The biggest challenge when you go boozeless isn’t missing the inebriation, or even specific drinks, it’s that inevitable second-class of watching everyone stand around with adult drinks, rich in flavour and style, while you spend the night nursing a pint of orange juice and end up skulking home rather than face a vitamin C overdose. It’s no doubt why most people half way through dry January have stopped going out altogether.
Amazed at how antisocial best friends had become in the cold months when they weren’t drinking, and with January blues threatening to cast themselves permanently over my home – my teetotal flatmate had been repetitively caught staring existentially out the window – so I decided a little post-work NA bar crawl was in order, for who said the late night hours couldn’t be fun for everyone in January? And where better to start than 35 floors above the city?
Sky Pod, perched at the top of the Walkie Talkie, offers panoramic views of London and is home to a multi-layered garden, and most importantly, a bar. It’s enormous space means that in the depth of winter this place isn’t warm, but it’s managed to retain that festive vibe long after the city’s streets are littered with discarded Christmas trees. So with our coats buttoned up, and after a security search reminiscent of the airport, we followed the scent of mulled cider to the bar. Totally prepared to abandon my pal to the bleakness of a mocktail while I dove head first into boozy bliss I surprised even myself when I ordered two Ginger Spices, made with Seedlip Spice 94, orange spiced ginger ale and spiked with fresh cinnamon, clove and star anise.
If you’ve somehow not come across Seedlip before, it’s an ingenious liquid that is distilled to add flavour but without the alcohol. It works a charm as an alternative to most un-aged spirits in drinks and has absolutely revolutionised what to drink when you're not drinking.
And would you believe it – our Ginger Spice was aromatic, complex and tasty. You wouldn’t know, said my friend, that it’s non-alcoholic. I couldn’t have agreed more, perhaps apart from the fact it was easier to quaff than most straight gin. Emboldened by being off the sofa, actually wearing going-out clothes and with a cocktail in hand, we both sat back to enjoy the view. Straight across was the Shard, lit up for all of London to see and flanking our table were groups of all ages, some sipping coffee, others with pints and more still with mixed drinks, mulled cider and then some like us, clearly abstaining from high-altitude boozing. We both agreed thus far the evening was far surpassing TV reruns and miles ahead of any Satre chat. But this was a bar crawl and we had a places to be, and booze-free liquid to drink.
A brief eight-minute walk later and we were at Coya Angel Court, a vibrant Peruvian restaurant and bar. Sat up on the barstools we explained our preference of staying sober and he stepped up admirably by mixed up a Peas & Beets made with Seedlip Garden 108, celery droplets and beetroot shrub and a boozeless Negroni, again made with Seedlip. The Peas & Beets was the standout winner for us both, with the shrub creating a viscosity reminiscent of alcohol. Luxuriating in the bar’s atmosphere with attentive bartenders and drinks that had all the flavour, punch and mouth-feel of booze, this dry January night out seemed all too easy. It was at that moment of course a chap two bar stools down ordered a Margarita on the rocks and truly tested our willpower.
We looked at one another...
We could, my pal suggested. Who would even know. But my plan of a night out wasn’t about to be the reason she gave up on such noble efforts. Luckily I know our next stop had a drink on their list that would satisfy that craving with some citrus zing.
A short stroll towards Liverpool Street and we arrived at 3 South Place. This time (for reserach purposes only of course) I wanted to compare the offering so we ordered a Mr Howard made with Seedlip Spice, grapefruit juice, lemon and star anise and a Margarita. Don’t worry, my committed friend wasn’t getting her mitts on it. I'm that kind of friend. I drank the tequila.
The Margarita was obviously good. It’s been a good cocktail for the past 100 years, you don’t need me to sell it for you. But the Mr Howard lacked in no way – it’s citrus element stood up against the lime of the Margarita, the Seedlip Spice could be tasted shining through the other ingredients and the star anise only built on this.
We stayed at the bar for some time, chatting away as friends do on a night out. We covered future plans, love, friendship and work, all without three bottles of wine and a rip-roaring hangover the next morning. In fact I woke up to a text saying ‘I’m in a much better mood today! Sun is shining!’ Because actually, giving up the drink every now and then, whether it’s a few times a week or for an entire month, is a great thing to do. Turns out you can have a great evening out with your friends, stick to not drinking, and still make the most out of London’s most abundant resource – bars.