The drinks look good: vibrant reds and greens; fresh mint and crushed ice bursting from the glass; petals; a rim of salt. The drinks taste good, too. But there is something missing. The soporific burn of alcohol. As anyone coming to the Redemption bar in east London is warned on arrival, these drinks are dry. Although if you didn't get the warning, you could work it out from the names of the cocktails ("mocktails"). Here's a "mock-jito" - muddled fresh mint and lime - or a "coco-rita", based on coconut water.
Redemption is the brainchild of Catherine Salway who left two years ago "to pursue my own idea - something that was disruptive and socially conscious". She hit upon a dry bar when she was meeting a friend with "a bit of a drink problem" and couldn't think where to go. "There are coffee shops and juice bars but there wasn't anywhere that felt like you could have a proper night out."
Salway is not the first to start an alcohol-free bar. In Liverpool, the Brink opened in 2011, as a social enterprise to help those recovering from alcohol addiction. The past year has seen turnover rise by 50%, says its manager, Jacquie Johnston-Lynch, who describes her customer base as "50% recovery community, 50% a combination of Joe and Josephine Bloggs who come in because they love the food - students, grannies out for lunch, business people, musos."
Johnston-Lynch says she is now "helping a number of organisations around the country to set up their own places" through an offshoot called Brinky Business. She mentions a four-storey venue in Newcastle, soon to open, and plans for a place in Cardiff. Salway herself believes "there is a market for five to 10 Redemption bars across the UK over the next five to 10 years." Her research tells her that 75% of Londoners under 30 would visit an alcohol-free bar, and she is trying out the concept in the hipster heartland.
Those climbing the five storeys of Netil House in London Fields to reach the rooftop Redemption are rewarded with a brilliant view of London. You can see a lot of buildings from here, gas holders and high rises nudging the pleats and folds of domestic rooftops - but you can't see many people. The youngest customers haven't long learned to walk and the place has the feeling of a lull in a wedding party about it - when the toddlers are ruling the dancefloor.
Angela Gil and Victoria Perez, both in their 20s, didn't realise the premises were alcohol-free. Are they disappointed? "I enjoyed my cocktail," says Gil. "It's a nice taste. You maybe miss the feeling though." She says she would return with friends. Another customer, Janine Murrell, is nursing a cheesecake on a beanbag: a good clue to the vibe. "Have you heard the phrase 'conscience living'?" asks Lucy, who has been here before. "I subscribe to that. We don't have to poison our bodies with alcohol every week."
Salway's venture is a pop-up for now and another is soon to open in Notting Hill, but she is searching for a permanent home for her idea. That seems wise. It is 9pm and Redemption has petered out. "The busiest time was lunch, and then around 5-7pm." Salway says she has seen 300 customers in a day, but if the busy time ends at 7pm, she hasn't yet got the bar she wanted - which is not to say she won't.
Photo Credit: Dry bars serve colourful non-alcoholic cocktails. Photograph: Alamy