Mainstream mocktails in Winnipeg bars, food blogger suggests

Over the past couple weeks, I set out on a mission to find sober-friendly establishments in Winnipeg. While none listed craft mocktails on the menu, some outshone the others in terms of bartender creativity and openness to a sober guest.
All it took to order a well-crafted alcohol-free beverage at The Roost was a short conversation with the bartender. (Courtesy of Elsa Taylor/The Roost)

Now that temperatures are hovering in the mid-20s, walking down Corydon Avenue on a Friday evening is a sight for weary eyes. Street-facing patios bustle as glasses clink to cheers, ever reminding us that summer is synonymous with drinking alcohol. Those who wish to abstain or merely rein in their drinking habits are left with very few options on the menu.

Bartender creativity in the city is reaching an all-time high. Restaurants such as the Tallest Poppy and Blind Tiger pride themselves on their unique mixology creations, while several other lounges dedicated to imaginative cocktails have also appeared on the scene in the past year or two. Craft cocktails may be the hottest restaurant trend this summer.

If you're looking to reduce your drinking or maybe even take a page from the teetotaller's bible, drinking culture is difficult to navigate. Not only are craft cocktails high fashion, but an ever-popular choice for a social Winnipeg summer evening is to go out for a drink. After all, we only have a few short months before the parkas come out in full force, so why not enjoy the many patios while we can?

But does having a good time always need to go hand in hand with getting drunk? In my journey to reduce my own drinking, I've discovered sobriety has brought a high level of joy and attentiveness when socializing that drinking alcohol has not. Alcohol dulls memory and concentration, and it's hard to know whether you truly had a fun night out if you can't remember all of the fun details.

Sober-friendly hot spots

Over the past couple weeks, I set out on a mission to find sober-friendly establishments in Winnipeg. I visited The Tallest Poppy, Albert St. Cocktail Company, Sushi Ya, and The Roost hoping to scout out sober options in a couple Winnipeg neighbourhoods well-known for their cocktail hot spots.

While none of these places listed craft mocktails on the menu, some outshone the others in terms of bartender creativity and openness to a sober guest.

Both the Roost and Albert Street Cocktail Company welcomed this sober patron with open arms. While neither cocktail lounge listed mocktails on the menu, all it took to order a well-crafted alcohol-free beverage was a short conversation with the bartender about the flavours I was looking for.

Armed with a mere half-skeleton of a recipe, these bartenders produced delicious, Instagram-worthy mocktails hinging on multiple flavour profiles.

I imagine it would have been a lonely feeling sipping soda and lime while my friends were being blown away by beautiful glitter-dusted drinks served in crystal. To my surprise, my drinks were served in sparkling cocktail glasses, with garnishes to boot, just like everyone else's. I no longer felt like an outsider and was able to join in on the craft cocktail fun like everyone else at the bar. 

Money in mocktails, too

The talent and adventurousness to mix fancy non-alcoholic drinks is certainly here, but the ease of access lags behind. Non-alcoholic drinks may not be the best way to make money in the industry, but why not add a short mocktail menu, pricing the drinks higher than plain fountain soda?

Without considering the cost of ingredients, measuring out and mixing a multi-ingredient drink takes time, alcoholic or not. I don't expect to sit on a patio and spend little to no money, and I believe in paying for the effort that goes into creating complex food and drinks. It is a treat, after all.

I'm not arguing that business plans shouldn't centre around cocktails. I'm merely suggesting that in an effort to expand their customer base, cocktail lounges keep a small mocktail menu on reserve, producing it at a sober patron's request. Price it for the time and effort it takes to make the drink, and take care to garnish, as you'll likely notice a smartphone photo session in progress out of the corner of your eye.

Restaurants that offer a small mocktail menu can help promote safer drinking habits while curbing summer dehydration and allowing sober guests a treat to look forward to at the end of a long work week -- without the hangover.

Katy MacKinnon is a Winnipeg writer, photographer and food blogger at My Dish is Bomb.