Boston is a drinking city. We wear it proudly on our sleeves. We turned a historical holiday into what is probably the best drinking day of the year, anywhere in the country. Hell, our most famous contribution to pop culture is based on a bar. So you can imagine how tough it can be for someone who doesn’t drink to truly experience Boston’s ever-growing food and drink scene.
There can be a lot of reasons people don’t drink – don’t like the taste, pregnant, newly sober, religious, or simply aren’t interested. But choosing not to drink doesn’t mean someone should have to miss out on all Boston has to offer when it comes to restaurants, bars, and even cocktail lounges. Below are five ideas for great places you can go to and still enjoy without drinking. This is by no means an exhaustive live of every non-alcoholic option in town, but I hope it provides you with some fun ideas so your friend/colleague/spouse doesn’t feel left out the next time you hit the town.
City Tap House
10 Boston Wharf Rd, Fort Point
City Tap, a welcome addition to the Seaport that opened to the public in January, brought its “Ale and Lager Paradise” concept to a neighborhood that, in my opinion, sorely needed it. If you have already made it there, you were hopefully impressed by the selection of approximately 60 drafts and 40 bottles – I know I was.
But If you’re not drinking right now, don’t be intimidated by bCity Tap’s long beer list. Hidden in the bottle section is Paulaner Weizen Radler, the only non-alcoholic selection on the list. Checking in (like most low-alcohol beers) at 0.5% ABV, the venerable German brewery’s Weizen Radler is a shockingly tasty entry in the field that could hang with some of the low-end shandies you will see at cookouts and on rooftops in the summer. It’s not nearly as watery as you would expect for a non-alcoholic beer, and it has definite hints of lime, orange, and lemon. It’s the best non-alcoholic beer I have ever tried.
When to visit:
Before and after visiting the ICA
Before dinner at Row 34
Before visiting Harpoon (it wouldn’t kill you to make an extra stop if your companion isn’t drinking and is willing to watch you drink Leviathan IPA’s for two hours)
While Clarke’s was a weekly stop for me in my mid and late 20’s, I’m fine admitting that I aged out of this place a long time ago. So it was to my great surprise that my quest to find non-alcoholic options led me to this Quincy Market mecca of after-work bro bonding. I wound up there in January for a friend’s birthday party that happened to fall on the night of the Patriots-Texans Divisional Playoff game. After the Patriots recovered from a slow start and I had polished off my 10th buffalo wing, I asked a bartender if they had any non-alcoholic options, expecting to be laughed out the joint.
To my wonder and amazement, the bartender proudly replied that they carried Kaliber, and the surprises didn’t end there. Kaliber is brewed by, of all companies, Guinness Brewery (even if it’s not exactly splashed all over their homepage). Yes, you heard that right: Guinness brews a non-alcoholic beer, a strong comment on the need for a product in the space. Kaliber also checks in at 0.5% ABV and likely tastes better than most non-alcoholic beers because they go through the entire brewing process before removing the alcohol. Kaliber presents a nice golden color in a pint glass and has a sweet after-taste. Most importantly, it tastes like an actual beer, though you might have trouble downing more than two or three.
When to visit:
Saturday night when the line is too long at Coogan’s
In your 20’s
528 Commonwealth Ave., Kenmore Square
If a friend from New York asks for one dinner recommendation during a short visit, I send them to Eastern Standard. If a friend wants to catch up for drinks, I suggest Eastern Standard. If a friend doesn’t know where to meet before a Red Sox game, I tell them Eastern Standard. For more than a decade, this place has been my rock in Boston. The food is fantastic, the cocktails are top notch, and their service and knowledge is without peer.
So it came as no surprise to me that Eastern Standard’s bartenders are more than ready if someone asks for a non-alcoholic option. On two recent visits (in the name of journalism), I chatted up two different bartenders about non-alcoholic options, and both told me they get NA requests regularly. It’s for that reason that Eastern Standard has a stable of several mocktails ready to go for the indecisive patron. On the most recent visit, I asked for a non-alcoholic approximation of their very popular -- and very good -- Old Cuban.
Five minutes later, what arrived at my barstool was a pretty good ringer for an actual cocktail. The drink was made with lime cordial, a few muddled mint leaves, and Brut Fre (0.5% ABV), double strained, and served in a coupe glass. The Fre Brut in the drink (Fre, produced by Sutter Home, has a whole line of non-alcoholic wines) on its own isn’t so bad either for one or two glasses. If you’re in a group and don’t feel like sticking out as the only one not drinking, a champagne flute full of bubbles is a good start. The cocktail was delicious, aggressively refreshing, and fit right in at Eastern Standard’s long bar amid the Vesper Martini’s and French 75’s.
When to visit:
Any time, all the time
Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar
412 West Broadway, South Boston
If the non-alcoholic Old Cuban at Eastern Standard is a forgery good enough to fool an art history major, the virgin Coconut Margarita at Loco is a downright masterpiece. One of the most popular cocktails at this insanely popular Southie watering hole is the Coco Margarita (Maestro Dobel tequila, house triple sec, fresh lime, and coconut). On my most recent visit during a cacophonous Sunday brunch, I counted no fewer than seven at the bar. Like Eastern Standard, the Loco bar staff gets a lot of requests for mocktails from regular customers and expectant mothers in the neighborhood who don’t want to miss out on social gatherings.
The non-alcoholic version sounds simple enough (lime juice, house-made coconut mix, a splash of pineapple, and a coconut “salted” rim) but the work that goes into it yields a drink that almost looks too delicious to touch or drink. Once you do take that first sip from the straw (after Instagramming it, of course), you’ll be treated to a surprisingly refreshing and not-too-sour drink. The non-alcoholic Coconut Margarita will make you feel right at home at Loco while pairing nicely with the Fish Tacos and plenty of other items on the menu.
When to visit:
Sunday for brunch
Monday and Tuesday night’s when it’s slightly less busy
When there’s a line at Lincoln and Capo
354 Harrison Ave., South End
Since opening in December at Ink Block, Lion’s Tail has brought speakeasy style and throwback craft cocktails to the northeast corner of the South End. There are more than 15 regular cocktails on the menu, ranging from straight-forward drinks like the New York Swizzle to Hot Toddies to three different kinds of Daiquiris. And if you’re looking to enjoy the cocktail experience minus the buzz, the talented Lion’s Tail bartenders will be happy to whip up a mocktail like their Virgin Mojito (mint simple, fresh mint, fresh lemon juice, pineapple juice, and club soda). Served in a tall glass, the drink is refreshingly crisp option and a major step up from water or club soda with a lime. The perfect coda to my research for this article, it was heartening to see a place so devoted to cocktail culture put the same amount of work into a non-alcoholic drink.
When to visit:
Sunday for their brunch burger
Before or after dinner at Bar Mezzana
Monday through Saturday after 11 p.m. for their late night menu
Images via the author
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