Chicago’s restaurant and bar scene has always been ahead of the curve. The city’s vibrant sense of community, international influences, and creative restaurants, bars, and businesses make Chicago a food and beverage trendsetter on par with New York, LA, and San Francisco.
In the world of cocktails, even the most forward-thinking cities can fall short when it comes to spirit-free options. Chicago is not one of those cities. Though many call Chicago the “Second City” in terms of culture like entertainment and food, it has quickly become the “First City” for the burgeoning non-alcoholic scene, surpassing its coastal competitors without a backward glance.
Below is The Zero Proof guide for this bustling metropolis, full of influential mixologists and organizations dedicated to ensuring its alcohol free refreshments are just as flavorful as they are fun.
Location: West Loop
Kumiko is an omakase-style bar owned by creative mixologist Julia Momosé, a true original in the cocktail industry. Born and raised in Japan, Momosé thoughtfully incorporates Japanese flavors and ingredients into her creations, like Tasmanian pepperberry, purple sweet potato vinegar, yuzu, and sanshō, bringing nuance and variety to traditional cocktails.
Momosé is on a mission to rid the world of the term mocktail-- she literally wrote a manifesto-- preferring spirit-free, which she defines as “any variety of stimulating non-alcoholic mixed drink made of diverse and distinct ingredients," and Kumiko's spirit-free menu is expertly crafted by Momosé herself. Patrons can enjoy a variety of non-alcoholic drinks alongside Japanese-inspired bites such as Shiso Nori Cashews, Karaagé Fried Chicken, and Wagyū Katsu Sandos.
Location: Logan Square
Go to Daisies for the handmade pasta, and stay for what they call their “Spirit Free Treats." (Julia Momose's influence can be found all over Chicago; "spirit-free" is the term of choice for non-alcoholic drinks city-wide.) Daisies proudly serves homemade kombucha on tap, with flavors rotating seasonally, depending on available fruit, as well as house-made fermented root beer, herb sodas, and more. On a mission to eliminate waste in the restaurant, Daisies uses stems from parsley, basil, tarragon, and sage in their herb sodas. One house favorite, the Mushroom Sour, is made from fermented portobello mushroom stems, egg white, and lemon. Best described as a kind of mushroom lemonade, the Mushroom Sour is an earthy yet bright twist on the traditional beverage.
Location: Multiple stores throughout Chicago
Foxtrot Market, an upscale convenience store full of local goodies & snacks, is home to a wide and impressive variety of zero-proof beer, wine, and spirits. You'll find well loved brands like Kin, Ghia, ISH, and Figlia on Foxtrot's shelves.
And what’s a good cocktail without finger food? Fox Trot is a one stop shop for aperitivo-hour supplies, with options like blue cheese stuffed olives, endless cheese and charcuterie, and local favorites like the delightfully crunchy Seedy Oat Crackers from Chicago's All Together Now.
Location: West Loop
This Michelin-starred, contemporary-American dining establishment in Chicago’s West Loop offers a fantastic tasting menu, with spirit-free pairings by Julia Momosé of Kumiko.
At Oriole, ingeniously crafted dishes such as Miyazaki Wagyu tartare with smoked oyster aioli and caraway capellini with yeast and white truffles are made even better with the addition of zero-proof beverages that will delight even the most discerning wine connoisseurs. Influenced by seasonal flavors, patrons can expect beverages like snap pea verjus, hydrangea leaves and soda, and a Malt made with toasted Belgian biscuit malt, banana skin tea, nutmeg, and other unusual ingredients. These intriguing non-alcoholic pairings will let you not only savor your extraordinary meal, but remember every delicious detail.
Location: South Loop
In addition to the intimately swanky lounge setting and bumping DJ sets, guests can enjoy M Lounge’s extensive alcohol-free menu. Zero-proof sparkling brut is the star here, featured in drinks such as the Strawberry Lemonade Fizz Martini, as well as bellinis and mimosas.
Location: Fulton Market
This Chicago staple features a comprehensive drink menu, which features a rotating selection of booze-free drinks. Recently the Publican’s Zero Proof menu included Fall Attire, made with Spiritless Kentucky 74, pumpkin spice, and ginger beer, as well as refreshing flavor mixes such as cucumber & watermelon, basil & pomegranate, and cranberry & ginger.
Location: Fulton Market
Taking inspiration from the busy brasseries of France, this neighborhood bar & restaurant features simple yet decadent fare, such as oysters with Meyer lemon-tomato mignonette and a sumptuous gruyére mousse with caramelized shallots. The Loyalist’s elegant spirit-free cocktail menu covers all bases, depending on your mood and food order.
Go “Bright and Refreshing” with Lyre's Agave Reserva, made with berry melon tea, lime, soda, and mint, or perhaps opt into the “Herbal and Citrus” route with Seedlip garden, cinnamon, ginger berry tea, and lemon.
Location: Humboldt Park
Bendición Dry Bar is one of the first alcohol-free bottle shops in Chicago. This community space doubles as a storefront for an extensive selection of zero-proof beverages and fun pop-up events throughout the year. Whether you’re looking to shop your favorite non-alc brands, or are in need of a funky, laid-back destination to hang out with a date or friends, Bendición Dry Bar is the place.
Location: Lincoln Park
You've probably heard of Alinea, the Michelin-starred restaurant that draws food lovers from around the world to experience Chef Grant Achatz's inventive and experimental tasting menu. But have you heard about Alinea’s non-alcoholic flights available in The Salon and The Gallery? Chef Achatz has always stressed the importance of thoughtfully crafted and interesting options available to those who prefer their drinks alcohol-free. The zero-proof flights at Alinea are entire dishes in liquid form, full of complex flavors and innovative ingredients.
Location: West Loop
The Aviary, Alinea's sister bar, has earned titles like “World’s Best Cocktail Menu” and “Most Creative Drink List” throughout the years, and is known for playful and inventive cocktails, non-alcoholic and full-proof alike. Creative and decadent small plates are are also available to snack while you sip.
The Aviary, and the Alinea Group as a whole, are so passionate about zero-proof cocktails that they made a book about it. Chef Achatz and Alinea’s co-owner, Nick Kokonas, worked in collaboration with Allen and Sarah Hemberger to write ZERO: A New Approach to Non-Alcoholic Drink. Though the techniques in the book's nearly 100 recipes can be daunting for the home mixologist, flipping through ZERO will give you an idea of the complexity, effort, and ingredients that go into the Alinea Group's non-alcoholic drink programs.
Bella Foote is a Chicago-based freelance writer with a passion for covering the cultural and societal impact of food, drink, and community.