If you’re participating in Dry January — or if you’re not drinking alcohol, for any reason — you might have noticed that bars are paying more attention to their nonalcoholic drink menus these days. While I’ve visited bars where the booze-free choices amounted to soda water and lime or an insipid non-alcoholic beer, I’ve seen more places that are going out of their way to offer creative and delicious alcohol-free cocktails. Here are four of the best (so far).
All-Purpose Capitol Riverfront: All-Purpose beverage director Kyle Smith wasn’t sure the pizzeria near Nationals Park needed to offer a “Dry January mocktails” menu this month. “I didn’t expect much to come of it,” he says. He was wrong: Almost two weeks in, there are nights when the bar serves almost as many nonalcoholic cocktails as regular cocktails. The mocktails are as attractive and flavorful as anything else on the menu: Ace Punch is a tropical carrot-and-orange punch, with extra apple and lemon for contrast, while the base of the Smash Jr. (pictured above, center) finds pear muddled with nutmeg and baking spices for wonderful, rounded seasonal flavors. To go with the restaurant’s Italian cuisine, Smith made a cordial from the syrup that Luxardo cherries are preserved in — “I told the staff it’s the fanciest grenadine you can find” — and mixed it with ginger beer and lime for a fruity sparkling soda. Because of the response, Smith says, he’ll keep nonalcoholic drinks on the menu going forward. “It’s a wonderful way to be inclusive,” he says. “You can give [a mocktail] to people under 21, you can give it to pregnant women, you can give it to people who just aren’t drinking for whatever reason.” 79 Potomac Ave. SE. Cocktails $6.
Hazel: Chef Robert Curtis took over Hazel’s kitchen last month, and now the Shaw restaurant is making changes to its cocktail list, too. A new nonalcoholic section of the drink menu mirrors some of the Turkish and Mediterranean flavors found in the food. The Lemonana uses sumac and lemon oleo — the essential oils removed from lemon peels — to create a tart and refreshing lemonade. Cinnamon and sesame combine with rich, creamy sahlab in the spicy Lebanese Horchata. But the showstopper — the drink that even people drinking martinis will lean over and ask about — is the Spice Trail Tonic, a relatively simple combination of fresh pomegranate juice and a housemade blood orange tonic (pictured above, left). Sharp and sweet citrus notes are balanced, and the presentation, with a blood orange slice amid the vibrant red liquid, makes it feel more like a cocktail instead of just another glass of juice and tonic. 808 V St. NW. Cocktails $6; horchata $8.
Hank’s on the Hill: The Capitol Hill branch of Jamie Leeds’s oyster-centric chain is one of the most welcoming bars in town for anyone avoiding the hard stuff: On a recent visit, eight of the 13 cocktails on the menu could be prepared without alcohol. The tropical What Do You Guys Put in Your Tiki Mugs Version 4.0 (above, right) ditches the Cotton and Reed rum but keeps everything else: pineapple juice, citrus, black walnut bitters and a house cinnamon-and-marjoram honey, which is rich enough to give the body of the drink some heft while adding some beguiling spice. It’s also served in an appropriate tiki mug, which lets non-drinkers feel like part of the party. Glassware is a strong suit here: The It’s Like Crossing the Bear-ing Strait is served in an animal Mason jar that’s just begging to be shared online. The fizzing spiced-apple soda, prepared with a dash of vanilla bitters and fresh lemon juice and topped with a cinnamon-sprinkled dehydrated slice of fruit, tastes as good as it looks. 633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. Cocktails $8.
The Dabney Cellar: Sit at the bar at the Michelin-starred Dabney in Blagden Alley, and you’ll find several alcohol-free drinks on the menu, from cocktails to sodas. Sadly, that’s not the case at the Dabney Cellar, the cozy wine-and-charcuterie basement bar on Ninth Street. But don’t worry: The bartenders are willing to experiment and make alcohol-free drinks on request. One creation used a sorghum vinegar switchel — the base of the bar’s gin-based High Ball cocktail — with lemon and ginger beer for a tart and bracing sipper. Perfect fall flavors came from a combination of organic apple cider, a honey infused with nutmeg and baking spices, and a splash of soda water for fizz. 1222 Ninth St. NW. Cocktails $5.