Alcohol-Free Cocktails at Chicago’s Best Restaurants
For those who are turning away from alcohol, for health or other reasons, it’s good to know that the very finest restaurants in Chicago are serving outstanding zero-proof cocktails.
In Chicago, we’ve come a long way from seltzer water with a slice of lime and other such sad attempts to satisfy those who are booze-free. We’re now moving beyond those low-effort options with so-called “mocktails.” In this article, however, we’re not even going to call them mocktails, which suggests a fake beverage, a pretend drink that’s trying to be something it isn’t. Spirit-free cocktails at many of Chicago’s best restaurants can stand on their own; they’re more than mere substitutes for their alcohol-bearing brethren. They’re fully realized and individual reflections of the bartender’s art.
Here are seven of Chicago’s best restaurants that make the effort to prepare alcohol-free cocktails that are imaginative and satisfying without a hint of booze.
Blackbird. For over two decades, Blackbird has been in the vanguard of Chicago’s rise from a meat-and-potatoes town to a city with world-class dining options. The food is crafted with fantastic care, and the zero-proof cocktails show an equal attention to high-quality ingredients and preparations. Green Gold is a blend of pineapple, cucumber and lemonade, for the right balance of sweet and tart; Daily Dose is rhubarb shrub, lime and Topo Chico, and there are many others in the Temperance section of the menu, suitable pairings for Blackbird’s consistently exceptional cuisine.
River Roast. With beautiful views up and down the Chicago River, River Roast serves up fire-roasted meat, fish and vegetables that cry out for thoughtful and complementary cocktails. Highly recommended is the Kickstarter Punch, composed of peach rooibos, turmeric, lemon and ginger and the Get Smashed, a refreshing blend of cranberry, lemon, rosemary, ginger, and apple cider.
Nico Osteria. Though there’s no rigid pairing at Nico Osteria, the accomplished bar staff will compose a range of non-alcoholic sips to complement their menu of amazing comestibles. Or, you can order some of the carefully constructed options like Nice to Be Here (lemongrass, grapefruit, honey, cinchona and lime) or 6 Yuzu Fuss (lemon, thyme, and Fever Tree Aromatic Tonic). But if you want the bar staff to whip up something special to go with a specific entrée, they are there for you.
Cindy’s Rooftop. Cindy’s Rooftop, offering some of the city’s finest views of the Millennium Park, also offers some of the finest alcohol-free cocktails in the city. On their Spirit-Free menu there are delectable options including Green Earth Farm, composed of iceberg lettuce (!), verjus blanc, and Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic; or try Garden Party, with Seedlip Garden Tonic 108, avocado, lemon, honey and Fever Tree ginger beer. Enjoy one of these while you inhale the clean air coming off the lake from Cindy’s party-sized balcony overlooking Michigan Avenue.
Beatrix. One of the very finest restaurants to offer vegan and vegetarian cuisine, Beatrix also makes a point to serve the finest fresh-squeezed juices, including Blueberry & Basil Smash and Blackberry Lychee Lemonade. Of course, with any of these exceptional spirit-free options, you can “spike” your juice for an additional six dollars…but why don’t you try them without alcohol first. You might just like them that way more.
Acadia. Ryan McCaskey’s Acadia, a Michelin-two-star in the South Loop area, lays out a fine dining experience, with carefully crafted dishes and superior service. As of this writing, they’re still developing a re-launched zero-free cocktail menu, but until that’s finalized, you can count on the bar to come up with an on-the-spot creation that will pair well with your dinner… and that’s going to make you very happy.
Alinea. Alinea, currently Chicago’s only Michelin three-star restaurant, serves a zero-proof pairing with an internationally acclaimed tasting menu. If you’ve ever visited Alinea and opted for the accompanying wine-pairing, you’ll know that about half-way through the eighteen or so courses, you will be, shall we say, distracted. With some of the finest and most carefully engineered alcohol-free cocktails in the world, Alinea is where you may want to test drive a dinner without wine so you’ll be able to stay attentive to every moment of this spectacular dining experience.