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Mocktails aren’t just for the ‘always-sober.’ Check out these R.I. restaurants offering zero-proof cocktails

Mocktails aren’t just a trend — they are becoming a staple in restaurants and bars where alcohol has long ruled

The Penicillin, a neutral cocktail (meaning it doesn't have alcohol) by Kevin O’Connor.GLENN OSMUNDSON

PROVIDENCE — Mocktails, the non-alcoholic sibling of the beloved cocktails, are not just for those who have sworn off alcohol.

Anyone can choose not to drink, or to be “sober curious.” Maybe they have to drive, have to finish work after meeting up with a friend, or just don’t feel like drinking that day. Mocktails aren’t just a trend — they are becoming a staple in restaurants and bars where alcohol has long ruled.

Local influencers Angie and Jeff DiMeo, the couple behind Instagram account Providence Date Night, started sharing photos of their dishes, the best places to eat in the city, and wine they’d have at home. But a little over a year ago, they ditched drinking altogether.

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When they ventured out, they realized that navigating the bar and restaurant scene sober can be a sobering experience.

“If you go to New York and you and you sit down, there is an entire section” of non-alcoholic choices, Angie DiMeo said on the Rhode Island Report podcast recently. “I really want to see that happen in Providence.”

Some restaurants have stepped up.

At Persimmon, a chef-driven fine dining establishment on the East Side of Providence, dining room and bar manger Kevin O’Connor said the restaurant started transforming their cocktail menu when they moved from Bristol in 2016. They went from a free-pour format one that’s more measured and crafted, introducing new spirits that weren’t always readily available (or inquired about) in the suburbs. Prior to the pandemic, in 2018, O’Connor said they started adding “neutral cocktails,” to their regular bar menu, unlike many other bars which have separate menus for their zero-proof drinks.

Kevin O’Connor mixes a drink at Persimmon on the East Side of Providence.Glenn Osmundson

“The whole idea was to create a list where anyone could read it on the bar menu, where it was accessible and it wasn’t a separate ‘dumbed down’ version like a kids menu,” said O’Connor. “Anyone coming to order a neutral cocktail should be able to have the same experience of someone ordering a cocktail.”

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Diners at Persimmon can order any of the restaurant’s house cocktails “neutral,” which means without alcohol. That includes the house favorite, passionfruit margarita (typically a blanco tequila and Chinola passionfruit liqueur), or the sparkling cucumber gimlet (usually made with a Prairie organic cucumber vodka). They use big zero-proof brands such Lyre’s, which sells non-alcoholic alternatives to absinthe, Cointreau, gin, Campari, and rum. Persimmon also offers Ish products — from the GinIsh and Tonic to the SpritzIsh — from Copenhagen. And they offer beer from Two Roots, a non-alcoholic brewing company in San Diego.

A sparkling cucumber gimlet made by Kevin O’Connor at Persimmon. GLENN OSMUNDSON

Offering zero-proof cocktails may be a crucial part of coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tragedies can lead to an increase in alcohol use and binge drinking, according to a study conducted at the Center for Health Research at the Geisinger Clinic. The stress from coping during the pandemic could have a similar effect.

According to a study at Mass General Hospital, alcohol consumption in 2020 will result in approximately 8,000 additional deaths from alcohol-related liver disease, 18,700 cases of liver failure, and 1,000 cases of liver cancer by 2040. And alcohol consumption changes because of the pandemic will lead to 100 additional deaths and 2,800 cases of liver failure by 2023.

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A Silk Road made by Kevin O’Connor at Persimmon.GLENN OSMUNDSON

From a business perspective, the expansion of the non-alcoholic menu at restaurants is proving successful, too.

“It would be hard for us to narrow down one or two demographics that order [the neutral cocktails],” said O’Connor. “Some of these guests usually drink, but don’t want to drink that time that they order a neutral cocktail. Others hardly or never drink. It’s a wide swath.”

Persimmon (99 Hope St. in Providence, 401-432-7422, persimmonri.com) isn’t alone in stepping up. Check out these restaurants and bars that are adding stepping it up and offering zero-proof cocktails to their regular bar lists.

STONEACRE BRASSERIE

Stoneacre Brasserie, launched by two friends who started out as dishwashers in restaurants, is a grand space known for its expansive bar and locally sourced ingredients. Try the Spice Girl (muddled jalapeño, lime, with green tea), the Oatly (cardamom, lime, ginger, and oat milk), or the Margeriter (which is made with Seedlip Grove 42, a non-alcoholic spirit that’s a Mediterranean-inspired blend of citrus, lemongrass, and ginger). 28 Washington Square in Newport, 401-619-7810, stoneacrebrasserie.com.

PERRO SALADO

Perro Salado is a Mexican-inspired restaurant on Charles Street in Newport, where cerveza like Dos Equis and Pacifico rule and where tequila flights are highly recommended. But also on their menu are lighter options, without the alcohol, such as zero-proof margaritas in various flavors, a a “Whiskey” blood orange sour using Ritual, a popular spirit replacement. They also serve non-alcoholic sparkling wine by Lyre. 19 Charles St. in Newport, 401-619-4777, perrosalado.com.

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345

In April, 345 opened by Plant City to present the state’s first-ever vegan speakeasy. Being inclusive to all diners was the priority, while also breaking the stereotypes of what a plant-based establishment has to look like. Executive chef Luis Jaramillo, who previously received the Michelin Guide’s prestigious Plate Award for freshness for his restaurant Fifty in Manhattan, has added intimate elements throughout the culinary menu, while making sure that the bar program isn’t skipping any steps. Their mocktails include the Passion Potion, coupling celery juice, passion fruit, their house-made five-spiced agave, and a butterfly pea powder. Or the White Wedding: chrysanthemum tea, oat milk, and cacao-coconut cordial. 345 S. Main Street in Providence, 401-347-4429, @345PlantCity.


Know another great restaurant or bar in Rhode Island with an in-depth mocktail or neutral cocktail list? Let us know by emailing alexa.gagosz@globe.com.

Exterior of Persimmon on Hope Street. GLENN OSMUNDSON

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.