Putting the ‘NA’ in Nashville: Music City’s Best Non-Alcoholic Bars

The non-alcoholic movement is having a moment in Music City with bar programs, NA events, and bottle shops popping up around town as an alternative to Broadway’s booze-soaked reputation. 

A bar with many shelves of beverages.
The bar at Cafe Roze in in East Nashville. Emily Dorio

It’s a Friday night in Nashville where the usual call to action is downing a few beers at a songwriter’s round or knocking back cocktails at one of the trendy haunts in East Nashville. But over in the buzzy Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood, there’s a decidedly different M.O. for kicking off the weekend: a sound bath meditation followed by a round of alcohol-free rose quartz margaritas. 

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Nashville has become such a drinking town, but there is a counter-culture of those who are choosing a new way,” Stephanie Styll, owner of bottle shop Killjoy, told Observer. “My dream is for us to unite, grow, and normalize having a good time without booze.” 

Styll, who opened the first non-alcoholic (NA) store in the city earlier this year, partners with other local businesses to get in front of new audiences and preach the gospel of zero-proof or alcohol-removed beverages. A happy hour with a local sound bath speakeasy, HAUM opened the doors to more sober-curious collaborations, including a speed-friending event with vintage goods purveyor Retro Vibe and a cocktail party with Curious Elixirs. 

Her decision to go all-in on an NA bottle shop was a timely gamble. Although Nashville’s gained notoriety for the brigades of boozy bridesmaids hanging out of party barges, there’s an increasing demand for a spirits-free scene that starkly illuminates a growing divide between Nashville’s drive for Vegas-style tourism and locals’ interest in a hangover-free good time.

I grew up in Nashville but spent 14 years living overseas. I love trying all kinds of beverages—but what was once a ‘fun’ way to experience culture grew into a drinking habit that wasn’t serving me,” adds Styll. “When I decided to give up the booze, I didn’t want to lose the fun. That timing just happened to coincide with the explosion of amazing alcohol-free products. These products have been a huge gift for me. I still get to try new things, drink sophisticated beverages, get good sleep, and feel my best every day. It’s a win-win.” 

The taste of a new generation

What’s fueling this teetotaler movement? Look to Gen Z—and, increasingly, Millennials. With a renewed interest in sobriety, both generations are forcing the alcohol industry to revamp what and how they sell. 

‘Batteries Not Included’ is a satisfying mix of NA chocolate milk stout, cold brew, oat milk foam, and Pathfinder amaro. The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club

According to a study in Statista, Gen Z consumers spent just over 2.2 billion dollars on alcohol in the United States in 2021—the smallest amount among all age groups. And there are several reasons behind it. Digital natives practically from birth, Gen Z not only prizes the wellness aspect behind a dry lifestyle but, as a Google Think piece notes, they’re uncannily observant of their online image and controlling it—something that a night out with some heavy drinking can ruin instantly and virally. 

The same holds true for Millennials, who have increasingly turned to nonalcoholic alternatives for a buzz-free night out without the fuzzy effects of a hangover that can sometimes last for days. While Millennials haven’t fully thrown in the towel on alcohol, there’s a pervasive feeling that their consumption habits might just be too much. In fact, a survey found that three out of four Millennial drinkers limit how much they drink most of the time they go out, with 38 percent moderating their alcohol every single time.  

The boom of booze-free bar programs

Bars around Nashville are swiftly answering the calls of these shifting attitudes and trends with menus that reflect customers’ growing requests for alcohol-free alternatives. Laura Unterberg, beverage director of The Fox Cocktail Bar & Lounge in East Nashville, was one of the first establishments in Nashville to go all-in with an NA bar program in 2017. “Even before the non-alcohol boom of 2021, our low and no-alcohol options have always sold surprisingly well. Inclusivity is just good business,” Unterberg told Observer. 

Part of that success comes with approaching low-to-no alcohol cocktails with the same respect and creativity as their spirited counterparts. A strong focus on high-quality ingredients, housemade tinctures, and balanced sugar and acidity can elevate a pedestrian Shirley Temple into a drink worth raving about. Like The Fox’s “Batteries Not Included,” a satisfying mix of NA chocolate milk stout, cold brew, oat milk foam, and Pathfinder amaro. “If we want to drink something, it’s on the menu. Simple as that,” adds Unterburg. 

The Fox isn’t alone in appeasing NA tastes—The GreenHouse bar in Green Hills, The Hampton Social in the Gulch, and Thistle & Rye in Downtown also offer hangover-less experiences across the city thanks to non-alcoholic menus that are both complex and downright delicious. 

But the buzz-free good times don’t stop at the bar. Restaurants around Nashville are also riding the NA wave, with compelling beverage menus that complement the intricacies of the dishes they serve. Julia Jaksic, the owner of Cafe Roze in East Nashville, launched an NA menu earlier this year to accommodate guests that wanted an elevated bar/cocktail experience without the booze.

“It’s become clear that the cocktail experience and getting buzzed are not mutually exclusive,” Jaksic told Observer. “What we all enjoy about having a cocktail in our favorite bar exists beyond the alcohol itself, which I believe creates a much more inclusive social culture that doesn’t have to be tied to alcohol.”

To provide that experience, Jaksic uses base spirits and liqueurs that are produced in the same method as their alcoholic counterparts but utilize a technique that removes the alcohol in the final stage of production. “Our ‘tequila’ NA spirit is derived from an agave distillate, our ‘bourbon’ comes from the same mash build as a typical bourbon,” says Jaksic. “This allows all of the flavor and nuance that exists in the base spirits of classic cocktails to still serve their purpose in an approachable NA format.”  

Over on the west end of town, John Stephenson, owner of Hathorne, and Hayley Teague, the restaurant’s beverage director, have also seen success with their non-alcoholic signature cocktails. Layering interesting ingredients like smoked black tea and rhubarb with NA spirits like Proxies pastiche and Lyre’s Italian orange bitter apertivo, the spirit-free tipples have garnered a local fan base. 

“As a major tourist destination, Nashville serves as a great litmus test of what this country is enjoying. And although not new by any means, the no-alcohol trend shows no sign of slowing down,” says Unterberg. “As with any consumer good, the more demand that exists, the better offerings will become.” 

Just don’t call them mocktails—“the beverage industry tends to shy away from that word.” 

Putting the ‘NA’ in Nashville: Music City’s Best Non-Alcoholic Bars