Mocktails are the new cocktails––and that’s especially true in San Diego.
San Diego is a town whose bar scene deeply understands the mocktails trend. It’s not about having any mixed beverage or replacing a buzz with a sugar high. Who doesn’t want a cocktail’s elegance without its unpleasant side effects?
Zero-proof cocktails are a delicate game, and these places balance three key factors that make or break it: taste, class and ambiance. Here in the birthplace of California, you’ll find the coolest joints with characteristics that, though small, differentiate their mocktails from their rivals.
My Introduction to San Diego’s Mocktails Scene
My introduction to the mocktails scene in San Diego began as I was tagging along with my writer friends who were doing a piece on the city. It was a vegan food tour––a perfect fit for me. Vegan food changes and evolves so often, I never know what to expect.
In keeping with this health-conscious theme, a conflict of interest arose: getting to see the incredible bar scene or, you know, behaving. Come to find, this was no problem for a city as progressive as San Diego. Though it did mean we’d be going to the more underground part of town––an experience I was up for, regardless.
We wouldn’t be going to any of the prominent places like Gaslamp, Wolves, Little Italy for any of the many tiki bars around. No, where we’re going, they’re more specialized.
The first stop on our tour? Kindred––San Diego’s premier vegan eatery and mocktails bar.
My party and I met up with Angie, a former high school teacher and San Diego insider. When you go bar-hopping, you want to take at least one high school teacher along. They always have recommendations.
But even with Angie’s recommendations, I had to decide myself if this place was something worth a visit for you.
I could tell the atmosphere was special. The bar felt underground yet uncluttered––not a hole in the wall with tattered posters plastered everywhere. It had an obviously 70s modernist-inspired interior with some embedded wear and tear. It didn’t treat the style like a fad but also didn’t hold itself so high to lose its chill, creative aura.
KINDRED is what I imagine first-class lounges will look like in 30 years. It’s becoming a trend, switching the current style over to what we thought the future would look like 50 years ago.
To start us off, we ordered a drink given great praise by Angie. She said it was KINDRED’s most innovative mocktail…
The Amalfi Spritz
The Amalfi Spritz is, as KINDRED’s bartender describes it, is like finding a unicorn. He randomly came across it researching local drinks to add to their menu, and it’s been a hit ever since.
Lyre’s is the brand that cans this mocktail, and It really is something special. They’ve made it taste like a regular spritz and even made it taste more pleasant.
A spritz is often far too bitter. But this, this is Beverly’s successor. The good Beverly.
The most mind-bending thing here is the perfect replication of the signature alcohol mouth feel. There’s nothing there, but your brain tells you there is.
Great flavor, and just the color is all the presentation you need. Who knew high school teachers had such good taste?
The Painkiller is usually a restaurant’s first go at mocktails. This drink was less significant to me since it’s not breaking boundaries or reinventing tastes like Lyre’s is. KINDRED wasn’t shy of this reality, and they told us this was their first non-alcoholic addition to their menu.
We ordered it as a happy medium everyone could agree on. But you know what? It was good. Comparing this to all the Painkiller mocktails I’d have all at the random tiki bars around San Diego, and this kills.
Yes, it’s sticky-sweet. Yes, you may confuse this for boba tea. But that’s kind of how Painkillers are. Overall, the taste was top tier, and presentation was camera-ready.
The food here speaks for itself. I was uneasy when I first saw it thinking, “Is this really vegan?” The waiters seem trustworthy, but the bustingness of these dishes pulled me in. I can’t honestly say I’d have held back even thinking it wasn’t vegan.
The golden creamy fluff spread on top of their vegan pancakes reminded me of the honeycomb coffee trend from a while back. Except this actually tasted good. Something about sugar and baking soda makes my stomach churn. But here, I was revisiting the signature taste of Aunt Jemima’s. I remember I used to absolutely drench my pancakes in it. Good memories.
I thought eggs benedict was a hand-held dish. But with something this highly stacked, you need utensils. The sauce was sinfully rich. Every bite needed some avocado to complement it to keep me from feeling like I was about to have a kidney failure. When I say rich, I mean rich.
Once the food was gone, we went out to the following places on our list.
Towards the end of our trip, I was talking with Angie about the food and drink we’d just had. Her behavior took a 180, and now she was talking to me as if she was my dealer. “Try the Lafayette,” she whispered.
The Bar at Lafayette
If that is not a weird way to get a recommendation, I don’t know what is. And what’s more bizarre is how this place was better than everything else we explored on our food tour. I know locals know best, but how strange getting drink recommendations from a high school teacher.
The style of The Lafayette Hotel takes one more step back than KINDRED. Instead of the modernist, 70s-esque surrounding, Lafayette takes after the 60s. And it’s authentic too. The hotel has posters everywhere boasting about a remodeling from that exact period.
Curious about this oddly specific mention of a renovation, I talked with the hotel’s general manager.
There was a quarrel between the original owner’s son and a powerful local businessman at the hotel’s pool. The pool functioned as sort of a social club for the affluent of the area. In spite, the businessman bought the place and erased its original 1900s style. For reference, Lafayette was initially built in 1902 and housed one of San Diego’s first swimming pools.
The Bar at Lafayette is no exception to this wonderful style. But I was about to find out what was even better…
The Custom Mocktails
Give the bartender at Lafayette an ingredient, mood, build, glass, garnish or any other description of your desired beverage, and he will make it.
I can’t even remember what I asked for in these drinks, but they looked good and tasted great.
In order from left to right, we had a cranberry and rosemary; pineapple, lime and grenadine; blood orange and Tajin; and blueberry and strawberry mocktail. This was not from the menu, and no one will get a drink precisely like this if they come to the Bar at Lafayette.
These may be my personal requests, but I don’t mind you asking the bartender for the same. They were quite effervescently delectable.
Bottom Line: There Are No Shortages of Delicious Mocktails in San Diego!
Are you looking for a new, cutting-edge food and beverage experience? KINDRED has what you’re looking for. Their mocktails and eggs benedict are like the real thing, even when they’re not.
Do you value the singularity of your experience and want something only you and your party will enjoy? Lafayette has you covered. With a little creative thinking, you can ask the bartender to whip up something one-of-a-kind.
But hey! Even with these options, there were many other mocktail places from my tour I could go on about. These were just the best.