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An analogue-decor bar with a large array of bottles, sitting above stools next to a front bar made to look like oversized brickwork
The bar at Seed Library, in Shoreditch.
Caitlin Isola/Seed Library

The Best No- and Low-Alcohol Cocktails in London and Where to Drink Them

Laying off the booze doesn’t have to mean staying dry

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The bar at Seed Library, in Shoreditch.
| Caitlin Isola/Seed Library

A good cocktail isn’t about how much booze is in the drink, but about how well the drink is balanced, what interesting flavours can come through, the creativity of the serve and, often, a sense of playfulness. Cocktail bars, after all, aren’t awarded accolades for how alcoholic their drinks are.

The last few years has seen an explosion of low or non-alcoholic spirits, with the category growing over 166 percent from 2017 - 2019 and expected to further develop by 34 percent by 2024. New low or non-alcoholic beers and wines are also on the rise: Lucky Saint, an unfiltered lager with 0.5 percent ABV has become a popular choice in many good bars and pubs. Kombuchas — particularly those made by fermenting high-quality loose leaf teas, like Real’s Royal Flush kombucha, which has become a worthy sparkling wine substitute around the city— can be a great pet-nat alternative. Muri, the Copenhagen drinks company that uses teas and fruits with gentle fermentation to create drinks akin to a wine (but all under 0.5 percent ABV) is served in restaurants throughout London that are synonymous with vinous excellence, such as Sager and Wilde in Hackney, Salon in Brixton and The Drunken Butler in Clerkenwell.

Legally in the UK a drink is considered “alcohol free” if it is below 0.5 percent ABV, and low alcohol if it is between 0.5 percent ABV and 1.2 percent. These definitions are complex for a lot of reasons; some argue that foods have a natural occurrence of alcohol (a ripe banana can be constituted by up to 0.4 percent of alcohol) but the U.K. Food Labelling Regulations say drinks over 0.05% of alcohol cannot be labelled as ‘alcohol free’.

There are an incredibly wide range of reasons why someone might not be drinking — cultural, being in recovery, pregnancy, marathon training, a big work project the next day — and it feels like that finally the drinks world is waking up to the idea that getting together for a drink is all just that, and not about the alcohol content (or asking why someone isn’t drinking.)

Overall, perusing a drinks menu should be as much fun as reading the food menu, and should have something to grab anyone’s attention and desire. There are not enough restaurants and bars that put their non-alcoholic list online or in print alongside their food menus, which is a shame, because many are very good at creating interesting drinks when asked to do so in the moment. Hopefully this will change. In the meantime, here are some great cocktail bars where the alcohol-free menu is not an afterthought.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Tayēr + Elementary

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This bar placed second on the World’s 50 Best Bars list for 2022, and co-owner Monica Berg received the Altos Bartners’ Bartender Award in 2019. It is a bar that is fun and elegant, and flavour is the centre of all it does. Try the “I’m Not Drinking… But Make It Delicious,” which is a martini-esque drink with a non-alcoholic red vermouth Martini Vibrante balanced with bitter orange, peppery notes from timur berry cordial, and floral botanicals from Everleaf’s Mountain aperitif.

Hacha Brixton

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Although an agave bar, and specialising in flights and agave tasting, Hacha has a short cocktail list with two of its modern classics reimagined as non-alcoholic pours. The Mirror Margarita, a signature drink truly worth the hype, is made with a proprietary sour mix, cane syrup and grapefruit zest. For the spirit, Hacha uses Seedlip Garden, because “it has green and herbaceous notes, which are not dissimilar to what you find in tequila, being a plant-based spirit.”

Little Mercies

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The drinks at this Crouch End favourite are named unassumingly, with serves including “Peach + Hops” and “Grapefruit + Bitters.” Reading the menu a little more closely, it becomes clear how much thought goes into creating something so simple. The Peach + Hops combines fermented peach with hops and the clever addition of petitgrain, an essential oil from the bitter orange tree which brings a lovely perfumery aroma to the drink. There’s even a house alcohol-free “gin,” made because the bar team found those on the market simply “never tasted like gin.” Instead, the bartenders created a sugar syrup that did the job of gin without the booze, combining juniper and coriander seed oils, with some lemon, lemongrass, and a few highly concentrated bitter infusions. Sugar and citric acid provide stability, and the spirit now anchors the bar’s non- and low-alcohol offering.

The Connaught Bar

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Top of the 50 Best Bar list, this bar is elegance at its best! A beautiful setting and impeccable drinks that are never trend driven; the latest menu is “Impressions,” a fitting tribute to the ephemeral pleasure of cocktails. There are three sections, with a non-alcoholic option in each. For a classic feeling, go to the Souls section and have an Echo; for a summery drink without the usual sweet notes, try Ripple, in the Nuances section.

Artesian

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This bar is all glamour and fun. They have changing menus that explore a concept and also have room for non-alcoholic creations in these themed drinks lists. Currently the menu looks at the idea of duality - opposing elements that come together to create a whole. For a summery drink that doesn’t fall into a seasonal sweetness trap try Moon, which is a light spritz with a smoky notes. Or, Darkness for savoury, herbaceous flavours — a perfect digestif. 

Swift Soho

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The non-alcoholic menu in this award-winning bar is placed in prominence alongside the alcoholic cocktails, in both its Shoreditch and Soho locations. The list is not just spirits-oriented; it also has a German lager, a few wines and a Real Dry Dragon kombucha — each drink noting the exact amount of alcohol present. The back bar also has non-alcoholic spirits available to create booze-free cocktails to suit any palate.

Dishoom Kensington

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Each of the Dishooms have a Permit Room, a bar that is open for everyone to pop in for a drink, but those dining do get priority. Their non-alcoholic menu is the longest of all these bars, and there’s also a low- and no-alcohol wine and beer list. There is a lot of fun to the cocktail list with plays on classic cocktails, such as a Collins, Spritz, Mojito, Espresso Martini and the incredible sober Negroni, which is made with a “gin” and chai “vermouth” made by the restaurant.

Seed Library

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A new addition to the Ryan Chetiyawardana “library” of bars. There might not be a separate non-alcohol menu, but almost 50 percent of the cocktails can be reimagined as a booze-free option by using thoughtfully chosen non-alcoholic spirits. Plus, the bartenders are all up for a creative challenge and with a number of syrups, juices, and interesting mixers they can concoct something for any palate. From the menu, definitely try the Galangal Penicillin, with Martini Vibrante as the spirit substitute. This spot gets included because it has an immaculate vibe that everyone should experience — there’s even a drinks “pass” where each beverage gets finished off and approved by the head bartender. It’s also a truly beautiful room, and the bar snacks include potato smileys.

Nightjar Carnaby

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With a dedicated menu to non- and low-alcohol cocktails, the new Nightjar is taking this category seriously. This bar, the little sister of the well loved Old Street institution, is fun: The bar is arranged around a small stage where musical acts perform, contributing to the feel of a place to indulge in the glamour of a cocktail bar. It is also a place to spend time, so this menu offers a great way to pace oneself if also drinking alcoholic cocktails. The Kaya Yen Orgeat is the complex flavour layering anyone could want in a long drink: spiced citrus; coconut and almond orgeat; coconut water; mango puree; fresh galangal and lime leaf. Or, the Cafe Kirsch Elixir is a play on the espresso martini, minus the vodka and with an added sharpness of cranberry.

Tayēr + Elementary

This bar placed second on the World’s 50 Best Bars list for 2022, and co-owner Monica Berg received the Altos Bartners’ Bartender Award in 2019. It is a bar that is fun and elegant, and flavour is the centre of all it does. Try the “I’m Not Drinking… But Make It Delicious,” which is a martini-esque drink with a non-alcoholic red vermouth Martini Vibrante balanced with bitter orange, peppery notes from timur berry cordial, and floral botanicals from Everleaf’s Mountain aperitif.

Hacha Brixton

Although an agave bar, and specialising in flights and agave tasting, Hacha has a short cocktail list with two of its modern classics reimagined as non-alcoholic pours. The Mirror Margarita, a signature drink truly worth the hype, is made with a proprietary sour mix, cane syrup and grapefruit zest. For the spirit, Hacha uses Seedlip Garden, because “it has green and herbaceous notes, which are not dissimilar to what you find in tequila, being a plant-based spirit.”

Little Mercies

The drinks at this Crouch End favourite are named unassumingly, with serves including “Peach + Hops” and “Grapefruit + Bitters.” Reading the menu a little more closely, it becomes clear how much thought goes into creating something so simple. The Peach + Hops combines fermented peach with hops and the clever addition of petitgrain, an essential oil from the bitter orange tree which brings a lovely perfumery aroma to the drink. There’s even a house alcohol-free “gin,” made because the bar team found those on the market simply “never tasted like gin.” Instead, the bartenders created a sugar syrup that did the job of gin without the booze, combining juniper and coriander seed oils, with some lemon, lemongrass, and a few highly concentrated bitter infusions. Sugar and citric acid provide stability, and the spirit now anchors the bar’s non- and low-alcohol offering.

The Connaught Bar

Top of the 50 Best Bar list, this bar is elegance at its best! A beautiful setting and impeccable drinks that are never trend driven; the latest menu is “Impressions,” a fitting tribute to the ephemeral pleasure of cocktails. There are three sections, with a non-alcoholic option in each. For a classic feeling, go to the Souls section and have an Echo; for a summery drink without the usual sweet notes, try Ripple, in the Nuances section.

Artesian

This bar is all glamour and fun. They have changing menus that explore a concept and also have room for non-alcoholic creations in these themed drinks lists. Currently the menu looks at the idea of duality - opposing elements that come together to create a whole. For a summery drink that doesn’t fall into a seasonal sweetness trap try Moon, which is a light spritz with a smoky notes. Or, Darkness for savoury, herbaceous flavours — a perfect digestif. 

Swift Soho

The non-alcoholic menu in this award-winning bar is placed in prominence alongside the alcoholic cocktails, in both its Shoreditch and Soho locations. The list is not just spirits-oriented; it also has a German lager, a few wines and a Real Dry Dragon kombucha — each drink noting the exact amount of alcohol present. The back bar also has non-alcoholic spirits available to create booze-free cocktails to suit any palate.

Dishoom Kensington

Each of the Dishooms have a Permit Room, a bar that is open for everyone to pop in for a drink, but those dining do get priority. Their non-alcoholic menu is the longest of all these bars, and there’s also a low- and no-alcohol wine and beer list. There is a lot of fun to the cocktail list with plays on classic cocktails, such as a Collins, Spritz, Mojito, Espresso Martini and the incredible sober Negroni, which is made with a “gin” and chai “vermouth” made by the restaurant.

Seed Library

A new addition to the Ryan Chetiyawardana “library” of bars. There might not be a separate non-alcohol menu, but almost 50 percent of the cocktails can be reimagined as a booze-free option by using thoughtfully chosen non-alcoholic spirits. Plus, the bartenders are all up for a creative challenge and with a number of syrups, juices, and interesting mixers they can concoct something for any palate. From the menu, definitely try the Galangal Penicillin, with Martini Vibrante as the spirit substitute. This spot gets included because it has an immaculate vibe that everyone should experience — there’s even a drinks “pass” where each beverage gets finished off and approved by the head bartender. It’s also a truly beautiful room, and the bar snacks include potato smileys.

Nightjar Carnaby

With a dedicated menu to non- and low-alcohol cocktails, the new Nightjar is taking this category seriously. This bar, the little sister of the well loved Old Street institution, is fun: The bar is arranged around a small stage where musical acts perform, contributing to the feel of a place to indulge in the glamour of a cocktail bar. It is also a place to spend time, so this menu offers a great way to pace oneself if also drinking alcoholic cocktails. The Kaya Yen Orgeat is the complex flavour layering anyone could want in a long drink: spiced citrus; coconut and almond orgeat; coconut water; mango puree; fresh galangal and lime leaf. Or, the Cafe Kirsch Elixir is a play on the espresso martini, minus the vodka and with an added sharpness of cranberry.

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