Although I love a good cocktail, I did not find it that challenging to lay off the booze for the duration of my pregnancy (here is the result). I could smell gin from tables away, but I mostly wanted a refill on my water (no one tells you how thirsty you'll be when pregnant!). When I wanted a cocktail replacement—something refreshing or meant to pair with food or just offering a little palate excitement—I ventured tentatively into the land of the mocktail. Most of the options were unbalanced and overly sweet, feeling like a dessert replacement rather than an aperitif. Luckily, Chicago is a great drinking city, and some places were up to the challenge of offering non-alcoholic beverages that wouldn't induce diabetic shock.
Whether you are expecting, entertaining a pregnant guest, or simply looking to cut back on your spirit consumption, here are my five favorite options for drinking without the booze.
Three Dots and a Dash
Remember being thirteen and discovering the joys of a virgin strawberry daiquiri? Reignite that nostalgia at Paul McGee's new River North tiki bar, where the entire menu can be created in non-alcoholic form. Like any good vacation beverage, the offerings are colorful and accessorized, but unlike the drinks I recall from my youth, they are not sickeningly sweet. The waitress suggested sticking to fruitier choices, and I was not disappointed with the Halekulani—a balanced combination of grenadine, lemon, pineapple, and Angostura bitters.
Although I missed out on celebrating New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day with the typical bubbly, it was the summer months without booze that really dragged on. Barbecue, that summer staple, especially seems to beg for a cool beverage to balance it out. Chicago Q comes to the rescue with The Sparkling Grapefruit, a housemade grapefruit soda, which is not only refreshing, but also the right balance of bitter, acidic, and sweet to perfectly complement smoked meat.
Yusho and Billy Sunday
Whether you want more of a full dining experience (Yusho) or a spot focused on drinks (Billy Sunday), these related projects both feature a fantastic housemade tonic. Even tonic haters can be won over with this complex version, which does not have a strong quinine presence. Of all the non-alcoholic drinks I consumed during my pregnancy, this is the one I ordered the most frequently; it pairs well with food, and its subtlety encourages ordering a second—unlike most fruit-forward mocktails.
In anticipation of fewer fancy nights out once the baby arrived, my husband and I took full advantage of the last few months to dine at hotels, steakhouses, and newly opened hotspots. While most of the city's fancier restaurants will provide juice in a martini glass and call it a mocktail, Allium stands out among the crowd for featuring two thoughtful non-alcoholic cocktails on its drink menu. The black-rose lemonade is sweet and tart, while the lychee orange blossom soda is refreshing and smooth.
Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar
Of all the types of drinking establishments, I found casual neighborhood bars to be the least satisfying as a teetotaler. Sure, a fountain soda is okay, but I never looked forward to a night out drinking Sprite. Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar is well-established as a favorite for beer drinkers and cocktail lovers alike, and the bar also offers a fantastic bottled ginger beer. Maria's Ginger Beer, a collaboration with Filbert's Soda, is available for purchase at a few locations around town (including Publican Quality Meats) but the most satisfying way to enjoy it is at a stool in Bridgeport's favorite bar.