Compton, who was awarded Best Chef: South at the 2018 James Beard Awards, takes her menu inspiration from her Caribbean roots – she’s a native of St. Lucia. Add her classical French culinary training and deep experience with Italian cuisine into the mix, and Compère Lapin offers an array of delectable. Same goes for the bar, where there’s always a range of spirit free cocktails under its own category. Besides a rose lemonade, made with rose water citrus and club, there’s the Fox in the Garden, made with Seedlip Herbal, grapefruit, thyme and citrus.
535 Tchoupitoulas St., 599-2119, CompereLapin.com.