Zero Proof 

The rise of the mocktail.

Nick Manlavi always felt drawn to bartenders. "Bartenders are rock stars who couldn't be bothered to learn to play instruments," he says, paraphrasing a line from a movie.

Manlavi is bar manager at P.O. Press Public House & Provisions, one the area's hottest new restaurants, located near the town square in Collierville. P.O. Press has gotten raves for its creative and thoughtful treatment of ingredients, which extends to the bar.

click to enlarge Nick Manlavi - PHOTOGRAPHS BY JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Photographs by Justin Fox Burks
  • Nick Manlavi

One recent meal fully engaged all of Manlavi's creative muscles. It was a special occasion, an anniversary dinner. It would be nine courses, paired with drinks. But, there was a wrinkle. One of the party did not drink.

P.O. Press usually has two or three "mocktails" — i.e., no alcohol — on its seasonal menu.

Manlavi says his goal to make something that is fun to drink. He'll ask for preferences. He'll consider a meal's dishes and think about flavor profiles. He'll take advantage of the restaurant's full arsenal of ingredients and equipment.

For this dinner, he made an Arnold Palmer with pomegranate foam, a beet and carrot old fashioned, a ginger and peppercorn cordial, a coconut pina colada, and a radish and mint mule.

The mule Manlavi made to match the root vegetable sushi roll, one of the dinner's courses. Manlavi says he had to tread carefully with this drink. "Radish is a weird flavor," he says. "And they smell like feet." He ended up using a lot of grapefruit in this one.

Manlavi says he's particularly proud of the pina colada, even more so because there was no pineapple juice in the house. To approximate pineapple juice, he used lime juice and champagne vinegar.

The old fashioned is particularly clever. The carrot is used to simulate the dense mouthfeel usually associated with the beverage.

Manlavi says such an endeavor is much like pairing wine with a meal, and, ultimately, it boils down to a sort of customer-is-always-right ethos. "Not drinking is an important thing for a lot of people," he says. "I'm happy to take people on a tour."

P.O. Press, 148 N Main in Collierville, popress.com

Over at Alchemy in Cooper-Young, bar manager Ben Williams says they serve around 30 to 40 mocktails a week. Much of their mocktail menu, which features seven drinks, is based around their proofier offerings, which makes sense: The cocktails have always been the big draw at Alchemy.

The Oh Clementine is Alchemy's most ordered mocktail. It's orange juice, lemon, sugar, and strawberry puree. The KCCO is an Alchemy landmark. KCCO stands for Keep calm, Collins on. It's a cheeky play on both a mojito and a Tom Collins, which is achieved through the mint and lemon.

The Orange You Glad is another favorite. "It is good," says Williams. "It's made for those who remember growing up eating a Dreamsicle from the ice cream guy who drives by the neighborhood."

Alchemy, 940 S Cooper, alchemymemphis.com

Bart Mallard says he created the mocktails at Crosstown Art's Art Bar because, "I'm interested in [the Art Bar] being a place where everybody can come and not feel uncomfortable. And people who are most uncomfortable at bars are people who don't drink. So I was like, well, let's change that as fast as we can."

Mallard usually goes to his favorite markets to scan the produce for inspiration. He also turned to his friend Chris Cosby, who, with his wife Stephanie, is in charge of the plants at Crosstown. Cosby turned Mallard on to herbal tinctures.

There are two mocktails on the menu now at Art Bar. The Plum the Golden Depths (with the exotic golden plum) and the Rise of Spring (with banana pepper and damiana). They are both labor- and ingredient-intensive, Mallard says.

click to enlarge Bart Mallard
  • Bart Mallard

"I would prefer the menu to be half and half," Mallard says of alcoholic and non-alcholic drinks. "But I don't think we're quite there yet culturally."

Art Bar, Crosstown Concourse, 2nd floor

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