In Seattle, a new bar for the ‘sober curious’ and the dry wedding trend

UPDATED: JULY 13, 2022 AT 9:58 AM
KIRO Newsradio, Features reporter

Marceil Van Camp shakes up a cocktail at her soon-to-be-open bar and restaurant, Kamp, in Seattle’s Madison Valley. But this cocktail is made with non-alcoholic spirits.

“We gave it a dry shake with an egg white and I topped it with a few drops of the orange All The Bitter, which is an alcohol-free bitters brand,” Van Camp said.

Kamp will also serve alcohol, but the main goal is to be an inclusive place where everyone feels comfortable having a drink of their choice.

“I’ve got in front of me our bar menu, so you can see the Unboozy and the Partly Boozy are longer than our actual boozy options,” said Van Camp. “That’s on purpose. You want an espresso martini? Do you want a negroni? Have you tried non-alcoholic wine?”

She says some of the non-alcoholic wines have gotten really good.

“We went out to dinner on Friday and I ordered a non-alcoholic sparkling rose, and I had to hand it to everybody at the table to say, ‘Uh oh, I think they mispoured. I think this is a standard rose,'” said Van Camp. “It wasn’t! But you absolutely never would have known. What I would say is I have yet to find a good NA red.”

Van Camp is about nine months into an experiment she calls The Dry Year.

“Essentially, last summer, right around this time, right after Pride, shockingly, I was overindulging,” said Van Camp. “I found myself in the position where I wasn’t feeling great.”

So she took a year off drinking, but she wanted to feel like she could go out with friends and have an adult beverage, not a soda or a glass of water. And she found that many others want the same.

“I learned that the sober want to be social,” said Van Camp. “People want to go on dates and not have to drink every time. People want to go to work and not be hungover the next day. There were really no spaces where that could happen in a very open and consistent way. So we knew that needed to happen at Kamp. It didn’t exist, we hadn’t found it, so here we are and there is something for everyone.”

The menu called the non-alcoholic drinks “unboozy,” so I wondered how she feels about the word “mocktail.”

“I hate it,” said Van Camp.

She says a mocktail uses juices and herbs and seltzer. At Kamp, their unboozy drinks include non-alcoholic spirits. Some mimic vodka or whiskey, but many are totally new flavors.

“I’m going to make you a cocktail using For Bitter For Worse,” said Van Camp. “For Bitter For Worse is one of the spirits that is completely unique. It’s not copying anything. I’m using the Saskatoon, so it starts with tart berries, got some black pepper in there, some fir is integrated into the flavor. It’s pretty complex.”

Van Camp and her partner, in business and life, Katy Knauff, tested the drinks and the concept at popups and non-alcoholic bar crawls.

“A lot of AA people that hadn’t been to a bar forever were actually very nervous that it tasted a little too similar to alcohol,” said Knauff, who created all of the drinks on the Kamp menu. “We also got the question, ‘Is this a kid-friendly drink?’ I don’t think it’s on us to tell you what it is, we just know that it’s non-alcoholic.”

When Bothell’s Brittany and Peter Thomas had their wedding reception in March, they decided not to serve alcohol.

“We have a small handful of people in our lives who are either in recovery from substance use problems or who just have a drinking problem and won’t acknowledge it,” said Peter Thomas. “It was a spectrum of wanting to be considerate for people who are in recovery and also really not wanting to deal with the behavior of people who would drink too much and do unpredictable things.”

The couple agree that it was not a big sacrifice to have a dry wedding.

“We do drink pretty regularly but it wasn’t the central piece about why we’re having the wedding,” Peter said. “We got to do everything that mattered the most to us and all of the other food and drinks that we had were amazing and it did not feel like a loss at all to me.”

The couple designed a few special mocktails to make the party feel special and invited their families over before the big day to do a taste test.

“We had ordered from India Bistro in Ballard and they provided us with a warm chai because [the wedding] was in March,” said Brittany Thomas. “And mango lassi because it’s delicious.”

A decision made to accommodate some of their guests ended up being the best decision for the couple.

“I think it was really nice to see how present I felt,” said Brittany. “Don’t get me wrong, I do like to drink and it is fun and it kind of lets my nerves chill and relax a bit. But I feel like it actually helped me be present with my husband and this awesome ceremony. It was a blast!”

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