No offense to alcohol—I like it quite well, on occasion—but there are many reasons why people might not drink it. No one should have to explain why they don’t partake, and no one should enjoy an evening out any less because of it.
Unfortunately, many (well, most) bars and restaurants limit their non-alcoholic beverage options to the usual tired pop, juice, and water. Iced tea and lemonade are the “exciting” choices at most pubs and chain restaurants.
So what are some places in Ottawa that do put some thought and care into selecting and offering non-alcoholic options? I came up with six places, but I’m sure there are more. I hope people will recommend their favourites in the comments.
33 Nicholas St.
Since its opening, this laid-back gastropub in the downtown Novotel Ottawa has featured a short but creative list of “driving cocktails,” which is probably my favourite moniker for no-booze-here drinks.
One of them always features a house-made shrub, or drinking vinegar (much tastier than it sounds, it’s made by macerating fresh fruit and sugar with vinegar) mixed with something fizzy. The other is generally juice-based. You can also get their spectacular Caesar without the vodka (but with the tasty garnishes).
1087 Wellington St. W.
This diminutive tapas bar in Hintonburg offers the most unique non-alcoholic cocktail options I could find, using Seedlip, a relatively new “non-alcoholic distillate” intended to provide a sophisticated alternative for non-drinkers. It comes in three flavours, all made with herbs, spices, fruit, vegetables, and no sugar or sweeteners.
Bar Laurel’s mixologists make a couple of truly sophisticated cocktails using two varieties of Seedlip: Spice 94 (allspice, oak leaf, and cardamom) and Garden 108 (peas, spearmint, rosemary, thyme, and lemon hops), mixing them with upscale tonic waters and citrus. If you’re in the mood to try something new and different, this is the place. (The delicious tapas don’t hurt, either.)
975 Bank St.
This gigantic temple to craft beer at Lansdowne kindly takes into account the people who accompany the beer-obsessed but who might be less interested in hops and barley. They have a zillion taps, of course, so they devote one or two of them to kombucha, a fermented tea drink that’s full of probiotics. It does contain trace amounts of alcohol, so if you’re truly allergic or intolerant, try the nicely tart house-made lemonade (better than the average) or ask for one of their fun cocktails to be virginized.
7 Springfield Rd.
Fraser Café, a small but mighty resto in New Edinburgh, devotes a section of its seasonal, ever-changing menu to house-made non-alcoholic cocktails (bless them for not saying “mocktail”), including a really stellar sparkling lemonade and a couple of other options made with fancy Fentimans sodas and fresh juices or shrubs.
915 Bank St.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a similar section on the drinks menu at The Rowan, a Glebe gastropub operated by the same folks as Fraser Café. They make a killer citrus mojito (without rum) and a nifty Earl Grey iced tea as well as some other fun options.
315 Somerset St. W.
Look closely at the cocktails menu at Union Local 613 in Centretown and you’ll see a section marked “Prohibition.” That’s where you’ll find the non-intoxicating options, which include several house-made sodas (from the standard cola and root beer to a tamarind-jalapeno variety that’s a must-try), plus several non-fizzy drinks such as a spiced hibiscus infusion and a raspberry lemonade. Bonus for vegetarians and vegans: Union’s newly-opened second-floor spot, Jabberwocky, offers tasty meat-free snacks.