A few restaurants around Madison known for their craft cocktails are also starting to carve out a spot for creative nonalcoholic drinks that go beyond iced tea and lemonade. The local ingredients that distinguish full-strength craft cocktails also go into these booze-free creations. Whether you’re a designated driver, pregnant or a nondrinker altogether, here are four top spots where there’s just as much care lavished upon virgin cocktails as those with spirits.
Oliver’s Public House, 2540 University Ave., features a menu section entitled “No ID Required,” where patrons will find seasonally inspired, alcohol-free drinks.
Or the drinks might even be inspired by current events. The summer menu had five drinks named for Pokémon characters.
Bar manager Ricky Pajewski says Oliver’s caters to families and hospital workers (UW Hospital and Clinics is close by), so it’s important to offer “something fun” to people who aren’t drinking alcohol. Oliver’s doesn’t skimp on presentation — Pajewski even brought a copper mug,
usually reserved for Moscow Mules, full of water for the baby in our group.
The Jigglypuff is a floral mixture of rose-rhubarb shrub, lemon juice, rose water and sparkling water. The peach-colored drink comes in a champagne flute with a cherry on top. It was bubbly and tart, and I didn’t miss the champagne.
My companion went for the Pikachu, a glammed-up Squirt-like concoction (in a good way) of mango shrub, lemon juice, orange juice and sparkling water. One of the best things about this drink, served in a highball glass, was the lemon peel lightning bolt floating on top. Both drinks cost $5, and alongside house-made pretzels and a jar of pimento cheese, this made for a decadent pre-happy hour happy hour.
Another spot known for its extensive bar menu is Forequarter, 708 E. Johnson St. It too does right by its nonalcoholic drinks. In addition to house-made ginger beer and cola, Forequarter features hibiscus gingerade, made with ginger beer, lemon, sugar and a float of hibiscus tea. The drink is a looker, with a layer of pink floating on top of summery yellow, but make sure to mix it up before you take a sip to get the full effect of the spicy, warm ginger throughout.
Forequarter also offers seasonal, house-made flavored tonics that change throughout the year as kegs run out. The late summer flavor was strawberry, followed by raspberry. In winter, the flavors will likely be lavender or lemongrass.
Sitting at Forequarter’s gorgeous bar with either of these refreshers and a cheese board makes for a lovely late afternoon treat.
Graze, 1 S. Pinckney St., makes sure to have several nonalcoholic mixed drinks on the menu. The stellar Alicia’s Folly is vanilla syrup, half and half and soda water. The vanilla syrup is made in-house by the pastry team. This drink tastes like a really creamy vanilla soda, or perhaps a white Russian without the Kahlua.
Another option is the tart cherry spritz, made with local Quince and Apple tart cherry grenadine, orange juice and soda water.
And don’t forget the Weary Traveler Freehouse,
1201 Williamson St., where “The Catfish” is a menu staple. Named for blues musician Catfish Stephenson, who has a long-running gig at the Weary (and who no longer drinks alcohol), the namesake drink is seltzer and your choice of fresh or Rose’s lime juice (fresh, please!) served with lots of ice in a pint glass.
While my go-to order at the Weary is likely to remain a whiskey old fashioned with olives, the Catfish is a refreshing alternative for those times when I don’t want to join the drinking crowd.