Is Atlanta ready for a cocktail bar and bottle shop dedicated to non-alcoholic drinks and spirits? The owners behind Zilch Market believe so, and are hosting a series of zero-proof pop-up bars throughout Atlanta over the coming months to prove it.
Founded by sober bartenders Lissa Eubanks and Savannah Rainey in 2021, these events are meant to be a preview of the duo’s future Atlanta bottle shop and bar, which they hope to open within the next year.
During each Zilch Market pop-up, expect a variety of non-alcoholic beer, wine, canned aperitifs, and cocktails served on the menu, including drinks like a coffee Old Fashioned made with local coffee and Spiritless 74 whiskey. The pop-ups also feature a retail area selling zero-proof products like Ritual and FreeSpirits alcohol alternatives, Curious Elixirs bottled cocktails, Sovi wines, and non-alcoholic beers from Gruvi and Atlanta’s Rightside Brewing.
Eubanks has been a non-drinker for about a year, while it’s been three years alcohol-free for Rainey. “I’ve always loved the creativity behind crafting a cocktail and the routine of a nightcap, but when I cut out alcohol, the lack of options at most places in Atlanta was stark and honestly surprising,” says Eubanks, who first met Rainey years ago when they worked together an at Atlanta restaurant.
The non-alcoholic spirits market has exploded in the U.S. over the past decade, too. Online retail company Drizly reported a nearly 300 percent jump in sales of its non-alcoholic spirits last year alone. Spirit-free bars and bottle shops are opening yearly now in cities across the country, including in Charleston, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York City.
But while Atlanta has several restaurants and bottle shops selling non-alcoholic cocktails and products, Rainey says very few establishments offer a “vast and complex menu for the non-drinker.”
One exception is Poncey-Highland restaurant Southern Belle, where beverage director Kevin Bragg intentionally includes sophisticated non-alcoholic drinks on the menu because his choices were so limited when he gave up drinking four years ago.
“Back then, the majority of places would have a token lemonade with fresh herbs or something with ginger beer, drinks that were very one dimensional,” he explains. “Just because you’re not drinking doesn’t mean you need less of an experience.”
Bragg says he puts as much thought and research into the spirit-free cocktails served at Southern Belle as he does for the drinks containing alcohol. He believes around 10 percent of guests who dine at Southern Belle opt for non-alcoholic drink pairings with the restaurant’s tasting menu.
“I knew there was a market for people not consuming alcohol, but I was completely unprepared for how popular it was going to be,” he says. “I think a retail and non-alcoholic venue would work really well here [in Atlanta], and it’s something I would definitely check out in a social setting.”
Eubanks and Rainey are betting on that popularity Bragg is currently experiencing at Southern Belle, particularly given that many zero-proof drinks and spirits are only available online or in traditional bottle shops, where people in recovery may feel uncomfortable shopping.
But are Atlantans ready to pay a premium for drinks without booze?
“I think paying close or the same for something that doesn’t give you a buzz or reaction may be a challenge,” says veteran Atlanta bartender Keyatta Mincey-Parker, owner and operator of bartender community garden A Sip of Paradise Garden.
Bragg agrees, as many zero-proof spirits can cost as much as or more than alcoholic counterparts depending on the method of creation (distillation versus compounding). Unlike ethanol in alcohol which helps extract and retain the flavors and textures of aromatics or ingredients used during the distillation process, non-alcoholic spirit producers must replicate this process without ethanol in order to hold onto these flavors and textures. Many non-alcoholic spirits have a shelf life, using a combination of preservatives to extend that “best used by” date on the label.
Rainey feels confident people with discerning taste and an interest in high quality drinks will ultimately not mind the price point. For the Zilch Market pop-ups, cocktails range between $9 and $13 per drink.
“It’s a common misconception that without alcohol a drink is just juice or flavored soda, but the truth is that a proper mocktail is just as unique in flavor and originality as any craft cocktail you find in a restaurant or bar,” she explains.
In addition to the coffee Old Fashioned, the Zilch Market pop-ups also offer other drinks like an herbaceous cocktail called the Sylvan Dream, made with roasted beet syrup, thyme, and zero-proof spirit Seedlip Garden, with tasting notes of fresh-picked peas and garden herbs like rosemary, thyme, and spearmint.
While unsure if she would personally work at an exclusively sober bar, Mincey-Parker supports the concept and says it could provide great opportunities for younger bartenders to learn to how to make balanced, flavorful zero-proof cocktails in a less toxic environment than a traditional bar or restaurant setting.
Eubanks agrees, and says the Zilch Market pop-ups, and eventually the shop, will be staffed with both drinking and non-drinking bartenders. “Substance abuse is a huge issue in the restaurant industry, so we believe it will be a safe space not only to socialize, but to work in.”
As the pair searches for a permanent location to open Zilch Market (Buckhead, Decatur, East Atlanta, and Atlanta’s west side neighborhoods are all under consideration,) Eubanks and Rainey will continue hosting their pop-ups to test out neighborhood interest and increase awareness around zero-proof drinks and spirits.
“Having an inclusive space is so important in normalizing the concept of socializing without alcohol, and you don’t have to be completely sober to do so,” says Eubanks. “We want to show you can have a culinary experience in the form of a beverage, and make memories that you will actually remember.”