DC Bar Embraces Burgeoning Alcohol-Free Culture

WUSA9 went to happy hour with a non-alcoholic blogger to sample the exotic flavors of DC’s newest pop-up bar.

WASHINGTON — A statue of the Virgin Mary greets customers at Disco Mary on Blagden Alley in northwest Washington. Although you might consider this an odd choice in a bar, the statue is adorned with shiny jewels – a spin on an iconic image.

It’s perfectly fitting here where this relatively new pop-up bar in DC’s Columbia Room makes us ponder how one can frame a bar concept around patrons who prefer to imbibe specialty non-alcoholic beverages.

It’s the brainchild of bar manager Maria Bastasch, who thinks the idea is catching on.

“It’s something I’ve been dreaming about for a while,” Bastasch said, as we lounged on sofas in a sunken room amid the dimly lit and inviting ambience of the bar. “My hope is to see more places like this.”

We arrived here last month, when some were counting the hours until the end of “Dry January”, a 31-day period when the most disciplined among us seek to cleanse ourselves of the overindulgence of the previous holiday season.

Laura Silverman founded the band Without alcohol in DC to help others explore the options she desperately sought for herself. She is not a prohibitionist. Just a classy woman looking for an outlet with more appeal that gels with her own life and preferences.

Now, almost like a travel writer, Silverman fills online pages with suggestions where people can find booze-free options in DC and beyond.

“The whole non-alcoholic culture in DC has slowly (pause for effect) brewed,” Silverman said with a chuckle. “For a very long time there was no kind of..”

“Right. And there definitely is now with events like ‘Dry January.’ With places like Disco Mary and Columbia Room that have an optional menu devoted to alcohol.”

“For a very long time, there was nothing for adults who wanted to have a non-alcoholic option but still felt sophisticated as an adult or part of the crowd,” she added.

Sitting at the bar with Silverman, the drink menu made me look underdressed in my sweater, jeans and sneakers. Browsing through the options was quite sophisticated and even a bit daunting. Of course, I have three kids, live in the suburbs, and normally call whatever is available. Let’s not digress.

The thing is, if you want a non-alcoholic option on a night out on the town, you don’t have to relegate yourself to a club soda, tonic water or, embarrassingly, a Shirly Temple.

“The same care, thought, and creativity that goes into mixology for alcoholic cocktails goes into these mocktails,” Bastasch explained.

Silverman and I ordered a “Mushpreso-Tini”; an adaptogenic coffee cordial infused with mushrooms and cocoa with Lyra white cane spirits (non-alcoholic).

“So you can add alcohol. But they’re made to exist without alcohol,” Silverman said.

“I really wanted the whole menu to be something anyone could go in and enjoy,” Bastasch said.

Mission accomplished. The ‘Mushpreso-Tini’ was smooth, sophisticated and made me feel like I should have worn pants and an expensive belt.

Silverman calls Bastasch and the mixologists at Disco Mary “flavor innovators.” And this innovation is gaining ground.

“It’s definitely subversive not to drink alcohol in a culture that basically tells you it’s okay to drink and it’s wrong not to drink alcohol,” Silverman said. “So making the conscious choice not to drink alcohol doesn’t mean you have to give up all pleasure.”

Learn more about Disco Mary HERE.

You can read the Silverman website HERE and see the full directory of non-alcoholic options HERE.

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