Spirit-Free Guide: Washington, DC - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Derek Brown’s Spirit-Free Guide to Washington, DC

Back in 2014, Derek Brown, who ran several Washington, D.C., bars—including the revered Columbia Room, which closed last year—shared what a perfect day in D.C. looked like for him. He started with a bagel and coffee, then moved through the day with a variety of beverages, eventually capping the day with shots of bourbon at a neighborhood dive bar. Fast-forward to today and not only is Brown no longer drinking alcohol, but he wrote Mindful Mixology: A Comprehensive Guide to No- and Low-Alcohol Cocktails and recently celebrated the success of his inaugural Mindful Drinking Fest.

From Bartender of the Year in 2015 to 2023 Imbibe 75 Person to Watch, here Brown shares where he likes to spend his time imbibing in Washington these days.

Binge Bar

This spirit-free bar just soft-opened this past December and has already caused a buzz for being the city’s first booze-free bar. Inspired by an airline magazine’s article on Sans Bar, a nonalcoholic bar in Austin, Vergie “Gigi” Arandid set about to create one for D.C. “Expect cocktails using an array of nonalcoholic spirits and a food menu with Filipino influences, drawing from Arandid’s heritage,” Brown says. The bar’s grand opening is slated for early February.

The Green Zone

The Green Zone, a Middle Eastern bar by barman Chris Hassan, started off as a pop-up and opened a permanent location in 2018. “Its unique take on cocktails—drawing from Middle Eastern influences—party atmosphere, and delicious food all make it stand out,” says Brown. “Try a nonalcoholic Garibaldi, freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, and a Royal Jallab, a Middle Eastern drink with jallab syrup (dates, raisins, rosewater, incense), water, pine nuts, raisins, pistachios,” he adds. 


This neighborhood liquor store boasts a highly curated inventory of spirits, wine, and beer, featuring local products as well as women- and minority-owned brands. But it’s notable for its expansive selection of no-alcohol options, which Brown helped owners Clyde Davis and David Jones stock. Alcohol-free drinks are also available on tap. For those overwhelmed by the choices, the store has its own app that will help with shopping, pickup, and delivery.

Oyster Oyster

This Michelin-starred plant-based restaurant continues to collect accolades. Last year, Food & Wine named Chef Rob Rubba one of the best new chefs. His cooking is innovative and thoughtful with an eye toward sustainability. But Brown appreciates the variety of no-alcohol options on offer, including zero-proof wine from Rheingau producer Weingut Leitz as well as kombucha on tap.

Selina Union Market

At the rooftop bar of this new hotel, which hosted the Mindful Drinking Fest, Brown likes to take in views of the city while sipping on an Old Fashioned made with a nonalcoholic bourbon alternative. Destination Director Maria Bastasch, formerly of no- and low-alcohol pop-up Disco Mary, made sure the bar was stocked with intriguing nonalcoholic offerings, such as Dogfish Head’s “Deep Fake” IPA and St. Agrestis’ Phony Negroni.

Umbrella Dry Drinks

Those new to the alcohol-free category will want to check out Samantha Kasten’s spirit-free bottle shop in Alexandria, Virgina, just outside Washington. It invites shoppers to try almost anything off its shelves with a knowledgeable staff on hand to guide the way. Brown recommends the sustainably made mixers by barman Jon Schott, “such as his spiced banana orgeat Honeymoon Mix that goes wonderfully in his Dry Tai cocktail, a nonalcoholic take on the original Mai Tai.”

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