Where to find the best alcohol-free cocktails in the Twin Cities area
These 16 spots are serving delicious drinks, minus the alcohol.
Editor's note: This story first appeared in January 2022. We resurfaced it to support people participating in Dry January in 2023. If that's you, consider joining our Facebook community here.
Look beyond the dozens of whiskey bottles behind the bar at St. Paul's W.A. Frost and Co., and you'll see a surprising collection of nonalcoholic spirits.
While they're not technically spirits — the whole point is that they're spirit-free — you'll find all manners of essences, infusions, macerations and fermentations here and in bars across the Twin Cities, which are doubling down on creative ways to craft nonalcoholic beverages with as much care as any high-octane cocktail would merit.
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W.A. Frost launched a new drinks menu last year upon reopening after the COVID shutdown, and organized it into into full-proof, low-proof and no-proof cocktails to better appeal to increasingly diverse drinkers.
"This has been one of the crown jewels of the year for us," said executive chef and general manager Peter Drinan. "It's more inclusive for more people."
After a year or two of home bartending, drinkers have become "more educated, more discerning," Drinan said. If they're going out, they want every order to count. And for nondrinkers, that means a soda and lime isn't going to cut it anymore.
W.A. Frost bar manager Dan O'Dell has an impressive lineup of bottled nonalcoholic spirits that he combines into drinks that nod to well-known classics, yet becomes something new. A Light and Stormy, made with Rumish, a simulation of rum, tastes uncannily like the real thing. The No Name, which brings in flavors of wormwood, mesquite salt and sage, is inspired by a Manhattan, but is a sophisticated cocktail on its own — hangover excluded.
The challenge, for bartenders, is that cocktails traditionally were created to mask the harsh flavors of spirits. With zero-proof bartending, it's all about making those delicate flavors shine.
At the very least, said O'Dell, "these are better than just fruit juice in a glass."
Beyond bottled spirits, Twin Cities bars are exploring the ways fruit, vinegar, tea and more can be employed to create satisfying and exciting nonalcoholic elixirs. Here are some suggestions on where to drink when you're not drinking.
Acidic yet fruity, shrubs (or drinking vinegars) are an increasingly popular stand-in for cocktails. You will always find one on the menu at Sooki & Mimi (1432 W. 31st St., Mpls., sookiandmimi.com), where the team keeps the flavors rotating. At the American Swedish Institute, Fika Cafe's (2600 Park Av. S., Mpls., fikacafe.net) shrubs evoke the tropics. The cafe has just launched take-home shrub kits, too.
Pair it up
Travail Kitchen and Amusement's (4134 Hubbard Av. N., Robbinsdale, travailkitchen.com) elaborate tasting menus come with the option of adding a beverage package of wines, cocktails or an alcohol-free flight that includes creative mixed drinks and juices to complement each flavor-packed course. At the tasting-menu-only Demi (212 N. 2nd St., Mpls., demimpls.com), the Temperance Pairing offers an array of teas, infusions, juices and shrubs. All of Owamni's (420 S. 1st St., Mpls., owamni.com) cocktails are spirit-free, and a zero-proof cocktail pairing is available to accompany the restaurant's four-course winter prix fixe dinner.
Choose your own adventure
Enjoy the classics, with or without alcohol. The well-stocked bar at W.A. Frost and Co. (374 Selby Av., St. Paul, wafrost.com) has a vast variety of nonalcoholic spirit-like blends that emulate the more potent stuff, making for an easily navigable menu of no-proof, low-proof or full-proof cocktails. If you like the flavor profile of a Negroni, try one with a clear herbal beverage called Pentire, combined with Wilfred's bitter orange and rosemary aperitif. Inside the Walker Art Center, Cardamom (725 Vineland Place, Mpls., cardamommpls.com) has fermented brines and syrups to create complex drinks, like the fruity and floral Gazoz, that can be ordered dry or not.
The nonalcoholic drink menu at Khâluna (4000 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., khaluna.com) is longer than the regular cocktail list. The inventive drinks make use of spices, yogurt, sugar cane, roots and more. A trio of beverages — Cleanse, Awaken and Relax — steep some of those ingredients to deliver their medicinal properties in the form of refreshing iced teas. At Young Joni (165 13th Av. NE., Mpls., youngjoni.com), housemade kombucha brings together jasmine and assam with the pucker of quince. And zero-proof trailblazer Martina (4312 Upton Av. S., Mpls., martinarestaurant.com) amps up a masala chai with aromatic bitters.
More than lemonade
At Chip's Clubhouse (272 S, Snelling Av., St. Paul, visitchips.com), the nonalcoholic drink menu has five options, all with refreshing uses of citrus. The house lemonade comes with a twist: balsamic vinegar. Hola Arepa (3501 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., holaarepa.com) offers a lemonade of the day, in addition to the Uno (grapefruit, strawberry, lime, soda) or Dos (pineapple, cucumber, honey, cilantro, lime). Sister restaurant Hai Hai (2121 University Av. NE., Mpls., haihaimpls.com) also has a spirit-free menu, with similarly named concoctions (Mot, Hai and Ba mean 1, 2 and 3 in Vietnamese).
The N/A beverage menu at 6 Smith (294 Grove Lane E., Wayzata, 6smith.com) deploys housemade syrups that pack a fruit punch: blueberry and basil, strawberry, ginger and spice. The No-Jito keeps its simple syrup simple, however. Just the sweetness plus bright, tart lime, mint and soda make a spirit-free Mojito. At the Highland Grill (771 S. Cleveland Av., St. Paul, highlandgrill.com), an ample mocktail menu incorporates apple juice, grapefruit and even housemade berry jam. And Pau Hana (14435 Hwy. 13, Savage, pauhanamn.com) plays with the flavors of the tropics with a passion fruit/orange/guava highball or a no-octane piña colada.