Zero-Proof Drinks Are Still One Hundred Percent Fun

The new drink trend is no-and-low ABV drinks, and you can find them in menus all over KC

Today, young adults, especially Generation Z, are drinking less than the generations before them. According to a 2023 Gallup poll, adults ages 18-34 are consuming 1.6 less drinks per week than the same age group reported 20 years ago. And it looks like local bars and restaurants are catching on. 

If you’re going out for drinks with a group, avoiding alcohol can sometimes be a landmine. Perhaps you have a new pregnancy you’re not ready to announce, or you’re struggling with your relationship with alcohol and don’t want to partake, but feel pressured by others to imbibe. Sometimes, you just want to get a drink without alcohol in it and don’t want to have to explain yourself. Now, having an alcohol-free drink is easier than ever with a host of mocktails and non-alcoholic drinks on menus across Kansas City. 

Sarah Nelson, the owner and chef at Ombra, a small plates restaurant that opened in December 2022 at Briarcliff, was hearing about this drinking dilemma from pregnant friends.
“I personally have a lot of friends that are having babies — I'm having a restaurant instead,” says Sarah. “And they have almost all told me stories about ‘Oh, you know, I hadn't told any of my friends that I was pregnant yet and we all went out for drinks and then I look at the menu there was literally nothing that I could order that was not just like “virgin this” or like something like really obvious.’ Essentially, they all just had stories of pretty much being outed by their order. So I wanted to make sure that we definitely had some options that were their own names and their own drinks.”

Sarah felt strongly that all of the drinks on her menu — whether they contained alcohol or not — did not explicitly sound like they were mocktails. All the drinks have punchy names, so it’s easy for people to fly under the radar with their order if they’re not drinking alcohol. On Ombra’s menu, there’s a “cocktails” section and then a “non-alcoholic libations” section, which includes teas and sodas, and then her list of zero-proof drinks.

On Ombra’s menu, the non-alcoholic drinks are just as exciting as the cocktails. The drinks aren’t made with the absence of alcohol in mind — they’re just fun drinks being made to stand on their own. One of the zero-proof drinks, the Mint Condition, which is made up of hand-squeezed lemonade, mint, fig and soda water, was actually such a hit that they added vodka to it and included it on their cocktail menu — there, it’s called Gettin’ Figgy With It.

Because Ombra rotates its menu seasonally, its other two mocktails are full of fall flavor. This autumn, they’re serving the Chai Tea Mar(tea)ni, made with chai tea, egg white and citrus, and the other is a riff on a classic cocktail — the Classic Americano, made with local Messenger espresso, tahini, demerara sugar and soda water and served in a sesame seed-rimmed glass. It’s a big brunch favorite.

Ombra also offers non-alcoholic beers — a Heineken and a Paulaner radler. They’ve served non-alcoholic wines in the past, but because NA wines have a shorter shelf life and there is less interest in them than the cocktails and beer, Sarah still isn’t sure if they have a place on the menu. And she’s still looking for NA liquor that is up to snuff, especially when it comes to whiskeys.

You can see the zero-proof trend catching on in other places in Kansas City, too. Wild Child opened in July in Shawnee, and is dedicated exclusively to no-and-low ABV drinks. The bar is the brainchild of owner Jay Sanders, who also owns the bar Drastic Measures, which received a James Beard Award nomination this year for outstanding bar. 

As the owner of Ombra, it’s important for Sarah that all her patrons have an excellent time at her restaurant, no matter what they’re ordering.

“Everybody gets to be part of the same experience and that is really important to me,” says Sarah. “Because this is definitely an experience place.”

Ombra: Small plates and libations

Located in The Village at Briarcliff

4161 N Mulberry Drive, Kansas City

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