Dry January: The best bars to drink in when you’re not drinking

Booze-free favourite: Seedlip is found in more and more London bars  (Yesmore/Unsplash)
Booze-free favourite: Seedlip is found in more and more London bars (Yesmore/Unsplash)

By now, the festive headaches have hopefully passed and the new year is well and truly underway. No more chocolate biscuits washed down with an Irish Coffee for breakfast; normal service has resumed, the emails are back. January is a time for reflection, recovery and, for a growing number, resisting alcohol.

The last few years have seen a rise in seriously high quality “low-and-no” alcoholic drink alternatives. Ingenious fermentation, distillation and preparations have led to a boom in booze-free drinks that go well beyond a watery beer or too-fruity mocktail.

As such, the town’s best bars have long been catching on, serving an ever-increasing set of Londoners eager to bin booze — at least for a little while — and deliver more delicious alcohol-free alternatives. So, for those looking at the next 25 days or so as a chance to take a break from the sauce, help is at hand. Raise a glass to going sober — and think of all those glorious hangover-free mornings, too.

The best bars to swerve the sauce in London

Old-school delight: Le Magritte Bar (Press handout)
Old-school delight: Le Magritte Bar (Press handout)

More brands are producing better bar-worthy beverages in the alcohol-free market, which has been quickly recognised by bartenders who are eagerly tapping into these creations to inspire a new generation of zero alcohol cocktails to supplement their existing mixes.

Try Le Magritte Bar at the Beaumont Hotel (W1, thebeaumont.com), an elegant room serving a handful of excellent non-alcoholic cocktails, as well as offering a Champagne afternoon tea sans champers — instead the experience begins with a chilled glass of excellent Jing sparkling tea. The Permit Room at Dishoom Carnaby (W1, dishoom.com) is another top spot for sober serves. Here, they’re dubbed Teetotal Tipples and total nearly twenty, including a decent selection of restaurant-created concoctions and zero-percent beers and wines. Another noteworthy Soho spot is Nightjar Carnaby (W1, nightjarcarnaby.com), which this month has teamed up with booze-free drinks brand Three Spirit for a new menu of virgin serves being poured throughout dry January.

Older stalwarts of London cocktail culture are starting to turn, too. The American Bar at The Savoy (WC2, thesavoylondon.com) offers three carefully crafted no alcohol options — the French Fizz is probably the best of the bunch — but more than this, offer nearly a dozen alcohol-free spirits to recreate any preferred classic cocktail, minus the booze. Similarly, a non-alcoholic Negroni can be found in the stylish surrounds of the classic Library Bar at the Lanesborough (SW1, oetkercollection.com) — the best time to go is on a Tuesday, for a little live music. Or, if your credit card really needs a January workout, the Connaught Bar — a high flyer on many a World’s Best list — has options too. The Ripple on their Nuances menu is a smart choice; it features Everleaf forest, clementine and peach and jasmine soda. Otherwise, head up to the Langham for the Artesian Bar (W1, artesian-bar.co.uk), where three of the 14 drinks that make the menu are alcohol-free. One, Darkness, has lime, wasabi and galangal (which resembles ginger but has a more pronounced citrus note) alongside a slug of Seedlip 94, which sounds a spicy, earthy mix.

Going dry needn’t necessarily mean dolling up for high-end hotel, however: at the Mr Fogg’s bars across town (various locations, mr-foggs.com), there’s a January menu running as part of a partnership with Columbian brand Caleño; dry twists include an espresso martini and a lavender daiquiri.

Eating while out?

Utter elegance: Le Dame de Pic has a long-running virgin cocktail pairing (Cris Barnett)
Utter elegance: Le Dame de Pic has a long-running virgin cocktail pairing (Cris Barnett)

One of the more tiresome aspects of going without drink during the grimmest month of the year is that eating out can sometimes feel a chore without the wine, but it needn’t. Chantelle Nicholson’s Apricity (W1, apricityrestaurant.com), which has a keen focus on sustainability and low-waste, has come up with a list of low-and-no cocktails to pair with her British-forward cooking; among these a Swede-Tini and a Hogweed Java. Granted, neither may sound especially appetising, but Nicholson has a magic touch with things like hogweed and swede; she turns ugly ducklings into swans.

Elsewhere, the Soho branch of steak specialists Macellaio (W1, macellaiorc.com/soho) is running mocktail masterclasses on January 11, 18 and 25, where a three-course menu is paired with virgin cocktails. Diners will learn how to mix up their own, too, courtesy of bar manager Samuele Lombardi.

For a more upscale take, La Dame de Pic, Anne Sophie Pic’s two-star by Tower Hill (EC3, ladamedepiclondon.co.uk) has, since October, been running an alcohol-free drinks pairing for her celebrated menu; boozeless but beautiful.

Alcohol free activities and events

Paint the town... dry: the Paint and Vino session in Brixton Jamm is throwing a boozeless version of its event this month (Press handout)
Paint the town... dry: the Paint and Vino session in Brixton Jamm is throwing a boozeless version of its event this month (Press handout)

Socialising with a little competition involved — sometimes misleading dubbed competitive socialising, which would in actuality be a rather different thing altogether — isn’t going anywhere in London, and Gravity (SW18, gravity-uk.com) over in Wandsworth seems to have a monopoly on everything a big kid could wish for. There’s immersive VR, gamer-centric e-Sports, urban mini golf and digital darts all available for around £10-a-head with their January midweek tickets. Dry drinks are across the menu.

While drinking and driving can never be condoned, an exception might be made for race simulator F1 Arcade (EC4, f1arcade.com) — but fortunately there is a very decent set of alcohol-free options on the huge cocktail menu for those determined to keep a clear head. Found under the Designated Drivers section of the menu, whilst the names of these creations could do with a change — Baby Driver and Safety Car, say —the Pit Stop sounds perfect to refuel with: Seedlip Grove and sparkling alcohol-free fizz with Champagne syrup.

For a slightly calmer time of it, Paint and Vino in Brixton Jamm (SW9, brixtonjamm.org) has been gaining in popularity over the past few years. The recipe is simple enough; give slightly tipsy people an art class and watch their creativity unfold. Happily for those abstaining, in January the vino is replaced with plentiful low-and-no options.

Elsewhere, The Palm House in Victoria (SW1, palmhouselondon.co.uk), have collaborated with Caleño — who’re everywhere at the minute — to line up a Thursday evening event series with a dance class, two mocktails and goody bag, running throughout January.

Many people claim to be funnier when a little tipsy. In Bethnal Green, the Backyard Comedy Club (E2, backyardcomedyclub.co.uk) is banking on that not being the case. It’s hosting an alcohol-free comedy club for a dry January special featuring both professional and more up-and-coming comics.

Whilst a number of alcohol-free festivals have shut in the wake of the pandemic, there are many independent events on offer in January for those wishing to stop, pause or cut back on the booze. The Mindful Drinking Festival might not be running but Club Soda, the brand behind the events, is still going strong with a range of other alcohol-free evenings. The Club Soda tasting room and shop on Drury Lane (WC2, joinclubsoda.com) will host a full calendar of tastings during January, from whisky and wine to beer and cocktails, as well as LGBTQ+ nights, and online sessions around alcohol and mindfulness. Helpfully, they also offer advice and support for those who might be looking to cut back longer term, too. Happy (not) drinking.