In this legal weed-happy city, the evolving traditions of neo-Denver continually reveal themselves — especially during the holidays. Last year, for instance, I found myself at a marijuana-sponsored New Year's Eve party, where nicely rolled joints sat on tables next to oversize mason jars packed with THC-infused truffles, which were being served alongside a menu of high-complementing cuisine. I'm not much of a partier in the substance sense, though I don't mind weed; I partake from time to time. And frankly, I would much rather be in a room full of stoned strangers than drunk ones, because other than the occasional overly excited cannabis cheerleader just dying to 'splain everything he ever learned about marijuana at the Community College of Weed, pot doesn't tend to elevate your ego the way alcohol does.
Still, while hanging around this cannabis-supported NYE function, I came upon an age-old problem for any adult who doesn't consume alcohol: the lack of non-alcoholic drink options at the bar. There was not a drop of water at the party, let alone anything sparkling for me to consume come toast time. It's as if they forgot that some of the world doesn't always want to be anywhere near the path to drunkenness.
While a private party not having so much as a can of Sprite on hand to use for a toast as we all mumbled through "Auld Lang Syne" at midnight was annoying, it's not an uncommon phenomenon. For people who don't drink alcohol because they don't want to, they choose not to or (like me) they just can't, finding a dignified alcohol-free beverage within this selfish adulthood that focuses most social events around drinking can feel impossible.
When I quit drinking nine years ago, I took to carrying around my own beverage options because bars were often so bad at stocking them. I still feel no shame when I pull a thermos full of piping hot Genmaicha or a cumbersome, 16-ish ounce green glass bottle of San Pellegrino from my purse and serve myself in a drinking establishment. Or, if I'm lucky and it's a regular old bar, it will have club soda on tap and I can make do. But as I have found with some of the hipper spots in new-style Denver, particularly craft beer-specific joints, I'm often screwed. I've had more than enough surly bartenders point toward a giant plastic jug of water at the end of their bar when I've asked for a non-beer option. It's like someone sent out a memo that people who don't drink also don't have any money. But surprise! I'll pay for a Shirley Temple and then, get this: I'll also tip ya. I like good service and I like a nicely made drink, even if it comes booze-less.
Sometimes I ask for a pint glass of soda water with a splash of cranberry and a lime just to feel like I'm one of the big kids. Other times I'll try to be creative and find the fruitiest "handcrafted cocktail" on a drink menu and ask for it to be made without alcohol. This often elicits a "why in the hell would you want to drink that?" face from a bartender — but the truth is, I just want to be treated like any other adult at the bar. I want to be able to sit down after a hard day and have someone give a shit enough to pour me a drink with a little intention added to the mix. It's not about the option of having an option that looks similar in ritualistic consumption to an alcoholic beverage; it's about the ritual itself. I like to enjoy a mocktail made by someone who wants to serve it to me.
But this idea that a beverage can be alcohol-free and still be delicious and meaningful isn't just about having them available in bar situations. I've often found myself at a social gathering at someone's house and offered tap water or the generic soda they bought as mixers for the alcoholic drinks. It's as if some folks aren't clued into the magical reality that is not-boozy, fun, social drinks — sparkling cider, kombucha, dry soda, assorted teas and, of course, good coffee are all things available for the home drink purveyor. Whatever it is, it's the thought that counts, like when I had a friend offer me apple Pedialyte because she purchased it thinking it would be a cool, alcohol-free option. It was gross, but I drank it because it made me so happy that she even made the effort.
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Last week, my boyfriend and I met a friend for drinks at Beast + Bottle on East 17th Avenue. As we slipped into the cozy bar at the back of the bustling, tight-squeeze of a restaurant, I threw down an order for a Shirley Temple, half-expecting to be told they didn't serve those. I had some sort of unwarranted, preconceived notion that this schmancy-looking place wasn't going to have any drink option for me — and I couldn't have been more wrong. The bartender filled a slim glass with ice and poured the richest red grenadine I had ever seen over it before cracking open a bottle of Rocky Mountain Soda Company's Loveland Lemon-limeade to top it off. It was the best Shirley Temple of all time.
I spent the rest of the night watching this drinkmaster create beverage after beverage with precision. He threw ice cubes into his Cobbler shaker and gave every deserving drink just the right amount of twists of his wrist before topping the resulting alcoholic refreshments with grated-to-order orange zest. All of the fruit he used as garnish was cut-to-order, too. Booze-ful or booze-less, each drink was made with care.
As friendsgiving kicks off the holiday season, make this time a little more awesome for all of the people you invite over to your house or serve at a bar. You don't have to be a bartender from heaven who labors over his or her creations to make a gathering great. Just have something to offer the non-drinkers that makes them feel like a part of it all. So much of our celebratory culture is centered around drinking, so why not make it fun for everyone? Besides, we alcohol-free types aren't just cheap dates, we also embody the added bonus of always being able to drive you home safely, too.