A Sober Person Walks Into a Nonalcoholic Bar …

Making a zero-proof drink at Getaway in Brooklyn. Photo: Liz Clayman

The adage that says you can have fun without drinking should come with a disclaimer. You can still have fun without drinking — asterisk — but it probably won’t be at a crowded house party where you don’t know anyone else — asterisk asterisk — or at a happy hour for work when you just want to go home to catch up on Barry while eating some kind of warm carb — asterisk asterisk asterisk — and it definitely won’t happen for you at a sweaty, crowded bar where everyone else is wasted at 2 a.m.

I stopped drinking three years ago. The short version of the story is that I had a great time until I didn’t. My memory always cheats me a bit here, tries to get me to remember the period before I quit as if I were perpetually two drinks in — warm and flushed, the world overlaid with a twinkling filter and brimming with possibility. The reality was more like being stranded at sea in a battered dinghy, floating aimlessly through a dull, constant hangover that was punctuated by the roiling storms of breakups, strained friendships, hospital visits, and, once, puking fully intact penne pasta all over the exterior of a stranger’s house.

When I find myself doing the math of whether or not I can drink and also have the life I want, no matter how much I tweak the formula or run through my calculations again, the answer is a resounding no. But something that always shows up in the losses column is my newfound distaste for hanging out in bars, places where I used to love to while away all hours of the day and night. It may seem obvious and seemingly inconsequential, but if you live in a city and work in an industry in which the go-to social activity is grabbing a drink, bars are largely unavoidable. It’s not the drinking I miss as much as the communal experience of sitting around and shooting the shit at some of the only institutions that offer an informal, clearly delineated escape from both the demands of work and the isolation of home.

One of the biggest roadblocks to my current enjoyment is that the only nonalcoholic options usually available at bars are seltzer water and fountain sodas. These are not drinks you nurse at the same pace as your imbibing friends; they are drinks you suck down in two minutes. They’re drinks that say, You should be drinking me out of a pitcher at Chuck E. Cheese. So when I first heard that Getaway, a new alcohol-free bar with an extensive menu, would open in Greenpoint, I was intrigued but skeptical. I knew that mocktails (forgive me) had been growing in popularity recently, and that similar bars were cropping up all over, but the idea of paying $13 for a nonalcoholic drink was inconceivable to me. (In all fairness, the idea of paying $13 for an alcoholic drink was also inconceivable to me.) I was still on alert when I walked in on a recent Friday night and found that Getaway is designed like almost every other new establishment these days: a blue-gray and muted-pink color scheme, the occasional fern, and rounded edges on every bit of décor, all subtly primed for Instagram.

The bar's design is subtly primed for Instagram. The Trip to Ikea contains lingonberry, lemon, vanilla, cardamom, and cream. Liz Clayman.
The bar's design is subtly primed for Instagram. The Trip to Ikea contains lingonberry, lemon, vanilla, cardamom, and cream. Liz Clayman.

My partner, who has been sober for 11 years, and I settled onto two stools at the far corner of the bar. We started with a round of Ginger Spice (spicy ginger, cucumber, grapefruit juice, extra-bitter tonic, club soda, and blackberries) and Lone Wolf and Shrub (rhubarb shrub, lime juice, elderflower syrup, and basil). The former was one of the most complex, exquisite drinks I’ve ever had, while every sip of the latter hit with a tangy knockout punch of vinegar. Both were so well executed, so uncannily cocktail-like that, for one of the first times since giving up alcohol, I felt like I was drinking an actual adult beverage.

We were so intoxicated by the quality of our offerings that we next opted for the Coconaut (pineapple, coconut milk, cream of coconut, blood-orange flavored Pellegrino, and nutmeg) and Daters Gonna Date (Medjool dates, peanut butter, lime-banana syrup, vanilla, macadamia-nut milk, and Coco Rico soda). “I don’t want to say it,” my partner implored when I asked him to order the second one, but these were indisputably delicious. Still, the experience was less sophisticated adult and more Mitt Romney cutting loose on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Getaway — which seats around 25 and advertises itself to passersby with a mysterious “0%” sign — was about three-quarters full when we went. Small groups of androgynous 20-somethings with tattoos chatted animatedly. A young, beautiful couple occupied themselves by playing cards, which made me immediately muse about whether I should “get into playing cards.” Getaway is planning on serving small plates soon, but in the meantime a bartender circulated with gratis plates of salted mixed nuts. Aided by a patina of elegance, the whole experience felt wholesome but not saccharine. It wasn’t “Utah dessert bar” as much as “all-day Italian café.” The only thing missing was the aperitivo.

For those who, like myself, might balk at the prices, the bottom half of the menu is very compelling. Shrubs and cordials run for $6 and $4.50, respectively, and there are full-service coffee-and-tea options. Most inviting was the extensive array of $4 soft drinks, Fever-Tree tonics, Dona sodas, and my all-time-favorite difficult-to-find aperitif: the alluringly bitter, electrically red Sanbitter. This section also left me wanting more — not from Getaway but from other bars. While most typical bars can’t devote the time or the money needed to make elaborate, locally sourced, alcohol-free cocktails, I’d love to see places reach for a few more niche prepackaged options that extend beyond the usual offerings.

I don’t know if I would invite a group of drinking friends to hike to Greenpoint for a round of Sanbitters, and it’s unreasonable to expect that a bar whose entire business model is based on being booze-free would try to accommodate drinkers. Getaway is, however, a reliable gathering place (and for sober people who can’t be around alcohol at all, it may be an ideal haven). It will never be exactly the same as a traditional bar, but it can still be fun.

A Sober Person Walks Into a Nonalcoholic Bar …