Maureen Menkevich, bartender at Tavern on the Hill, with the tavern’s alcohol-free watermelon mock mojito.

by April Lisante

It’s the dead of August and most days have been above 90 degrees. So I can honestly say the last thing I feel like doing at an outdoor barbecue, baseball game or get-together is slugging back Solo cups or stemless goblets of beer and liquor.

What seems like a really kicking time at 2 p.m. on a benign Saturday afternoon feels really, really bad a few hours later in the heat. Dehydrated and defeated, that fun family reunion takes an ugly turn.

That’s why some summer revelers around here are ditching the booze and opting for much friendlier companions to imbibe: all-purpose, non-alcoholic mocktails.

Skeptical? So was I. How can a virgin margarita be better than the real thing?

OK, so mocktails won’t have you doing the conga line at your cousin’s wedding, or diving across a concourse to catch a Harper homer, but they will keep you refreshed while looking very hip.

While they aren’t a new thing, mocktails have seen a tremendous surge at local watering holes this summer, and not just among pregnant customers or designated drivers.

Locals are asking for mocktails to beat the heat, to grab a healthy drink alternative, or just to take a break from the alcohol all together. And yes, people are still ordering plenty of alcoholic drinks, it just seems the number of virgin drinks and club soda spritzers is climbing. Simply leave out the rum, vodka or other liquors, and it’s like a little pick-me-up.

“We have been seeing an influx in nonalcoholic drinks,” said El Poquito general manager Dee Ajike. “We just recently added the non-alcoholic margarita to the menu so people would see it on there.”

Laying off the booze is certainly not a new concept.

Dry January has been a thing since at least 2014, when England began the campaign to promote getting healthier in the new year by giving up alcohol for the month of January. It caught on enough so that Australia began promoting Dry July, a booze-free summer month to raise awareness for those with cancer. Mocktails give those abstaining something to drink at the bar while being social with friends.

But it turns out that as bartenders get more creative with their mocktails, customers are liking the artistic presentations, while drinking something they can feel good about. Most mocktails are clever combinations of muddled herbs, club soda, fresh fruit juices and squeezed or macerated fresh fruits. Throw an umbrella or some herb garnish in the glass, and it looks pretty darn alcoholic, without the side effects.

Who’s buying? The customers are men and women, young and old. Some are under 21 and can’t legally drink. Others are on their lunch hour during the workday. And still others are out at night with friends and don’t want to ruin their morning workout with a hangover the next day.

“I feel like it’s in the presentation, the visual stimulation,” said Dan White, bar manager at Paris Bistro and Jazz Café. “With all you taste, all the flavors, you fall in love with them.”

White created a basil lemonade for Paris this summer, a combination of lemonade with muddled basil on the rocks. A lavender lemonade is also a possibility there.

“We have a very wide imagination here,” White said. “We can make a mocktail for anyone.”

The sky is truly the limit when mocktail mixology takes over. White can do a blueberry mocktail with rosemary and lime, or virgin mojitos or margaritas. “Or how about freshly ground raspberries with Meyer lemon juice and mineral water? For some people at lunch it’s an energizer instead of coffee.”

Not convinced? Try Tavern on the Hill’s mock mojito with muddled lime and mint, simple syrup and club soda. It’s like your brain can’t find the Bacardi, but it doesn’t care because it’s so good. They also do a watermelon version.

“It’s like a limeade,” said bartender Maureen Menkevich. “It’s light, refreshing and minty. It seems like it would have alcohol, but it doesn’t.”

Or the McNally’s Blue Sunshine, a concoction of fresh blueberries, club soda and lemonade. I tried it at home, and you can find the recipe below. Your brain will be searching for the blueberry vodka, but will give up trying because it’s just plain delicious. And don’t mock the spritzers until you’ve tried them.

“A lot of people are into spritzers now,” said bartender Amy Garrison, of Scoogi’s in Flourtown. “We usually whip something up with different juices. We kind of cater to what people want as they come in.”

McNally’s Blue Sunshine
8 ounces club soda
8 ounces lemonade
A handful of fresh blueberries
Place ice, then blueberries in a pilsner glass
Add lemonade then club soda