In the corner of my grandma's bedroom sat a baseball trophy. This trophy was different from most. It stood about two feet high, with two red-and-gold graduation cords draped around a shiny gold baseball player perched on top. My cousins and I would stare at it, but knew it was not to be touched.
The trophy belonged to my late uncle Ronnie, who died in a drunk-driving accident before I was born. My grandma made me promise to her from a young age that I would stay away from alcohol for fear of my meeting the same fate as Ronnie did, turning her world upside down. His death was a huge loss to the small-town community where he lived and where I grew up. All of my high school teachers knew Ronnie; they all had fond memories with him and talked about him often.
When I turned 21 my grandma wasn't around anymore, but I didn't want to feel guilty for breaking promises that we sealed with a twist of our pinkies all those years ago.
So, no, I don't feel alienated by friends when we're out on a Saturday night at a karaoke bar. I'm going to sing my heart out to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" whether I have a Truly in my hand or not. Still, I can't help but feel a bit annoyed when I'm sipping tap water or soda through two tiny, plastic straws while my best friend drinks something extraordinarily pink that probably tastes just as good as it looks.
One positive outcome of the pandemic is that the nonalcoholic drink market skyrocketed in 2020 as people re-evaluated their relationship with alcohol during and after lockdowns. Food and beverage industry tracker Tastewise reports searches for nonalcoholic beverages are back up 47 percent since April 2020, when related search terms hit an all-time low.
Trending "Sober October" and "Dry January" movements also continue to help bulk up nonalcoholic drink menus at bars and restaurants, with more people abstaining from alcohol consumption during those months — and after — than ever before.
That had us thinking, what do drinking establishments in the Inland Northwest have to offer to those of us tired of the same old G&T, hold the G? Here's just a sampling of what we found.
1925 W. Fourth Ave. and 2910 E. 29th Ave.,
Bijou in Browne's Addition only sits about seven, but the small space isn't lacking in character or atmosphere. Along with bartending and managing the business, owners Shelayna and Tyson Skidmore produce their Skidmore Alchemy bitters and syrups to go in their craft cocktails.
"When we opened Bijou, we wanted to make sure that we had options for people who don't drink alcohol," says Shelayna. "That's why we decided to go the tea-based route and make all of our syrups in house."
Shelayna asks non-alcohol-consuming patrons what flavors they like, dislike, and how she can make their mocktail experience as fun and as non-othering as possible.
For me, she makes a drink with a base of butterfly pea flower tea with Bijou's housemade elderflower and lavender syrups. She finishes it off with a splash of soda water and some lemon juice, and garnishes the glass with a piece of lemon peel.
DURKIN'S LIQUOR BAR
415 W. Main Ave., durkinsliquorbar.com, 509-863-9501
If you're a sucker for something out-of-the-ordinary to drink, Durkin's should be on your radar. Bartender Blaine McNicol says all of Durkin's cocktails can be restructured to become mocktails.
"We always try to create nonalcoholic drinks when people ask," he says. "We get customers asking for them all of the time, and accommodation is really important."
Durkin's current menu features a cocktail called the DFLB, usually containing aquavit and vodka, but that becomes nonalcoholic by simply replacing the aforementioned with pomegranate juice and 7UP. Honey and yogurt in the drink add creamy texture and a tangy punch, making it a unique replacement for the dull tonic water, lime and ice that usually comes with a nonalcoholic night out.
WILEY'S DOWNTOWN BISTRO
115 N. Washington St., wileysbistro.com, 509-838-4600
Wiley's boasts a daily mocktail at the top of the "alcohol-free" section of its lengthy cocktail menu, which is a treat in the alcohol-free world. (Representation matters, people!)
Of course, we couldn't get through this list without some PNW huckleberry representation, so the huckleberry limeade mocktail at Wiley's gets a shout-out. It's vibrantly purple and makes your lips pucker, two important factors in any drink.
If you're down for something more understated, the alcohol-free drinks section also offers ginger beer, flavored iced teas and hot apple cider — great for an autumn night out or to accompany dinner.
& SOCIAL CLUB
317 Sherman Ave, Coeur d'Alene, honeyeateryandsocialclub.com, 208-930-1514
If you don't drink, being social at a pub can be daunting, especially when the name includes the word "social." Honey Eatery & Social Club in Coeur d'Alene offers three standard house mocktails — here called "virgin cocktails" — on its extensive drink menu for anyone who abstains from liquor, as well as plenty of hot coffee and tea if you're looking to warm up before braving the changing weather outside.
The orange popsicle mocktail is a must if you're a citrus lover. Once mixed, it becomes a creamsicle concoction that recalls chasing down the ice cream truck as a kid, and the whipped cream is an exciting and enjoyable touch.
It would be remiss not to mention the price difference of cocktails vs. mocktails. No matter if you're drinking Coke or a specialty mocktail, you're going to be paying significantly less than your alcohol-drinking counterparts. Alcohol is pricey, and a big selling point of abstaining from it is the money saved on Friday nights at the bar.
Recently, though, bartenders have been given new tools to create mocktails: nonalcoholic spirits. These products have the great(?) taste of alcohol without the side effects that come with consuming it. But the price point comes back to bite, adding that former deduction back into the total.
"They're simply not worth it," says Bijou's Skidmore. "Who's going to spend $8 on a mocktail when others are spending that much on a cocktail? It seems steep just for the added flavor profile."
Zero-proof spirits are interesting in concept, but not practical when it comes to what most people look for in mocktails. Brands like Seedlip and Ritual sell 750 milliliter bottles of tequila-inspired spirits for just as much, or even more, as your run-of-the-mill Jose Cuervo.
"We would much rather cater a unique drink to your specific taste than just substitute spirits for nonalcoholic spirits," Skidmore says. "Some specialty alcohols that cannot be replaced by common syrups are being mimicked, but that's the only time I would ever splurge on a zero-proof spirit."
Whether you don't drink for personal reasons or you just can't stand the taste of alcohol, there's a whole new world out there for us sober folk in the form of mocktails that don't suck. Don't be afraid to ask for accommodation, garner your courage and sing your heart out with that mocktail in hand at karaoke night. ♦