If you're reading this with the memory of a New Year's hangover still fresh in your mind, you just might be considering a "Dry January."

Many people make the commitment, for a month, to dry out, so to speak. To leave the liquor behind in the previous year and start anew, alcohol-free. This year, Marvel Bar, the Minneapolis cocktail spot below Bachelor Farmer, is also taking a break from booze.

It's kicking off 2020 (after a winter break, beginning January 8), with an "exploration" into drinking without drinking.

(To be clear, alcoholic drinks will still be available. Just not the star of the show.)

Eric Dayton, Marvel Bar's co-owner, quit drinking three years ago. Marvel Bar's general manager, Peder Schweigert, doesn't drink either. Both have noticed a surge of more sophisticated non-alcoholic beverage options in recent years, a trend fueled in part by millennials' health consciousness. For those who aren't drinking, or just taking a break, the days of having to settle for a cranberry and soda are over.

"You can be a grownup and not drink," said Dayton, 39. "People our age aren't going to go out and have a Shirley Temple."

In 2019, Marvel Bar began a series of deep-dives into certain spirits and topics. It spent months focused on whiskey, then gin, foraging, and finally brandy. So when they got to thinking about an exploration for January 2020, they came upon "Dry."

Schweigert is crafting more than 'mocktails.' One drink, the Monarch, uses a syrup made from milkweed flowers foraged over the summer. Mixed with rice vinegar, it tastes like an "adult watermelon Jolly Rancher," he said. The milkweed shrub is "floral, funky and interesting."

Another drink he's still tweaking will combine cherry juice and mushroom tea to replicate the "tannins and nuance of an Old World French red." He's also experimenting with juices made from wine grapes that haven't been fermented.
Hot drinks and refreshing highballs will be easiest to create. Harder are the elixirs that "scratch the itch of somebody who drinks Old Fashioneds," Schweigert said. All of the drinks, he assures, will pair perfectly with the bar's only food option, Cheetos.

The program will run through April.

The exploration series is meant to be immersive. In addition to the special menu, Dayton is thinking about minimizing the bar-ness of the bar itself. That means making the alcohol in stock "less present, so someone who doesn't drink feels more comfortable," he said. "Being surrounded by bottles of alcohol can be a difficult experience."

There will also be an educational component to the series over the next four months, with discussions or classes on what to drink, for people who want to drink less, or not at all.

"When I stopped drinking, it meant so much to me when a bar had something thoughtful, not a mocktail, not a lesser version of what I was having before," Dayton said.

It turns out, the audience for those thoughtful drinks is large and varied, whether bar-goers are abstaining because of pregnancy, overall health, for weight loss, or because of addiction.

"Each person has their reason for doing it," Dayton said, "and we want to make them feel welcomed."

Marvel Bar
50 2nd Av. S., Mpls., 612-206-3929, marvelbar.com