As Generation Sensible comes of age, their preferences drive innovation and set trends. Being a drinker or an absteiner are seen, as many other concepts, no longer as black and white binaries and, in the middle of both extremes there are plenty of spots in which one can comfortably sit.
Cue The Virgin Mary, Ireland’s first permantent alcohol-free bar, which opened last May on Capel Street. It is a sleek, welcoming and grown-up venue in which great-tasting, beautiful cocktails are served, with no alcohol involved. All of the drinks also happen to be vegan-friendly.
It is a concept developed by industry veterans – Vaughan Yates, Oisin Davis and Anna Walsh, so even when it sounded unusual, its credentials helped it make the right kind of waves.
The first time I visited the place was shortly after it opened. It was clear to me that they were still educating patrons as they explained the venue’s concept to us while handing out our menus, as if to make sure we knew we were signing up for a boozeless evening.
But after a summer of headlines, and a couple of industry awards (Innovative Bar of the Year at the Bar of the Year Awards and 3rd Best New Cocktail Bar at the Irish Craft Cocktail Awards), by the time I visited them for the third time last December, they were no longer a novelty for the sober curious.
The second edition of its menu, unveiled by bar manager Anna Walsh last September, keeps some of the favourites from their debut line-up like their spicy and floral Tiki Street and the Virgin Mary, a take on the tomato-based brunch classic.
The new drinks are an exploration of flavours and ingredients that achieve balance without shortcuts. The list is comprised of eight cocktails. Tempted as we were to get a mulled wine (they looked seriously festive), we decided to go for the staff’s recommendation and tried a Banana Beer and the Caleno Spritz.
The Banana Beer (€8.5), is described as “gin-esque” and it combines Everleaf (a non-alcoholic aperitif with a bittersweet flavour profile), banana, gluten free lager and nutmeg. It was mellow and rich, with flavours that reminded me of banana bread and dried fruits, vanilla and clove, but without any excessive sweetness.
It had a frothy top and a medium body, with a very aromatic character and an unexpected freshness.
The Caleno Spritz (€8.5) was hard to pintpoint. Herbacious, fruity, even peachy. It mixed chamomile, mandarin, cardamom and non-alcoholic sparkling wine with a base of Caleño, a non-alcoholic spirit inspired by the tropical flavours of Colombia, with botanicals such as juniper and inca berry.
It was unusual, zesty and bubbly, a lovely surprise where the total tasted like more than jsut the sum of each ingredient.
Besides the cocktails, they have a selection of non-alcoholic drinks including eight different beers and a cider, as well as white, red, rosé and sparkling wines from prestigious producers.
The is no food menu at The Virgin Mary, so my query for snacks was met with cauliflower crips. How on-brand.
We took a moment to appreciate the bar’s atmosphere before a second sip. Elegant and comfortable but not particularly opulent, with different shades of green as the main tone and a bright front area followed by a more intimate, dimly lit back with the cosiest snug (which is frequely booked so call ahead if you wish them to save it for you).
Before saying goodbye, we decided to get a Dessert Anyone? (€8.50) just out of curiosity. Pitched by the menu as “smooth and indulgent”, the tagline made me anticipate a decadently sweet tipple, but it was far from the trip to syrupland I had mapped in my mind.
Made with non-alco pioneer Seedlip Spice, oat milk, dates, tahini, rose and dark chocolate, this cocktail was exotic and creamy, with a wonderful balance between delicate floral notes and roasted nutty undertones. I can see why it was kept from their first menu into their second edition, and I hope it stays around because it was one of the nicest dessert cocktails I’ve ever had.
The bill at The Virgin Mary came at €27.50 and it included three cocktails and cauliflower crisps.
The Virgin Mary opens Wednesday to Sunday untill 11pm (Sundays until 9pm), and besides their bar experience, it is possible to rent the space for private events, or arrange cocktail mastercalss experiences.
The Virgin Mary