Fancy a mocktail? Local bars serve up specialty drinks without alcohol

'Having artsy and fun drinks doesn't have to mean they're alcoholic'


CEDAR RAPIDS — When Lauren Lamm decided to take a three month break from alcohol earlier this year, she still wanted to go out with her friends and socialize after finishing her shift as a bartender at Zeppelin’s Bar & Grill. But finding something she could sip on that wasn’t sugary soda proved difficult.

“I found it really hard to find things to drink that weren’t alcohol,” she said. “If you don’t want to drink, you don’t want to drink. But the bar scene is such a part of the social scene.”

So Lamm, 24, who has worked in the bar and restaurant industry for the last six years, started looking for a solution. She convinced her bosses at Zeppelin’s, 5300 Edgewood Road NE in Cedar Rapids, to let her start creating alcohol-free mixed drinks — often called mocktails — and adding them to Zeppelin’s drinks menu.

While many bartenders would make a virgin drink for someone on request, she said, she wanted the restaurant to have ones that were readily available, that all the bar staff were trained to make, and that were designed with the same care they gave their conventional cocktails.


“There’s something to be said for having options besides club soda and lime. Having artsy and fun drinks doesn’t have to mean they’re alcoholic. I think it’s important to include everyone,” she said.

Zeppelin’s is far from alone in giving zero-proof drinks room on their menus and behind their bars. Recent articles by the Washington Post, New York Times and NPR have documented the growing trend of restaurants and bars offering high end alcohol-free drinks, driven by consumer demand for such options.

In bigger cities, completely sober bars are popping up, offering an alternative kind of night life, such as Sans Bar in Austin, Texas. Founder Chris Marshall, who has been sober since 2007, wrote on Sans Bar’s website, “My mission is to create a safe and inviting atmosphere for people who want to have a good time without alcohol. We will offer live music, a vibrant, upscale environment, and sober drinks that you won’t find anywhere else.”

Mocktails not for everyone

Jeffrey Meyers, certified prevention specialist at the Area Substance Abuse Council, said for those with alcohol use disorder, the act of drinking even an alcohol-free cocktail at a bar can trigger the feelings and memories associated with addiction and could lead to relapses.

“Even though they are alcohol-free, you still have a couple of dangers; you’re still drinking it in a bar or a restaurant bar. When someone is in recovery, they want to be very cognizant of the environment,” he said. “It might be a cue, a trigger to drink. If a person is engaging in drinking a mocktail, that right there could be a cue — it could be the sound of the ice cubes, the glass, even the taste. All of this could very well spike a cue to want to use.”

He added social support is important, and being out with friends who are drinking, even if they themselves are not, can be a problem for some people in recovery.

Ultimately, people should carefully consider where they are in their recovery, the context and what is appropriate for them, he said.

“No one’s journey is going to be the same,” he said.

For Lamm, who lives in North Liberty, breaking the cycle of drinking when she got off work has helped her state of mind and her health. But she got tired of explaining why she was abstaining from alcohol, and she said was surprised at how many people felt it was their business to question why she was sticking to soda or water.

“It was kind of crazy how big of a deal it was to people when it really had nothing to do with them,” she said.

That was another reason she wanted mocktails to be on Zeppelin’s menu — so people could order them without fuss or having to explain anything. From a business standpoint, the move also made sense, she said.


“You want everybody to come to your establishment and feel welcome,” she said. “Since we’ve offered them, we’ve had so many people try them.”

She said those include a few regulars such as one who always ordered alcohol-free O’Douls beer, and another woman who always asked for her soda to be brought in a wineglass when she came in for dinner with her husband.

They were both happy for an alternative, Lamm said.

Several Corridor restaurants have jumped on the mocktail trend

Vue Rooftop, the restaurant and bar on top of the Hilton Garden Inn, 328 S. Clinton St., Iowa City, has had a mocktail menu since it opened in October 2017.

“They’re quite popular. It’s a good alternative to a cocktail if people aren’t wanting them, or if their kids want something other than pop or juice,” said bar manager Ben McLuen.

They have alcohol-free drinks like the Downtown Daiquiri, with coconut water, cucumber and mint, and the Virgin Paloma, with grapefruit, agave syrup and lime soda.


The drinks Lamm created for Zeppelin’s use Seedlip, a brand of alcohol-free distilled spirits, including an aromatic Spice 94, citrusy Grove 42 and herbal Garden 108. Lamm started playing with the flavors and has developed four mocktails, which have been added to the Zeppelin’s menu over the last few months. The newest drink is “Mary’s Garden,” an alcohol-free take on a Bloody Mary. Lamm said Zeppelin’s staff already got frequent requests for virgin Bloody Mary’s during brunch, and she wanted to offer one that wasn’t just spicy tomato juice.

Phoebe Charles is co-owner of Rodina, a restaurant that opened at 1507 C St. SW, Cedar Rapids, in January. Rodina bartender and mixologist Josh O’Connell developed their mocktails, such as the N.A.G.T., which stands for No-Alcohol Gin and Tonic, with juniper, grenadine and rose water. Juniper is the main flavor agent of gin, so the N.A.G.T. is zero-proof play on a classic cocktail.

“Josh has a lot of experience developing homemade tinctures and shrubs and syrups, and he plays around with those syrups,” Charles said.

She said having a list of alcohol free drinks on the menu simply made sense to her.

“The idea is everybody who is going out to eat is trying to enjoy themselves. Those people deserve to have a good and special experience just like alcohol drinkers. It’s a no-brainer that we should have just as well thought-out drinks for those who don’t drink alcohol,” she said.

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