In the last five years, at least five new dry stores that sell alcohol-free wines, craft beers and bottled drinks have opened in New York City.
Oct. 14, 2021Updated 12:45 p.m. ET
Killian Moore, a building superintendent, stopped drinking six years ago. This meant a lot of seltzer at parties. It grew tiresome.
Then he found out about Curious Elixirs, bottled, alcohol-free cocktails. His favorite was a spicy jalapeño pineapple concoction. “It’s faux margarita,” he said. “You get the heat you might get from tequila, and the pineapple is the fruit part; they’re real sipping drinks.” Problem was, the product was hard to find.
But this year, he discovered Boisson, a new shop specializing in alcohol-free drinks in his neighborhood on the Upper East Side. “I couldn’t believe I found them here or that this store existed,” said Mr. Moore, 39, who came to booze-free cocktails delicately.
“I was afraid if I went with something too close to alcohol it might make me want to drink again, but these are perfect,” he said.
Pandemic drinking, and the subsequent move to sobriety or temperance for many people, has been well documented. So has the craft cocktail movement. As if on cue, over the past year, at least five so-called dry stores have opened in New York, offering alcohol-free wines, craft beers and bottled drinks made with herbs, fruits and spices.
Barrie Arnold, 39, and Nick Bodkins, 36, who were co-workers at an insurance software company before starting Boisson together, have gone through nondrinking phases themselves. Both were doing a dry January this year — Mr. Bodkins, whose wife was pregnant, was forgoing alcohol as an act of solidarity and Mr. Arnold was simply taking a break — when they came up with their idea.
They had been tracking the alcohol-free trend in Britain and had noticed growth in the market. They saw an opportunity in New York City. Now they have three Boisson locations: in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, and in the West Village and on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
“A lot of great businesses were created in tough times or during recessions,” Mr. Arnold said. “Thirty-five to 40 percent of our customers are returnees,” he continued. “We are on to something.”
They seem to be. One report projected that the nonalcoholic drink market — including soft drinks and bottled teas, coffees and water — will reach $1.6 trillion worldwide by 2025. Another study analyzed American consumer demand on Amazon for nonalcoholic beverages and found a 60 percent increase from January through July this year compared with the same period in 2020. During the time frame, the demand for nonalcoholic beer increased by 85 percent.
Douglas Watters opened Spirited Away, a dry store on the Lower East Side, last November. The summer before, he had begun to examine his drinking habits and health, he said, and started experimenting with booze-free cocktails. He liked the results. “I loved retaining the ritual and celebrating the end of the work day or an achievement but without feeling bad the next day.”
Recently, Mr. Watters, 39, left his job at Bank of America Merrill Lynch to work full time on his business. Considered the first dry retailer in New York City, Spirited Away started with 70 products and now offers 140. Prices range from $7.50 for an individual can of Kin Euphorics, caffeinated flavored spritzes, to $75 for a bottle of Rasasvada, a high-end, plant-based “spirit restorative.”
He has already outgrown his 200-square-foot shop. Next month, he will move to a store twice the size in NoLIta.
The booze-free cocktail movement seems to be following the evolution of craft cocktails. “People are sophisticated drinkers; they want different combinations of complex and interesting tastes,” Mr. Watters said. “Diversity of product has increased. Technology has, as well. Now there are vapor or vacuum distillation and new techniques,” he continued. “That’s helped to open the market.”
Minus Moonshine, a self-described “dry drinks + potions shop” in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, opened in June. In addition to selling their wares, the co-founders, Apryl Electra Storms and Melissa Irisarri, both 41, host monthly meet-ups for groups like sober-curious parents and sober singles.
“Nondrinkers, like myself, were ignored for so long,” said Mx. Storms, who identifies as nonbinary. “As a former chef, I have a passion for beverages. I just knew this was something I was supposed to do next with my life.”
Bars and restaurants have been amping up their drink menus to include extensive and sophisticated nonalcoholic selections.
“It’s a new category that’s commanding attention,” said Miguel de Leon, 37, the wine director at Pinch Chinese, in SoHo. For the past two years he has cultivated the restaurant’s alcohol-free menu, which currently offers cocktails, wine proxies, teas and kombucha. “This is an entry point that makes beverages complex while addressing a gastronomic aspect.”
Lorelei Bandrovschi, the founder of Listen Bar, which organizes alcohol-free pop-up events, knows all about this growing market. “People who once felt like the odd man out because they weren’t drinking are now part of a rising momentum of sober-curious people,” she said. Ms. Bandrovschi is now offering a six-week program online for people who want to start alcohol-free businesses.
“I don’t think drinking is going away,” she said, “but not drinking will feel very normal.”
Faith Logerstedt, a Boisson customer who is doing a sober October, agrees with this sentiment.
“I’ve been sober-curious and wanted to do a health reset,” she said. As the director of marketing and communications for a restaurant group, Ms. Logerstedt, 29, works in an industry where alcohol is everywhere, so she welcomes more alcohol-free options. “You’re used to having wine at night; now you don’t have to miss that flavor or experience.”
She also likes the human contact and activity of going to an actual store. “Not everyone wants to order online,” she said. “People still want to stop in and have a retail experience.”
For the moment, these few dry stores are not worried about the competition.
“What’s good for one company is good for another,” Mr. Watters said. “Stores like these are part of a bigger trend of health and well-being,” he continued. When asked what he envisioned for the city’s social drinking scene, he said that he hoped for one with a “a Roaring ’20s vibe.”
One that would entail, of course, plenty of sober cocktail options besides seltzer.