The Buzz About NYC's Booze-Free Listen Bar
For a concept that got its start in October 2018 as a five-day pop up, the response to Listen Bar has been out of control. The booze-free bar came back in residency form for Dry January 2019 once a week that month, and now has a long-standing monthly pop up with Von Bar in East Village as the team works on the bar’s very own brick-and-mortar space.
The visionary behind the brand is Lorelei Bandrovschi whose skills as an innovation consultant collided with her interests when she took a month off from drinking about five years ago. Even with the momentum to be more inclusive of those who aren’t drinking in a bar setting, Bandrovschi saw room for improvement: to make nonalcoholic cocktails—or, alcohol-free cocktails, as she likes to refer to them—the star of a beverage program.
When Listen takes over, the team strives to create a familiar environment. Guests can still sip cocktails leaning against the bar, order a beer (alcohol-free) on tap, and dance to their heart’s content. “Everyone is excited to be part of it,” Bandrovschi says. The energy in the room is great. “It feels really satisfying in a familiar way. The lights are dimmed, the music's good, and people are enjoying themselves.”
The cocktail menu is fun, too. Listen enlisted Eamon Rockey, who is at the helm of the Institute of Culinary Education’s beverage curriculum, to develop the menu. “He will actually be teaching people recipes from our cocktail menu, which—I think—is going to be a fantastic way to change culture,” Bandrovschi says.
Highlights include a frozen Coco-Matcha creation that involves coconut milk, Kelvin Colada slush, and matcha and is served in a coconut shell; a Nah-groni that combines juniper and orange bitters with verjus rouge; the Actual Sunshine bringing together Seedlip Grove, mango, turmeric kombucha, and adaptogen-packed Kin Euphorics; and—Bandrovschi’s favorite—the Spicy Titties cocktail combining lime, cilantro, jalapeño, and grapefruit jarritos.
“We like to have fun with the fact that we're very high-low,” Bandrovschi says. “One drink will have the super fancy Seedlip Garden or the Kin Euphorics, and then the next one is going to have this—what we call—Pizza Salt rim on a drink called the Dollar Slice. It’s high culture and lowbrow culture comfortably mixing together, which I think is one of the signs of just good, comfortable spaces.”
Listen Bar sees the trend toward alcohol-free cocktails growing and plans to capitalize on it by opening a permanent location. “You look at the numbers, and it's just a very obvious thing. There's so much room, and New York is a place that has an appetite for different experiences like this,” Bandrovschi says.