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Spirit of inclusion

A case for zero-proof cocktails

The Cold Fashioned (left) and Winter Juice (right) at Hodges Bend are just two of the zero-proof cocktails you’ll find at Tulsa bars.

Someone walks into a bar and orders a non-alcoholic drink. Immediately, assumptions begin to fly. Guests assume they’re a teetotaler. Bartenders worry they won’t tip well. Others assume they’re on the wagon, or pregnant. It’s only human to construct these narratives, but there is a problem with them.

Terms like “mocktail” and “virgin drink” have a stigma attached that make it easier to apply a label to someone rather than make them feel included. It may seem like a hyper-sympathetic consideration, but a bar is a unique space that serves an important role—and it’s important to make sure everyone feels at home.

Bars are what’s known as a “third place,” a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg. The premise is that a person’s home is their “first place,” and the “second place” is their workplace. “Third places” are community hubs like churches, parks, coffee shops, and bars. These hubs serve as anchors where you see long-time friends and make new acquaintances.  

Preserving this shared space is why fostering a spirit of inclusion matters. Allowing the person who orders a non-alcoholic drink to feel just as welcome and share the same experience is one small step that ensures it happens. With many people abstaining from alcohol for “dry January,” now is a great time to get familiar with the terminology and possibilities of these un-intoxicating concoctions. 

The first thing to update is the term for non-alcoholic drinks. “Soft cocktail” or “zero-proof cocktail” are both terms that clearly define the category without having any attached stigma. 

It’s also worth defining how a zero-proof cocktail should differ from a simple non-alcoholic or virgin drink. The latter is often created through omission of an ingredient, whereas a zero-proof cocktail aims to recreate the experience of a cocktail. 

That experience is created through balance, complexity, texture, and aroma. Without these elements present, a mocktail is no more special than a soda and won’t match a cocktail’s ability to delight. 

While cocktail bars are not juice and specialty soda bars, in the spirit of hospitality some have chosen to put these alternatives on the menu. Other locations will happily make a zero-proof cocktail upon request, but it’s worth noting the etiquette of ordering zero-proof cocktails. Just as you wouldn’t expect a dive bar to be able to make a complex cocktail, you can’t expect them to have the ingredients to make a complex zero-proof cocktail. (It should go without saying that it’s customary to tip for zero-proof cocktails.) 

To gain some perspective, I spoke with a long-time Tulsa bartender who approaches the craft differently since choosing six months ago to be sober. Nathan Young has spent time behind dive bars like Arnie’s, craft cocktail bars like Hodges Bend, and everything in between. He enjoys the challenge of creating zero-proof cocktails and still understands the importance of the bar as a “third place.” 

“Hospitality is hospitality,” Young said. “People are at a bar to enjoy the environment and have conversations. A bartender should make sure those who are not drinking alcohol feel just as included.” 

Several locations throughout Tulsa will gladly make zero-proof cocktails. A few even have a dedicated section on their menu. 

Vintage may be known for its wine selection, but since moving to their new location they offer a small list of zero-proof cocktails, many of which feature fresh juices, berries, and shrubs.

Valkyrie doesn’t have any zero-proof cocktails listed on the menu, but they have specific drinks they offer to those who ask. The Don’t Text Your Mex features their spicy house ginger beer, strawberry syrup, lemon, and basil. Served in a tall glass over crushed ice, it’s a balanced zero-proof cocktail that doesn’t come off as overly sweet. 

Hodges Bend has always placed an emphasis on incorporating coffee into their libations, and their zero-proof options are no exception. The Cold Fashioned is an Old Fashioned featuring their cold brew coffee as the base. The Winter Juice is a blend of orange, lemon, and grapefruit juice with passion fruit syrup and orgeat. 

For those wanting a drink while they dine, Oren, Laffa, and Amelia’s are a few notable establishments that offer zero-proof drinks. At Oren you can order The Seven Sisters which uses Seedlip’s Spice 94, a non-
alcoholic distilled product. 

Overall, Tulsa’s cocktail scene is progressive with zero-proof cocktails being more than just an afterthought. Granted, the effects of alcohol can be part of the pleasure, but what shared food and drink does best is unite people. Offering zero-proof cocktails ensures that all are welcome in the community’s “third place.”

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