Anyone doing Dry January will tell you that staying sober while socialising is the hardest part.
You might start the month with the willpower of a saint but, after spending a couple of nights drinking Coca Cola, you soon find yourself dreaming you’re being seduced by a talking pint of stout.
It’s surprisingly difficult to plan a night out without writing alcohol into the equation. For instance, there aren’t any bowling alleys in London without bars, which is baffling. Places that might have been a chaste date venue for teenagers in the 1950s are now just another place for Londoners to neck vodka milkshakes.
If during this long dry month you’re dating or meeting up with a friend, this list offers a selection of alcohol-free venues and ideas. There’s no way we can be comprehensive, though, so please add to the list by leaving your tips in the comments section.
Head for a coffee shop, or a ‘dry’ bar
Redemption (Trellick Tower, Weds-Sun) is London’s only dry pub, and gets great reviews. Mocktails are £3, and it does food.
Dating in destination coffee shops is the most straightforward way to avoid the pub. Brick Lane Coffee, for example, is open til 8pm on weeknights, as is Sacred Café on Ganton Street. None of the aforementioned sell booze. The Café at Foyles on Charing Cross Road is open until 8.30pm and only serves alcohol with food. If you’re not sniffy about chains, Caffé Nero on Frith Street is open until 2am (or 4am on Fridays and Saturdays) and Benugo on Cannon Street is open until 7.30pm.
If you want to go on a winter walk but need to avoid ending up in the pub afterwards, traipse towards a park-side café such as The Larder (near Victoria Park), HR Higgins (near Hyde Park), and Ginger and White (near Hampstead Heath).
Eat in a no-booze venue
Lots of people will encourage you to dine out somewhere without booze, like a curry house. It’s a great idea, but if your date brings a bottle of wine then you won’t stick to the lemonades for long. What you really want is somewhere with a decent non-alcoholic drinks menu — Maida in Bethnal Green, for instance, serves great milkshakes (just check out Jay Rayner’s review), and Tayyab’s lassi is off the chain. Sites like Zabihah maintain a list of halal restaurants in London, which don’t serve alcohol.
Go for breakfast or brunch. True, usually a staple of a ‘morning after’ date but sometimes you can dissuade people from drinking before noon. E Pellicci’s is a classic, and won’t try to flog you a mimosa with your fry-up.
You could also wander out for gelato — there are plenty of venues on Old Compton Street and round Covent Garden, and not a beer tap or cork in sight. For a grown-up treat, visit an Amorino on Old Compton Street or Garrick Street (open till 12am) or Gelupo (open till 10.30pm).
Visit an exhibition
All the big museums and galleries serve fabulous beer and wine. Drat. But Benugo has a non-alcoholic venue, the Shake Bar, in the Science Museum.
Smaller venues like the Flowers Gallery in Hoxton are too little to have their own caffs, but are conveniently close to cute coffee shops such as Paper & Cup. Other no-frills galleries include the White Cube in Bermondsey (near a nice Monmouth Coffee shop) or Blain Southern (near a nice Taylor Street Baristas).
Places that normally offer light-hearted evening craft classes are a no-no if you can’t resist temptation — for example, Drink Shop Do in King’s Cross is boozy, and so is The Book Club in Shoreditch. But if you want to learn something other than the best way to shot flaming sambuca, you could make sushi in Soho with Yo Sushi (the ‘Rice and Rolls’ class £50 for two people)…
…Or attend drop-in pottery classes at Hackney City Farm (Wednesday and Thursday evenings, 7pm-9pm, £20 for two).
Alternative London is one of several companies offering guided tours of some of the capital’s best street art. These begin and end in Spitalfields, conveniently near the alcohol-free Nude Espresso on Hanbury Street.
Hop on a Pashley in Waterloo and take a Tally Ho! bike tour of London
Appoint yourself as the designated driver and enjoy a cast-iron excuse to turn down booze. Top tips for winter trips would have to include eating fish and chips in Brighton or Bexhill, sipping tea in Hampton Court, or walking in the Chilterns.
Two of the outdoor ice rinks are still open, but you’ll have to dodge a Heineken bar at the Canary Wharf rink (open until 16 February) and a full bar at Hampton Court rink (open until 12 January). If you really can’t stand the temptation to booze, the Lee Valley Ice Centre in Clapton has only a saintly Starbucks on site.
Obviously, we can only offer a snapshot of what London has to offer here. So let us know where else one can avoid the booze during Dry January.