Dining + Wining / Editors' Guide

Your Guide to Nonalcoholic Drinking in Southwest Florida

NA cocktails are taking the bar world by storm, and these sippers from around the region pack a showy punch.

BY September 1, 2023
Non-alcoholic cocktails
In the world of NA imbibing, mocktails get as much artisanal attention as their boozy counterparts. (Photo by Christina Bankson)

Sage on 47th is something like a love letter to the community that’s bolstered chef-owner Ralph Centalonza through his more than three decades in the local restaurant industry. The Cape Coral restaurant—named after Ralph’s daughter—has remained packed nightly since its late-April opening. “One of the best problems in town,” Ralph says of keeping up with the rushes.

Here, the crowd at the 69-foot bar is often two-deep, clamoring for the attention of Cape cocktail maven Brittany Bowman (she’s known for establishing nearby Nevermind Awesome Bar’s beverage program and working with Nice Guys Beer & Pizza Lounge) as she slings beverages spun from her brilliant imagination. The Blue One embodies some of the best in the burgeoning trend of nonalcoholic (NA) cocktails, with fresh pineapple and butterfly pea flower-infused coconut water. It’s one of four mocktails on Sage’s nonalcoholic menu, affectionately dubbed the “Ricktail” menu, after Ralph’s close friend, Rick, who Ralph supported as he stopped drinking.

Sage on 47th’s mocktails are emblematic of a growing nationwide interest in booze-free alternatives, with people becoming more aware of the risks associated with overindulgence. The pandemic helped bring the matter into focus, with many now motivated to correct course after a year or more of tamping the isolation with a bottle. Unlike with Prohibition, where sobriety was mandated and shame-based, the shift now is often self-induced, with a focus on wellness, making for an autonomous movement that’s likely to stay.

Restaurants around the region are meeting the call with zero-proof menus and full creativity when mixing made-to-order concoctions that go beyond the Shirley Temple. Now, teetotalers don’t have to miss out on the ceremonial and social aspects of after-work drinks or settle for a seltzer when the crew is toasting with brunch bubbly. 

Near Sage on 47th, at Nice Guys Beer & Pizza Lounge, the server might offer as a first option an alcohol-free spin on a negroni, drawing from the spread of ever-improving alcohol alternatives. Here, Nice Guys drops the Campari for Blutul Rosso Vermouth (made from de-alcoholized red wine and wormwood-forward herbal extracts that radiate a pleasant bitterness across the tongue), Gather Beverage Company’s Revolution aperitif (from Fort Myers botanical brewer Amber Cebull) and Clean Co. NA Gin (its pine-like juniper flavor carries through the distillation process that removes the alcohol content). The flavor is similar enough to its alcohol-laden counterpart that you might miss the absence of a buzz creeping in. If you’re not inclined toward cocktails, Nice Guys carries a zero-proof Heineken, too.

Across the Caloosahatchee River, in Downtown Fort Myers, popular Millennial Brewing Company leveraged their cult following to create Thirsty AF Non-Alcoholic Bar. Many of their NA drinks come loaded with buzzy botanicals like kava, kratom and CBD. Thirsty AF bridges the gap between traditional bars and a newer kind of third space growing in our region—kava lounges, which focus on plant-based brews of kava and kratom, and sometimes the related herbal supplement cannabidiol (CBD), all known for their mild stimulating or relaxing effects. The CBD the bar uses in the orange Creamsicle seltzer is reputed for its relaxing qualities without being mind-altering, which is ideal for maintaining your lucidity at the bar’s many trivia nights, networking events and food truck offerings. Thirsty AF’s drinks can come without any infusions and still be flavorful, too. The Loki Lemonade starts with house-made lemonade and layers in mango and blue raspberry syrups before it’s garnished with lemon wedges to mimic the namesake Marvel trickster character’s horns.

Since it opened in the summer of 2021, Chartreuse Craft Cocktail Lounge, in Downtown Bonita Springs, has proven a welcome addition to the burgeoning hospitality scene along the Old 41 corridor. The amusement of the lounge’s buzzy, Prohibition-inspired atmosphere extends to the cocktails, where bartenders hone in on the showmanship, with smoked cocktails and blazing glasses. Non-imbibers get front-row (bar) seats to the action, too, thanks to the dedicated Free Spirited nonalcoholic menu. Be sure to ask about any NA cocktails on the new, botanical-centric secret menu, which general manager Rainier Decastro promises will deliver “visual effects with olfactory triggers” with house-made flavors and syrups. Sound ambiguous? That’s by design and is all part of the game, Rainier says, that they play as bartenders to tell stories through their drinks. Chartreuse’s live entertainment—music, pop-up dinners, and partnerships with local makers like Grumpy Goat Coffee Roastery—also makes connecting easier without the pressure of imbibing.

Other restaurants also find local spins for their NA menus. At The 239 Naples, which opened last year, general manager Chelsi Murphy says the zero-proof beverage menu follows the restaurant’s local-centric ethos and rotates with the changing seasons. Chelsi says the idea is to engage customers, so she’ll sometimes make an off-the-cuff riff based on someone’s fave. For a one-time gin drinker, Chelsi crafted a booze-free Vesper, using fresh lemons and a splash of Flying Eagle Kombucha—from Fort Myers’ Maddy Eagle—for a touch of effervescence.

Further south, at D’Amico’s The Continental in Naples, the small-yet-mighty low- and no-proof cocktail menu showcases quality over quantity. D’Amico’s beverage manager Ross Kupitz looks at how other restaurants utilize NA cocktails for inspiration for his evocative drinks, and bartenders at all three D’Amico spots often create off-menu spritzers on the fly. At The Continental, Ross is particularly fond of the Grapefruit Raindrop for its Floridian fruit flavor and hit of pink peppercorn. The cocktail’s hue helps further connect you to the restaurant’s dreamy downtown setting, with bougainvillea dotting the patio and a whipped sunset in the early evening.

The buzz these spaces generate extends beyond the one you can get from imbibing. Instead, these cocktail bars, restaurants and lounges let the zero-proofers among us engage in the same ceremony as our libation lovers. We can all raise a glass to that.   

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