Before I moved back home to Vegas from Chicago we used to come back once a year, usually around Easter for a week. I looked forward to that week of warm sunshine for months, cursing the chilly midwest short dark days.
When we touched down in Vegas, it was a family tradition to head over to Frankie’s Tiki Room and shake off the winter blues with some strong drinks.
When I moved home and stopped drinking, I didn’t step foot in there for years until some friends visited from Canada and were craving something to warm them from the northern frost. The idea of a visit to Frankie’s was floated.
Honestly, I was a little nervous. But I wanted to play the good host and having not been drunk in over a year, I decided it would be worth a try. When we arrived our visitors ordered their drinks and went to sit down, and I privately explained to the bartender that I was the designated driver for the night as I didn’t feel totally comfortable yet telling strangers about my sobriety.
The bartender smiled, unruffled, and kindly asked what flavors I liked, explaining it wasn’t a problem at all to make something without alcohol.
I couldn’t believe how easy it was. My drinks looked as beautiful as everyone else’s, the bartender was kind and non-judgemental, and no one made me feel weird about not drinking.
Looking back, I think this may have been my first positive social experience sober.
Recently, I invited my friend Sarah Lohman–culinary historian and author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine— to collaborate on creating some history-inspired sober beverages.
I sorted through the online Special Collection of vintage Vegas menus that UNLV offers and kept finding menus from Tiki bars at long gone casinos like The Sahara and The Stardust.
When I shared the menu from Don the Beachcomber at the defunct (but sort of still partially standing although rebranded as the SLS for the moment….) Sahara Hotel and Casino we both agreed it was the perfect fit for our project, as it had a huge variety of creative menu items to choose from when transitioning the drink recipes to mocktail creations.
We chose to focus on the layers of complex flavors and multiple ingredients, rather than tiki imagery, as there is a long history of cultural appropriation with most tiki bar design.
We wanted to present these drinks around the holidays, because when you’re sober, going to a holiday party can sometimes make you feel like you’re singled out. With these recipes, as a non-drinker (whether you’re sober, abstaining, dieting, pregnant, designated driver, or any of the other million reasons people choose not to drink) you won’t feel like you’re drinking off the kiddie menu.
These drinks will make all your guests feel included in the festivities, because they’re delicious whether you’re drinking or not. They don’t feel like a substitute, they feel like a delightful option.
They’re special occasion drinks that do take a little extra work in the kitchen, and might require a special ingredient. But we feel like the holidays are the time of year to treat yourself and make your friends and family feel special.
And perhaps, just like a mid-winter visit to Vegas, these historically based drinks will bring you a little sunshine in the winter months.
Enjoy the recipes created by Sarah Lohman below!
Pi Yi Punch
Inspired by the Pi Yi Cocktail
Punches are great for a holiday party; it’s done before your guests arrive and you don’t have to keep mixing drinks all night. This punch can be made up to a week in advance; mixed drinks often mellow beautifully over time. The brand of bitters I recommended does not have a dropper cap, so I transferred it to a mini spray bottle to mist the top of the punch. Pro tip: freeze half of the green tea in an ice cube tray, or in a festive bundt cake tin, then add to the other ingredients. It will keep the punch cold without diluting the flavor.
- 16 oz (2 cups) pineapple juice
- 4 oz (1/2 cup) fresh squeezed lime juice
- 8 oz (1 cup) passion fruit syrup
- ⅓ cup honey mix (recipe below)
- 3.5 cups jasmine green tea, cold
- 6 hearty dashes Stirrings Blood-Orange Bitters (they’re alcohol-free)
- Lime slices, for garnish
To Make Honey Mix:
- ¼ cup Honey
- ¼ cup Water.
- Heat in a saucepan on high heat, uncovered without stirring, until it comes to a boil. Let cool before using.
To Mix the Punch:
- Add first five ingredients to a punch bowl, and gently whisk until combined.
- Just before serving, garnish with lime slices and top with bitters.
Printable recipe for Pi Yi Punch here.
The Tempting Teetotaler
Inspired by the Vicious Virgin
This batched cocktail is great for a small gathering. It has a wonderful orange and almond flavors as well as sweet, tart, and pleasantly bitter notes. For this recipe, I highly recommend this loose leaf, coconut-vanilla black tea. But any high quality black tea will work; bonus if it has a coconut, vanilla, or another spicy flavor. Falernum is a simple syrup, made with ginger, almond and lime. Fee Brothers makes a non-alcoholic version, or you can use this recipe and simply not add the alcohol at the end. It’s a great ingredient to have on hand for mixing with tea, seltzer or more tiki mocktails. In this recipe, you’ll pour hot water over orange slices–pulp, skin and all–to mimic the flavor of an orange liqueur.
- 12 oz (1.5 cups) strong high quality black tea
- 1 orange, sliced
- 4 oz (1/2 cup) falernum
- 6 oz (3/4 cup) freshly squeezed lime juice (about five limes)
- Lime wedges (for garnish)
Makes enough for 8 cocktails
- Place orange slices and falernum in a heat-safe pitcher
- The day before: Make the tea. Bring water to a near-boil; add 4 tea bags or one tablespoon of loose leaf tea. Allow to brew for four minutes then remove tea.
- Pour into pitcher over oranges and falernum. Allow cool to room temperature, then remove orange slices. Stir in lime juice and place in the refrigerator to cool overnight.
- Serve in glasses over ice; fill up halfway with drink mix, then fill to the top with seltzer. Garnish with lime wedges.
Printable recipe for The Tempting Teetotaler here.
The Holiday Hot Tub
Inspired by the Pearl Diver
You can prep the ingredients for this drink in advance, and mix yourself a mug whenever you need. This hot drink features falernum as well as another flavorful mixer: Gardenia Mix. Made with butter and spices, it gives drink a rich mouthfeel, and is a great addition to regular tea. It can be made in advance, and kept in the refrigerator for weeks, ready when needed. Additionally, the coconut-vanilla tea used in the above recipe would be good here, but regular black is good too.
- 1/4 ounce lime juice
- 2 teaspoons falernum
- 1 black tea bag
- 1 heaping tablespoon Gardenia Mix (see my variation on this recipe below)
Makes enough for one mug.
To make Gardenia Mix (makes enough for at least ten cocktails):
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1/2 cup orange blossom honey
- 1/2 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon powdered allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean powder (There are many versions of this online, and it’s a great way to avoid the alcohol in a vanilla extract or paste)
- Mix together all ingredients with a spatula or by pulsing in a food processor until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Store in the refrigerator, and spoon out as needed.
To mix the drink:
- To a mug, add: lime juice, falernum and black tea bag. Fill with hot water. Top with a heaping tablespoon of Gardenia Mix and stir. Serve hot. Optional: top with a spray of blood orange bitters.
Printable recipe for The Holiday Hot Tub here.