Dry January has gone mainstream. Booze-free spirits are becoming increasingly easy to find. And many restaurants and bars have expanded their nonalcoholic cocktail menus. So, restaurant and retail vet Sam Kasten believes that time is right for the DC-area to finally have its own bar completely free of alcohol. She recently launched Umbrella Dry Drinks to host a series of pop-ups with the goal of opening a more permanent space sometime this year.
Kasten became sober in 2018, a couple years after getting a DUI and eventually coming to grips with the negative impact of the heavy drinking she experienced working in the restaurant industry. “I personally don’t drink because I cannot drink. It doesn’t do me any good. It only led to many poor decision and terrible consequences,” she says.
Kasten—who currently works at a small boutique in Old Town Alexandria called Mint Collective—has since encountered a growing community of people who don’t drink for many other reasons, whether it’s pregnancy, religion, health, or just wanting an occasional buzz-free alternative.
“I would post my drinks on Instagram and people would be like, ‘Oooh, what’s that? Where’d you get it?’ ” she says. “So I was like, man, it would be so cool to be a resource for this and make people realize that it’s okay to not drink. Even if you do drink, sometimes you don’t want to drink.”
Last year, Kasten took part in a ten-week online academy with the founder of zero-proof cocktail spot Sans Bar in Austin, Texas, which teaches people how to run their own nonalcoholic businesses. She hosted her first pop-up at Mint Collective in December and is currently working with Greenheart Juice Shop on a series of events this month. Umbrella Dry Drinks will find a temporary home at the Seedling Collective, a pop-up and workshop space in Alexandria, from February 2 through 28.
The pop-up menu will rotate daily, but look for a twist on the French 75 made with gin and Champagne alternatives, rosemary simple syrup, and a sugared cranberry garnish. Also making an appearance: an NA gin cocktail called the “Lady Marmalade” with rosemary-grapefruit marmalade, rosemary simple syrup, and lemon on the rocks. The pop-up will also serve nonalcoholic beers and wines and have a retail component selling booze-free bottles. “I have a fully loaded bar cabinet of nonalcoholic stuff,” Kasten says. She wants to make it easier for people to find those products all in one place.
The pop-ups are a dry run (no pun intended) for a bar and bottle shop that Kasten would like to open in Alexandria come summer. Last year, bar star Derek Brown converted his acclaimed cocktail bar Columbia Room into Disco Mary, a pop-up that put no-alcohol drinks front and center (with low-alcohol options too). But Umbrella could be the first in the area to forgo booze altogether.
“I kind of had an idea about this a year and a half ago. . . . I was really nervous because I was like I don’t know if this is a trend,” Kasten says. But she’s been convinced otherwise seeing many big brand alcohol companies expand into zero-proof offerings—and even watching nonalcoholic wine make a cameo in the latest Sex and the City spinoff. “I’m going to see how things go, but my hope is that it will just be a cool space for people to come and hang and have good drinks.”