This time of year is all about resolutions. And let’s be honest, many of them revolve around food and libations. It’s the time of year we all vow to eat less sugar. Or cook more at home. Or begin a cleanse. Or drink less. And in a city like Portland, that last one is an especially tough thing to do.
With so many beautiful bars and talented mixologists just outside our doors, giving up cozy nights out in the city with a beverage in hand has the same appeal as hitting the gym for three hours a day.
Resolutions aside, there are also plenty of people who, for different reasons, don’t drink. But that doesn’t always mean they don’t like to go to bars. I have several friends who don’t drink but still love going out for the atmosphere, the laughs, the live music and, of course, hanging out with me (just kidding — sort of).
So, whether you’re simply looking to detox a little after the holidays or have made the life choice not to imbibe, many bars in Portland will cater to you, too, with mocktails, temperance “cocktails” and other alternatives to alcohol. One note: I wanted to include Top of the East because of the temperance cocktails listed on its website, but when I visited, I was told they are no longer available. Here, then, were a few of my favorites:
The Bearded Lady Jewel Box
644 Congress St., Portland. Open 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily
This place. This place is always phenomenal. The bartenders here know exactly what they’re doing and their knowledge of flavors is exceptional. Though they don’t have a specific mocktail list, they were immediately helpful and willing to create one just for my tastes. There on the spot, the bartender rattled off several potential temperance cocktails he could whip up quickly, and I settled on what we ended up calling the Hibiscus Fizz ($3). It was a flawless, refreshing, delicious drink with hibiscus, a squeeze of fresh lemon, rose water, simple syrup and soda water. While I’m not usually a fan of tart flavors, this had just the right ratio of lemon to sweetness and tasted like a fizzy hibiscus lemonade.
671 Congress St., Portland. Open 5 p.m. to 12:45 a.m. daily
Good ol’ reliable Boda. It’s not quite the sexy, sensual sensory-overload that Bearded Lady is, but it is fun and vibrant and always — I mean, always — has a crowd. If you’re going out for drinks with more than two people, I don’t recommend coming here. The line is always out the door — even on a Tuesday in December when it’s 3 degrees outside. People are not only willing to brave the cold to get there, but will wait outside for a table. What I love about this place is that it has so many different options, beyond mocktails, if you’re abstaining from alcohol. You can eat at the bar and order one of the hot teas, a coffee or a Thai iced tea. There’s also a Shirley Temple and Roy Rogers listed on the menu, as well as Buckler non-alcoholic beer (all $2.50), which is what I ordered. Be warned, it does have a tiny bit of alcohol (less than 0.5 percent). It poured with a rich straw color and a good, two-finger, foamy head. Admittedly, I’m not a big beer drinker, but from what I could tell, it was decent for a non-alcoholic beer: sweet with a slight malt flavor and a bitter aftertaste.
Vena’s Fizz House
345 Fore St., Portland. Open 2 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Monday
How could I possibly write an article featuring temperance cocktails of Portland without including Vena’s? This little spot is so cute and cool and touts itself as a soda bar. When you first walk in, you’re met with a tiny shop filled with beautiful bar trinkets and mixers. Walk a little further in and up a couple of steps, and you’ll find an adorable bar. So much of the bar at Vena’s is stocked with house-made syrups and bitters, creating completely original flavors that other bars can’t replicate. By far, it has the widest array of non-alcoholic beverages I’ve found in Portland, ranging from fizzes to old-fashioned egg creams to mocktails like the Almond Joyful ($7), which I ordered. Comparatively, $7 is a lot to spend on a drink that doesn’t have any alcohol — especially when other bars offer similar drinks for less than half that. However, part of that price point is the fact that Vena’s creates many of its flavors and syrups in house. And the Almond Joyful is no exception to the rule. This creamy, delicious concoction had coconut cream, Vena’s house-made chocolate syrup and orgeat syrup. I had no clue what orgeat syrup was, but it’s actually what puts the almond flavoring in the Almond Joyful. It’s essentially an almond-barley blended flavored simple syrup with a touch of orange flower water.