Post Pandemic Travel and AF Culture

By Mocktail MO

It seemed like March 12, 2020, was a day that the entire globe shut down.  Little did we all know for how long the sudden stop would last.  It turned out that for nearly two years people shuttered themselves, if not exclusively in their homes, then within the confines of their city or town.  Yes, we adapted to our compartmented lives and, in some ways, flourished. From the comfort of our sofas and PJs we peered into our laptops and met people that otherwise would have remained a distant mystery.  People we only would have heard or read about, not had actual conversations with over ZOOM.  (Please raise your hand if you knew ZOOM existed before 2020.) The subsequent shut down from the pandemic had emotional and mental health consequences for us that will only be revealed by time.  However, as the initial fear passed during the global confinement what was most evident was the trouble that isolation brought on all our psyches. Humans are meant to socialize with other humans. We must have contact with others to live complete lives; and after almost two solid years of hunkering down we set forth to do just that. According to Travel and Leisure magazine, “This year, the United States travel sector is anticipating a 35.6% bump, compared to 2020. In total, travel is anticipated to generate nearly $2 trillion of the U.S. economy in 2022.” This need for getaway travel was satisfied in the alcohol-free space as well.

This year a world- wide parade of AF “happenings” took place from retreats that included frigid spirit building ice baths in Spain and floating dinner parties on the Thames River to quite a few zero proof festivals sprinkled along the European and North American continents.  People have begun to venture out and relish the fellowship of being in each other’s presence.  Where we felt a soul crushing sense of isolation in 2020, we now are making up for with communal exuberance. 

Like so many others, I also indulged my vagabond shoes and headed out for new adventures elsewhere. I took a long weekend trip to New York and rekindled a deep love for the city and whet my appetite for more travel.  On two occasions, Austin was the destination of choice. Both Texas trips were for AF celebrations. One to commemorate the actual “launch” of a new boozeless cruise entertainment company and another to spend the weekend with likeminded women enjoying AF festivities.

What stood out to me while travelling was that without alcohol, the level of joy and celebration was never diminished. The mocktails flowed at every destination and authentic connections were made minus the late-night booze inspired “tears and consequences”. 

 It was on my first trip to Austin that I witnessed firsthand the “no booze= no fun” archetype be absolutely obliterated.  At the Yacht Drops maiden voyage on Halloween weekend everyone embarked all dolled up in their costumes, and as I stood on the top deck awaiting our launch, I looked around and felt the undercurrent of excitement.  The sense that something truly significant was happening dawned on me as more people made their way to the top deck to what was soon to be the dancefloor.  The phrase “It’s happening” kept going through my mind. People from different walks of life but with the same intention were getting together for the same purpose, to party AF style. The typical subdued greetings and getting to know other passengers took place.  Complementing each other on costumes and meeting in person, people only known over electronics as per what usually happens in a social setting. Thus, the cruise began…and then the music started. The awkward few people stepped onto the dancefloor to set the pace like so many do. By the time DJ Missing Mei took the music up a thousand notches, everyone was out and literally dancing their butts off.  No Austin Halloween party would be complete without the famous Congress bridge bats taking flight at dusk, and we were all treated to airborne streams of bats soaring through the night sky.  A natural blessing that everything was as it should be. Then it was DJ Caliceaux Jack’s turn to whip the crowd into a whirling storm of synchronized bouncing bodies and smiling faces. To any onlooker it would have seemed like a typical Halloween party, which it was – with only one thing subtracted from the equation.  Nothing was missing, including photo mementos of the night with partygoers, AF drink in hand, dancing the night away. 

Two weeks later this cowgirl was headed back to Austin for a weekend-long Sober in The City gathering with the sole purpose of connecting in person and celebrating life without alcohol.  The entire weekend was packed with activities, dancing, speakers, and plenty of AF drinks to sample.  Although not actually a conference, it had that feeling of a large group of women learning with and from each other – minus the compulsory business meeting over too many drinks and wondering if you owe anyone an apology the next day.

I came late to the party, arriving on Saturday morning and heading directly to a dance/ exercise session titled “Disco Dance Party” that I thought was only a few blocks from the hotel.  Unfortunately, as I stalled at a food truck waiting for the class to begin and wondering why no one was there it dawned on me that maybe I was in the wrong place.  Suitcase in tow, I walked to the hotel and considered my options since I was there way too early for check-in.  A cluster of gold lame’ clad women were assembled at the front door of the hotel.  I instantly knew who they were and where they were headed; and after introducing myself to them without hesitation they swooped me up and packed me into their Uber off to the actual destination.  Afterwards we got to know each other over lunch. We all laughed and bonded as we shared family pictures and similar experiences of children, marriage, and living alcohol free.  It was so nice to be taken under their communal wings. My social anxiety never had a chance with such a warm inclusive group of women.  They were a pod of five women from the Sober Sis movement who until then had only known each other in Marco Polo information bytes. They knew each other well and yet, were still meeting for the first time; solidifying their connection to one another while folding me in temporarily. 

At the dinner party that evening I had the opportunity to reconnect with some now familiar faces.  Chris Marshall from Sans Bar, whom I’ve known since the beginning of my journey, spoke at the VIP lounge and later poured some devastatingly delicious mocktails. Jen Kautsch, the leader of the Sober Sis movement spoke at dinner about the significance of all of us simply being together alcohol- free.  And from the previous Austin trip, DJ Caliceaux Jack was back in attendance providing beats for all to get their groove on. 

As I flew home the next day, I was struck by what a blessing these trips brought.  My cup was overflowing from the benefit of connecting with a vast range of beautiful people whose commonality was letting go of alcohol.  Even though we all came from and array of backgrounds, the need to be in each other’s presence was undeniable.  There were no boundaries of where we were on the sober spectrum – it wasn’t important.  Inclusion and connection were the goal, and I found those in abundance at every destination.

Thankfully the time of shutting ourselves in has ended, even if the pandemic continues. There are more and more opportunities to gather and celebrate being alive AF.  And if you ever are given the chance to experience zero proof travel, I urge you to jump at it.

Giving Thanks

Sometimes flying by the seat of your pants lands you in the most interesting places…

As we wind down 2019 and head into Thanksgiving,  I look back with a grateful heart at what can be described as a perfect beginning of what I hope to be one of the best paths in my life.  As those of you who have read the blog know, I blindly stumbled into this Mocktail/ alcohol free (AF) movement.  My slide into an AF lifestyle was purely by divine design, not so much a choice as an end to things. After a life of casual imbibing, I went from a “one and done” kind of gal to suddenly alcohol makes me sick – period.  And being conditioned to avoid things that make us sick, I landed on a path of discovery.  Little did I know just where that path would lead.

In January I started the Mocktail MO blog to chronicle my search for AF drinks.  The logical next step to move traffic to the blog was to promote it on Facebook and Instagram… amiright?  So that’s what I did. On Facebook old friends have given encouragement and support to this new phase in my life, even if they don’t completely understand it.  But I suppose that’s what friends are for.  Their cheering me on helped me gain confidence when I had no real idea what I was doing. At first I was simply trying to find a place that I could socialize with friends over a drink that didn’t contain alcohol.  The search was a short one, because at the beginning there was one restaurant in town that actually had a mocktail menu with actual craft AF drinks.  This disappointing fact lead me to change the objective from journaling mocktail finds to a full on mocktail crusade. I became determined to have a mocktail on every menu. And in less than a year, I can barely keep up with all the local restaurants with mocktails on their menu.  I can’t take credit for it all, but I do believe that I have contributed consistent if ever so small propulsion in that direction in my hometown.  As recognition for that contribution Mocktail MO was featured in Arkansas Life magazine’s “Best of 2019” issue.  (That took me by surprise and sent me a bit over the moon.)  I was also interviewed by Laura Monteverdi, THV-11’s morning news journalist in her story about the mocktail trend.  All of this has confirmed to me that Mocktail MO is more than just a lark, but has a purpose and should continue.

My mantra has become, “Keep going and see what happens.” There have been times when I’ve wondered what’s the point in all this, but a little voice keeps urging me on.  My curiosity (see what I did there…? #sobercurious) has fueled me to continue to see what I might find.  I’ve discovered that somehow I have landed in the middle of a wave that is global and growing in size. The cool part is that I get to be a part of it all. Remember when I said that this journey was of divine design? I believe that for some real reason my sickness has brought me to a new place in life with the possibility of more.  On Instagram I kept hearing echoes of things I had been saying myself.  “I don’t want to feel excluded.”  “Socializing doesn’t have to be alcohol required.” “Alcohol free cocktails / Mocktails really are a thing and worth more than just a smile and a shrug.” One of the best discoveries has been a tribe of strangers that I didn’t know would become so dear to me.  I am proud to share a common ground with the sober community of moving forward in life differently – with honesty, sometimes being fearlessly vulnerable, and unapologetically asking for a world big enough for socializing with and without alcohol.

I have also found an ever expanding market of alcohol free products and people who review them.  Unfortunately most of them are sold in Europe, but more and more are making it to – and being made in the U.S.  It’s fun and exciting to try all the alcohol alternatives that I find.  And although I keep telling people that I am absolutely not a bartender, I am an enthusiastic experimenter.  I look forward to a time that we start seeing bottles of the alternatives on the shelves above bars. Who knows what incredible things could be created in the trained hands of a professional?  Someday…

Where the future will take this AF wanderer is unknown, but as far as beginnings go… even the yellow brick road’s got nothing on me.  If 2020 is anything like this past year has been, I’m in for quite a ride.

I would like to give a special thanks to the generosity of the people and establishments who have played a large roll in this wonderful beginning:

  • Laura Monteverdi for her interest in the Mocktail movement, and including me in her story.
  • Jordan Hickey for listing Mocktail MO in the Arkansas Life magazine’s Best of 2019 issue.
  • Amy Counce at Nexus Coffee and Creative for always saying “Yes” to my crazy ideas.
  • Brandy McNair at Bella Vita Jewelry for  providing such a lovely platform for sharing Mocktails.
  • Atlas Bar and Dustbowl Little Rock for being such fierce competitors in the Monarch of Mocktober competition.

And finally to all the restaurants and bars out there that are willing to open their eyes to something new.

Looking ahead to aspirational hopes and dreams…

  1. I would like to team up with a local brewery to create a zero proof craft beer. (Yes, even in Arkansas)
  2. A YouTube “Mocktails with MO” show (Stay tuned!)
  3. That one of the outcomes of this movement is a future where kids don’t feel compelled to treat alcohol as a rite of passage.  (Possibly a high school tour??)

Thanks for joining me and being a part of this journey. Here’s to what happens next.

Mocktail Mo and the Art Makers at Nexus Coffee and Creative

Alright friends, we have another first for the Mocktail MO mocktail movement.  Nexus Coffee and Creative and Mocktail MO teamed up at Little Rock’s 2nd Friday Art Night.  The theme: Makers on a Mission.  This was my first event to spread the word of mocktail culture.  What an exciting event to be a part of; there were illustration/sketch artists along with artists who made leather goods and a line of jewelry that works with women in recovery.  Served were two mocktail creations especially made for the evening, a Sparkling Orange and Lavender Espresso and a Nitro-tado, a blueberry nitro coffee with cream and topped with whipped cream…Yum!

The Nexus Team

It all started as I was making coffee one morning, and I realized that practicing my sermon was in order. And by that I mean creating a more inclusive world where people who don’t drink alcohol can feel equal ordering a cocktail to those who do.  If I am supposed to be preaching inclusivity why was I being so exclusive? Mocktails don’t have to only be on bar menus. Why was I only looking in one area?  I needed to broaden my view.  Sipping my morning joe I thought, with so many coffee houses in Little Rock there is plenty of room for other opportunities to have an alcohol free cocktail while enjoying the company of others. 

Sparkling Orange Espresso and Nitro-tado

After doing a little internet research I settled on Nexus Coffee and Creative to float the idea of mocktails at their special evening events.  Amy Moorehead, the owner of Nexus and I sat together and brainstormed over a latte.  I have to say that she was extremely open to the idea.  We shared our personal stories about drinking, and not drinking. I explained how my journey began with illness, and has transformed into an extraordinary journey of meeting new people and making connections. We agreed that having cocktails with friends is more than just the booze factor.  It’s about spending time with people and having fun.  We also agreed that people sharing mocktails was a good fit for the Nexus mission of building community. And when I revealed my dream of becoming the Joanna Gaines, Martha Stuart, or Anthony Bourdain of the mocktail world, Amy was totally on board.  That’s how she decided that 2nd Friday Art Night would be the best time to present my lifestyle vision.  My art contribution for the evening was to promote a fearless alcohol free mocktail space.  …And so I did.

The event was an absolute blast.  Mocktails flowed throughout the room, and because the drinks were coffee based everyone had a different kind of buzz. Over the course of the evening everybody got to know each other’s work and discovered the mission behind it. We toasted each other over sparkling espressos; and I was happy to find that people were really interested in mocktails as an alternative drink. It filled my heart with joy to see a room full of people on a level playing field; drinks in hand that may or may not have had alcohol, and it didn’t matter.  At the end of the night a crowd came in to celebrate a birthday. Needless to say mocktails were a part of the party.  For me, it was really special to share the evening with so many talented people and new friends.

The Results are In!

Fasten your seatbelts kids, we’ve got to talk.

Initially my mission as Mocktail MO was to discover the best mocktails in Little Rock and beyond.  The objective was to make lemonade out of the lemons life had given.  I figured if I can’t drink cocktails with alcohol I should be able to have the same experience without it.  Easy enough, no?   Well after a few months of searching I believe I can call it “Mission Accomplished”.   I think I have had the best Little Rock has to offer.  Along the way I have had many mocktails, some good – some bad, and written about my experiences with the best I have found so far.  Does this mean the end of Mocktail MO – heavens no!  My goals have only expanded from finding the best mocktails –check, to A Mocktail for Every Menu.   We’ll talk about that later.

The Fold

In my effort to find a really good alcohol-free cocktail my taste buds and I have had drinks for breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner.  I am now ready to announce my top three picks for Best Mocktails in Little Rock, but they are all number one in my book.  Raduno is at the top for actually having a Mocktail menu and serving consistent flavored drinks.  The Fold will always be special for starting me on this journey in such a divinely delicious way.  I was served a tremendous variety of drinks to choose from, and each one was as tasty as the other.  And to round out this triad is Sauced for fearlessly diving into making a signature “MOtini” I will never forget.   There are a couple Honorable Mentions too: I have to give Atlas Bar props for mocktail space on their menu; and Dos Rocas for the absolute best mockarita on the planet.  It may look like I only traveled down South Main Street on this quest, but that just isn’t the case.  I have ordered mocktails all around town with varied outcomes.  It is interesting though that the culture of the SoMa district seems pretty open to the idea of alcohol-free mixed drinks.

…a what?

I still get that look a confused dog gives you when you say something they don’t quite understand when I order a mocktail at restaurants.  You know; how they cock their head to the side and sort of curl their upper lip? That one.  I won’t talk about the dud experiences I’ve had.  This mocktail thing is a new concept for many, and I believe it’s only a matter of time before it catches on.  For my new mission I have contacted a few restaurants and made suggestions for signature mocktails that represent the personality of their particular establishment.  So far people have been open to conversation, but I haven’t noticed much actual movement in that direction – yet.  I’m nothing if not optimistic about the future. I think their hesitation lies in the fear of losing money on less expensive drinks, but if they changed their perspective just a notch they might see the revenue loss of people only having the option of ordering soft drinks instead of drinks with alcohol.  I generally pay around $5.00 for a mocktail – considerably more than a soda, and much more than a water; which are the current options. If I may, I’ll refer back to my Why Mocktails? Let Me Break it Down For Ya post for more a detailed analysis.

On this mission I have made other discoveries worthy of noting. I have made connections with people that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for this. Thanks to Instagram, I’ve discovered that Europe is way down the road on this alcohol-free drinks for grown-ups thing.  I’ve seen multi-shelf displays in super markets of different types of mocktails from different companies.  There is a gentleman in England that regularly posts about the different alcohol free beer he gets in pubs around town.  The U.S. isn’t far behind either.  There are pop-up bars that have entire mocktail nights from Austin to New York, and are sold out. And for the first time ever, mocktails will be officially served at the Kentucky Derby this year.  You see Arkansas, mocktails really are a thing, and I am totally on board to be the leader of the pack. 

If you are an establishment interested in talking about mocktails, let me know – I’m huge on collaboration.  If you are a person looking for an alcohol alternative cocktail – be bold and order one! Change isn’t always  easy…but it might just be fun.

Letting Le Bon Temps Rouler at Raduno

In preparation for Fat Tuesday, we in Little Rock like to party on like there actually is no tomorrow.  In the SoMa district the party begins with the Mardi Gras parade down Main Street, is followed by brunch at any one of the establishments in the area, and then continues until Ash Wednesday.  Not really…well maybe.

Mardi Gras Mocktails

 This year’s post parade brunch brought me to Raduno.   Now, I had been to Raduno before my unfortunate current state of health that prohibits me from imbibing alcohol, and had a lovely Bloody Mary garnished with a slice of pizza.  I knew they served Mocktails, and boy do they!  I have found my Nirvana on Main Street.  At Raduno there is actually a Mocktail menu with three drinks to choose from.  There is the Good Luck Chuck, the Cucumber and Limonata fusion, along with the To Your Health; all of which come with a description of ingredients, but no need.  The flavor alchemy is the product of Bo Bennett, whose wizardry begins in the garden.  Coming to Raduno after owning a juicing business, Bo has a wonderful understanding of how Mocktails should taste.  I have to confess that I had all three, and couldn’t for the life of me pick a favorite.  Each one is really complex in flavor and so worthy of taking one’s time to enjoy.  The edible flower garnish really brings the cocktail experience all the way home.  Nothing is missing.  Each drink is visually appealing and tastes fabulous. 

For all you good souls giving up the sauce for Lent, may I recommend Raduno for guilt-free cocktails?  Join me for forty days of hooch-free, booze less, sansahol, Mocktail bliss.  Of course, my mission will continue on, yours will end at Easter.

A Votre Santé

Mocktail MO

Mocktails at Sauce(d) That’s What’s Up

Just another National Margarita Day, and I’m hard at work on the lookout for Little Rock’s finest Mock-arita offerings. 

Sauce(d) Mock-arita

Since Sauce(d) had been on my wish-list of restaurants to try for a while, I decided to see what  sort of boozeless  cocktail they might have to celebrate national margarita day.  Now, for the most part in this adventure I’ve encountered puzzled faces when ordering Mocktails, which held true at Sauce(d) at first, but then…Wow!  With a mischievous smile, the lovely and talented Emily walked away to create.  She returned with a light, refreshing Mock-arita full of flavor that had me sipping with joy.  It was so good, I decided to stay a while.

I think it was how game Emily was to devise new drinks that kept me in my seat not wanting to leave.  I settled in and ordered another one, but something different.  For any of you who read my blog, this Mocktail movement that I am trying to generate does have a genuine purpose, but also provides wonderful moments of connecting with new people.  Emily’s enthusiasm behind the bar was so contagious, I gave something else a try.   My new side challenge is to have a drink named after me, so I asked if she could make a “Motini”.  That devilish grin reappeared, and she asked me to describe myself in three words.  “Not sweet, straightforward, and loving”,  I tossed back to her as she left.   She returned with much swagger, and rightfully so.  If I were a Mocktail this is what I would be.  In a stemless martini glass was a deep berry red fusion of flavors with a distinct zap of lime.  At first the not-too-sweet berries played with my taste buds, and then the citrus zinged like a lightning bolt that made me smack my lips and pucker  a little.  Yep, she nailed it!  My friends tasted it and we all giggled in agreement – flavorful, not too sweet, with a punch at the end.


It was time to go, and I have to say that an entertaining afternoon was had by all.  The best part was that after leaving a bar I drove home and didn’t have to think “be cool…be cool”, behind the wheel.  I just drove home.  A big “Thank You” to Sauce(d) and Emily for a fun Margarita Day.