Food

Non-Alcoholic Cocktails Now Cost as Much as $14 in DC. How Much Is Too Much?

Bartenders say drinks can be expensive to make even without the booze

Hopped Pineapple Mule at Compass Rose. Photo provided by Aleks Kilibarda.

$12. $14. $16. That’s about how much you can expect to spend on a cocktail at most DC bars and restaurants these days—a new normal that we’ve slowly (albeit apprehensively) gotten used to. But as alcohol-free cocktails continue to gain momentum in menus across the city, it raises the question: Do they also warrant similar pricing?

For some bartenders, the answer is yes. At the new Dos Mamis cocktail bar in Petworth, the “Nahhhgroni,” a booze-free riff on a Negroni, goes for $14.

“These drinks often take more work than our traditional cocktails,” says co-owner Carlie Steiner, whose menu features a standalone non-alcoholic “Sobrio” section. The Nahhhgroni, for example, features a labor-intensive spirit-free vermouth she makes herself. It also includes Seedlip, an increasingly popular non-alcoholic spirit that retails for $36 a bottle—more than most booze on Dos Mamis’ shelves.

While $14 is on the extreme end, non-alcoholic cocktails at most of the city’s top bars and restaurants still aren’t cheap. Most hover around $8 and have clearly evolved far and beyond your mother’s Shirley Temple. In order to produce ingredients such as bay leaf soda, sugar snap pea cordial, or salted cantaloupe shrub, some bartenders argue it’s important the beverages are priced accordingly.

“Sourcing and preparation time for these [non-alcoholic] drinks can be very laborious,” says Compass Rose Beverage Director Jess Weinstein. The restaurant’s “Immaculate Concoctions” are priced between $5 and $8 and all contain fresh, locally sourced ingredients, while their cocktails all range between $12-$14.

Compass Rose’s $8 Pineapple Mule, for example, is made with coconut sugar, fresh apple cider, and hop flowers. The last ingredient acts as a preservative and is used to add flavor and aromatic notes. “Many bars charge $6 for a cola, so $8 for a housemade, fresh libation is pretty standard,” says Weinstein.

Ultimately, though, drinks are priced at what drinkers are willing to pay. Casper Rice, the wine and spirits director for the Fabio Trabocchi restaurant group (which includes Del Mar and Fiola), says the two “mocktails” at Fiola Mare have been selling incredibly well, even at their $10 price point. (For comparison, most cocktails are around $16.)

“Listen, we’ve sold 725 mocktails in the last three weeks, without its price being an issue. So that has to count for something,” says Rice. His concoctions include the “Pompelmo Frizzante” with grapefruit, lime, agave, and soda, and the “Cocomero” with watermelon, lime, and fresh rosemary.

Non-alcoholic drinks at other Trabocchi restaurants go for $10, such as the “Mr. Berry” at Fiola, which contains seasonal berries, apple, lime, and elderflower. The drinks at Sfoglina, which contain similar ingredients, are slightly cheaper at $8.

“The price of our mocktails takes into account the costs of all the goods per restaurant, so it’s going to vary across the group,” Rice says.

Laura Silverman, a Bethesda resident who hasn’t had an alcoholic drink in twelve years, founded The Sobriety Collective, a digital community for sober creatives. This spring, she hosted an alcohol-free pop-up called Sans Bar DC, where guests paid $35 for a cover fee for unlimited spirit-free drinks such as rosemary ginger mules made with fresh herbs. But at a bar, she says a fair price for a non-alcoholic cocktail could be anywhere from $6 to $12.

While she’s happy about the increasing popularity in spirit-free drinks, she’s a little skeptical of their creeping price points.

“If I’m going to pay upwards of $12 for a spirit-free drink, it would need to be very high quality, something that I would want to sip on slowly throughout the night,” Silverman says. “I have massive respect for creative mixologists. That said, I can’t wrap my head around paying $14 for any beverage. I would probably try it once, but that would be it.”

Don’t Miss Another New Restaurant—Get Our Food Newsletter

The latest in Washington’s food and drink scene.

Or, see all of our newsletters. By signing up, you agree to our terms.
Kalina Newman
Editorial Fellow

Kalina Newman is an editorial fellow for Washingtonian. Previously, she covered metro news for the Boston Globe. Her work has appeared in ARLnow, DCist, and the Washington City Paper. Kalina graduated from Boston University in 2019 with a degree in journalism.