We don’t go out for alcohol alone – there’s music and atmosphere to consider, plus elegant service and bar snacks. When you’re meeting with pals without a trip to booze town, these ace Sydney bars are serving up something special in the name of temperance.
This wine bar and restaurant is famous for their inclusive attitude. Don’t eat meat? No worries. There’s a menu just for you. Vegan? There’s one for you too. Not into spiking your juice with gin? You’re in good hands here, because they show the same care and attention to their non-alcoholic offerings as they do their impressive wine and cocktail list. The Aloha is a holiday in a glass, but not a trashy holiday, one of the fancy ones with an infinity pool. They take fresh pineapple juice, add aloe vera and pandan and give it a fragrant, herbal lift with the addition of some Thai basil.
When a cocktail is as delicious as a Negroni it’s hard not to order one. And the Virgin Negroni at Bloodwood gets pretty damn close to that perfectly balanced bitterness. They use a housemade chinotto syrup made with orange and lemon peel, non-alcoholic red and white wine, star anise and cinnamon, and then lengthen it with soda and serve it over ice.
These guys might be known for shaking up some of the best drinks in the business, but with the fairly solid contingent of Inner West parents and early risers keen to go out but not feel it the next day they’re also offering two non-alcoholic cocktails. The Sorta Southside gets two thumbs up and is not far off the original. They make it with apple juice, lime, fresh mint and a lug of falernum to rich up the mix and bring all those sweet and acidic fruit flavours into balance.
This Redfern art bar might be our favourite spot to drink rosé until 11pm, but they are also sympathetic to the non-drinkers among us. They do two fancy mixes for thirsty abstainers. There’s the Thyme After Thyme made with tea spiked with cinnamon and thyme and topped with lime and soda. Or for a winter warmer get the Not Toddy – a spice mix made with ginger, cloves and star anise with lemon and honey served hot in an enamel mug. If you have a cold this will fix you right up. If you don’t it might just fend one off.
New Zealand Red kiwifruit are less hairy than your standard green variety, with a crimson ring around the seeds and a gentler flavour. At this charming sandstone cottage bar they mix up the fruit with lemon juice, a little lime, mint and sugar syrup and the swirling pink drink that results is beautifully balanced. Not too acidic, not overly sweet, but unmistakably tropical.
There are three fruity mocktails on the menu at Sokyo Lounge for when you want a serve of their showstopping
beef robata or some high end sushi, but happen to be off the sauce. The Hibiscus reminds us of Turkish confectionery thanks to the floral sweetness in the hibiscus tea, with a good acid backbone from the lime juice, refreshing length from the apple juice and a herbal high
note from the fresh mint.
Under the heading ‘Designated Drivers’, there are two offerings at the Old Clare Hotel bar. There’s a mix of apple, mint and agave if you want something fresh and clean, but to help keep those winter colds at bay we like the sweet and gently spiced option called the Orange You Glad I Am Driving that riches up fresh orange juice with almond syrup and a little ginger ale.
If you’re after that high-class, Mad Men vibe without the hangover, pull up a seat at Black by Ezard and order one of their alcohol-free concoctions. The sheer power of bittersweet citrus in the pink grapefruit number more than does it for lovers of sour. They mix freshly squeezed juice with elderflower, lemon and lime juice and bitters for a drink that takes no prisoners. No scurvy here.
Rockpool had a permanent section on their drinks menu dedicated to non-alcoholic drinks long before clean living was popular. For something you won’t get anywhere else try the sustainable sherbet iced tea. On our visit it’s made with mandarin, and it’s like a liquid confection – super sweet but punched up with a mighty dose of acid from the citrus to keep everything in check.
OK, this one isn’t a cocktail, but it should be no surprise that a cocktail bar that contains its very own soda operation is going to be kicking goals on the non-alcoholic drinks front in addition to packing some serious heat behind the shakers. There’s a wattle cola and a blackstrap ginger number, but we like to replace booze with the flavour haymaker in the smoked lemonade. It’s resinous, sweet and pungent and best when sipped, not skulled, so you can sit on it a while.
The best booze-free fun in Sydney
Whatever your reason for abstaining, it can feel like a daunting task to head out after dark in search of booze-free fun while catching up with mates. And it can be done. The key is to choose things where a drink is the second sell and the good times don’t depend on it. From comedy and karaoke to bowling and live music – here’s our list of after-hours adventures that are just as much fun sober as with a drink to accompany it.