Bringing an Alcohol-Free Cocktail Lounge to Old Town, Alexandria
Story by Liesel Schmidt | Photography by Lucia Smith
As social media has exploded, branding has become more and more important in setting oneself apart in the crowd and getting people’s attention. So, too, has the necessity for creating a connection to your audience, offering them both authenticity and a backstory. For Samantha Kasten, the backstory to her business, Umbrella Dry Drinks, is everything that makes her brand unique—and all the more worthy of hashtagging.
“During college, I developed a love for the party scene, which quickly became an addiction to alcohol and a very heavy drinking problem that continued throughout my 20s. I moved to Northern Virginia in 2014 and started working at a restaurant, which only perpetuated my terrible relationship with alcohol. I eventually got a DUI in August of 2016 but still continued to drink despite the intense consequences I was facing from this charge. I finally stopped drinking on July 2, 2018 and have been sober since.”
With Kasten’s sobriety came a need for an alternative that allowed her to have the social aspect of alcohol. “About a year after I stopped drinking, I started finding some non-alcoholic (NA) options via Instagram that looked cute, sounded tasty and would give me the option of being included in the party again without the booze. Once I started ordering these NA beverage options, I would post them on my personal IG account, and people were very curious to learn more about them and where I sourced them from. I kept wishing there was a shop where I could buy these products in person because it's inconvenient to pay for and wait for the shipping. Plus, it's difficult to know if the product will be to someone's liking. I really wanted to have a space where people could come to enjoy these NA products, but I also craved a space that didn't center around alcohol whatsoever. At the beginning of 2021, there was a huge boom of these NA beverage options [being available] including spirit alternatives, alcohol-removed wine, ready-to-drink options and so many more. I kept ordering more and more products to try them all because it was so exciting to have so many options. I truly enjoy sharing these amazing products with people and I love creating different cocktails with them. It really shows people that you can still have a fun and festive drink to feel like you're included in the party, but it doesn't have to have alcohol in it!"
Kasten's entire concept with Umbrella Dry Drinks is "to provide sophisticated NA options for those who wish to stay dry," currently operating as a pop-up NA bar and bottle shop in addition to offering a curated selection of products at Boxwood on South Royal Street. "No matter what the reason is for not drinking, I want you to know that there are options for you, and life is not boring without alcohol," she says. "If anything, it can be better than you ever imagined.”
In addition to her brand's "home base" at Boxwood, Kasten recently became Mint Collective's first pop-up shop. The beloved St. Asaph Street boutique recently announced that they would be exploring a new business model by welcoming up-and-coming local entrepreneurs to utilize the space in their own way. Though fun accessories , candles and other locally curated products will still be available for purchase, Umbrella Dry Drinks will take center stage. Kasten will be seeing her dream achieved by providing Old Town, Alexandria with its first NA cocktail lounge, and loyal clients and members of the Mint Collective family could not be more thrilled! "When we thought about who would be a good fit as our first tenant, we knew exactly who to turn to," explains Mint Collective co-owner Megan Podolsky. "We can't wait to support her on her amazing, and might I add, thriving new business!"
Visit Umbrella Dry drinks at Boxwood or Mint Collective in Old Town, Alexandria. You can also follow them on Instagram.