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Sober curious? Grab a seat at The Counter, Milwaukee’s new day bar.

Image of a bar with non-alcoholic drinks lined up on a shelf.
The Counter Day Bar / Instagram
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There’s been a boom in the non-alcoholic drink industry in recent years. More products to buy, more places to go, more options in general. I think it’s safe to say this trend is here to stay.

For me, mocktails have become a significant factor within my friendship group; we’re a majority Muslim friend group, so we always keep it as a sober space. But, sometimes, tea, coffee and juice don’t suffice, and you want to brighten your drink menu. So we made mocktail nights.

For this past Galentine’s Day, each friend brought a mocktail representing their favorite rom-com. After a blind taste test, the winning drink reveals which rom-com we watch.

More broadly, this collective shift in drinking habits started in 2018 with “The Sober Curious Movement.” Author Ruby Warrington coined the term in her book Sober Curious, but the saying got its start referring to a gray-area drinker — a level of alcohol consumption between moderate and risky. The movement became mainstream with the wave of TikTok users and online communities like Retired Party Girl.

The Counter Day Bar is run by Discourse, a Milwaukee coffee workshop that began in a basement surrounded by records. My sister still raves about their Channel Orange drink, which has smoked vanilla topped with candied orange powder. If you want to experiment with your coffee, check out Discourse — after you finish reading this review, of course.

Mocktails, however, didn’t really hit the Milwaukee scene until more recently. So when we discovered that a non-alcoholic bar opened in the Crossroads Collective, we were ecstatic to try it out.

Ariel image of mixed drinks on a table alongside coasters with the logo for The Counter Bar.
The Counter Day Bar Instagram
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Let’s start with the positive. Every offering and every word on the menu is carefully curated. There is intentionality throughout, which has resulted in delicious drinks.

The first drink I had was the Pandora Box; it was smoky and bitter but also had a hint of what reminded me of chocolate syrup. A cool drink for a cool girl — Amy Dunne would approve.

However, the night’s showstopper was The Fox & The Grapes, which turned out to be their take on a three-course meal. Topped with cheese and a pickled grape, it opens your palette for a refreshing, sparkling NA wine drink. Then, just when you think you’re done, on the bottom of the glass is an unreachable chunk of grape ice — a tart little treat to coat your mouth and convince you to add one more drink to your tab.

There aren't a lot of negatives. But, if there is one, it’s that The Counter doesn’t quite fit Crossroads Collective. The food hall has a casual ambiance, and when you pay roughly $15 per mocktail, it feels like the experience needs to go beyond the drink menu.

We sat next to a family with children, and our night was muddled up by the heavy background noise and intruding — although tasty — food smells from neighboring vendors. A moody atmosphere with dim lighting and comfortable lounge chairs would be ideal, but instead you’re left with a cafeteria feel.

That’s not to say I won’t come back to The Counter, just maybe not for a night out. After all, it is advertised as a day bar.

Audio Storyteller | Radio Milwaukee