Drinks

Dry Run

The five best booze-free drinks to sip right now
Illustration: Libby VanderPloeg
Best Nonalcoholic Drinks in NYC
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You're nearly halfway into an alcohol-free Drynuary! Props to you. Or perhaps you're cutting down on the booze and clocking in more time with leafy greens and the juicer at home. Sip on.

But when you're out at brunch, dinner or happy hour, zero-proof menu options can seem a little sparse, and you may be left wondering what to pair with your meals beyond water and depressingly Champagne-free OJ.

You can still kick off 2015 with drinks that are not only alcohol free but some that are creative and adventurous (homemade Pernod!), others comforting and warming (tater-laden lattes) and all delicious and satisfying.

Here are five so good you won't miss the tipsy stuff.

Mimosa, revamped: French lemonade ($6), Narcissa, East Village
In the midst of single-digit temps and all that snow, you may be thirsting for a little more sunshine in your life. It rises up in the form of this bright, lovely lemonade from chef de bar Gates Otsuji. The game changer on this summertime classic? Agar agar. Otsuji clarifies lemon juice by adding this algae-based gelatin and then letting the liquid strain for several hours. This strips the juice of pucker-inducing sourness and cloudiness, revealing a cleaner, sweeter flavor. He then stirs in San Pellegrino (the fine-grained bubbles boost the elegance of the drink) and tops it with a bit of shiso for extra freshness.

Pro tip: Obviously, order for lunch, but if you don't see it at dinner just ask for the mocktail menu.

Happy sub for happy hour: Virgin pastis ($3.50), El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette, Lower East Side
Gerardo Gonzalez, El Rey's chef, has some thoughts on booze-free drinks. "The problem with nonalcoholic drinks is that they taste really fizzy and not satiating in any way," Gonzalez explains. "It's missing that mouthfeel."

He found an innovative way, with leftover ricotta whey. Gonzalez was initially trying to make licuado, Mexico's milky melon juice, until a fellow cook remarked that its cloudy pale green hue looked more like Pernod. Gonzalez infuses the hot whey with fennel scraps, star anise and tarragon simple syrup, then lets it steep and cool before pouring it over ice. It's creamy, slightly medicinal (in a good way) and probably the best nonalcoholic pastis we've had. (Others agree.)

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Tiki, transformed: Bartender's choice mocktail ($6 to $8), Gotham West Market, Hell's Kitchen
What are you supposed to do when all your friends are sorting through the lengthy beer list at The Cannibal? Order a sparkling water? Not on beverage director Bill Brooks's watch. Pull up a stool, order the bartender's choice mocktail and be prepared to chew the fat. The Cannibal's offerings vary by day, depending on who is behind the bar, which ingredients they're itching to play around with and, most importantly, what you're into. Recently, Brooks has been loving Dark 'n' Stormies, so he whipped up a ginger drink for us, a spicy combination of ginger juice and straight-up ginger purée tamed by squeezes of lemon and lime and a dose of demerara simple syrup. That'll clear your sinuses.

Hooch-free hangover cure: Fresh pressed juices ($10 each), Little Park, Tribeca
Yes, juices, but you should pay attention to these. Chef de cuisine Min Kong recently rolled them out for Little Park's new breakfast and lunch services but veers away from the usual kale, apple and ginger combo. Kong keeps them simple, not too stringent and vegetal, and just sweet enough. We're partial to the spicy pineapple, swirled with agave syrup and laced with jalapeño for a pleasant lingering heat, and the thick, honeyed beet juice that's boosted with carrots for extra sweetness and grapefruit and pomegranate for a hit of acidity.

Hot toddy upgrade: Sweet potato latte ($5.50), Grace Street, Ktown
Long on this coffee shop's R&D list, the sweet potato latte is finally here in its perfected form. Manager Colin Quek played around with lots of taters, from a fluffy yellow Korean variety to the sweet orange North Carolina kind he settled on, to highlight their distinctive nutty taste after they're roasted, tossed with brown butter and fall spices and whirred into chunks. Steamed milk goes into the mix, and it's all topped with a blast of maple syrup whipped cream, a sprinkling of candied walnuts and a torched marshmallow. It's the best thing to warm your hands around on wintry days, but you may be wondering: why leave the sweet potatoes in chunk form? "So you have something to nibble on in the drink," Quek says. Bubble tea 2.0 on the horizon?

Narcissa 25 Cooper Sq. New York NY 10003 212-228-3344 El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette 100 Stanton St. New York NY 10002 212-260-3950 Gotham West Market 600 11th Ave. New York NY 10036 212-582-7940 Little Park 85 W. Broadway New York NY 10007 212-220-4110 Grace Street 17 W. 32nd St. New York NY 10001
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