What makes a bar, well, a bar? For Chris Marshall, founder and owner of booze-free Sans Bar in Austin, Texas, it’s more than just the drinks. For him and others, atmosphere, service and community play just as big a role as booze.
That’s not to say that zero-proof cocktails are an afterthought. At Sans Bar, the menu is peppered with complex concoctions, from the Longhorn cocktail, a zingy blend of mango, habanero and a lemon-cucumber-serrano NA spirit, to the herbaceous Sage and Sound, which features non-alcoholic (NA) gin, sage, aromatic bitters and tonic. These drinks and others like them have proven so popular that since the first Sans Bar opened in 2017, Marshall has added several other locations throughout Texas.
Additional NA watering holes have sprouted up since. According to Zero Proof Nation, an organization that highlights bars and bottle shops specializing in NA options, there are currently more than 50 NA-dedicated bars in the U.S., with that number steadily growing. What’s more, consumers spent $3.3 billion on no- and low-alcohol products in 2021 alone, according to Nielsen data. Zero-proof tasting rooms and pop-up events across the country are on the rise, too.
All of these things suggest that the popularity of NA products and spaces may extend well-beyond trends like Dry January or Sober October. The age of mainstream sobriety may very well be upon us.
But without alcohol, can these establishments credibly call themselves bars? Many of the beverage pros we interviewed certainly think so. Here’s how establishments and pop-up events around the country are creating top-notch bar experiences—minus the hangover.
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