Story & Photography by Martha Carucci
“The past two years have been especially trying on our small mom-and pop-restaurant. From the waterfront construction, jackhammering, porta-potties, and BAM, a pandemic — yet through it all, here we are, the little restaurant that could. Finally, the waterfront is beautiful.” -Meshelle Armstrong, Hummingbird
Anyone who has recently walked along Alexandria’s waterfront has undoubtedly witnessed the hustle and bustle of activity brought about by the hopping new restaurant scene there. Alexandria Restaurant Partners (ARP) opened Ada’s on the River, followed shortly after with Barca, adding wonderful new options for drinks and dining with a beautiful view. Building on the already popular spots just to their north -- Hummingbird, Virtue, Vola’s and more -- Alexandria’s residents and visitors have plenty of top-notch choices to enjoy along the water.
While these places all offer delicious food, they also feature some amazingly refreshing and tasty drinks, presented by very talented bartenders – creative cocktail crafters and masterful mocktail mixologists. Providing a variety of alcohol-free (AF) options, other than just sparkling water with a lime stuck in it for excitement, has become increasingly important as people grow more health-conscious or seek alternative beverages without the hangover in the morning.
Hummingbird, located within Hotel Indigo, was launched in 2017 by the Eat Good Food Group created by award-winning Chef Cathal Armstrong and Meshelle Armstrong of Restaurant Eve fame. New bar manager, Mason Bermudez, whipped up several of his favorites for me, all without alcohol. His Ginger Smash, Rose Colored Glasses, and Jalapeño Margarita were all refreshing, delicious, and AF. Hummingbird is in the process of developing a new cocktail menu that will include some mocktail options. “Like any renowned chef making a signature dish, a spirits curator strives for perfection in delivering a master-crafted and memorable experience with their drinks. Whether it's a classic martini, an original recipe, or a mocktail, the satisfaction and pride of creating a delicious combination is an honor that never grows old." -Mason Bermudez
Barca bartender, George Vanegas, a local from Fairfax, said that “mixologists are there to give their guests a show with their drinks” whether they contain alcohol or not, and that it’s all about knowing what to replace the alcohol with. He said that Barca tends toward “more tropical drinks in keeping with the atmosphere and scenario by the water." He made me a beautiful, deep pink/purplish Pomegranate Passion Fruit Mojito (or "Nojito" as the mocktail version is often called).
Ada’s on the River is fortunate enough to feature Michael Riojas behind their bar, who has competed in international bartending competitions. Michael said he has definitely noticed a “giant increase in the number of people ordering mocktails, as people are more conscious of how much they intake, but still want to be included.” He crafted three delicious mocktails for me to taste. My favorite was a virgin version of Ada’s popular Condopolitan, substituting cucumber water instead of vodka, simple syrup, mint, and lemon juice. I also enjoyed a wonderful combination of pineapple juice, fresh rosemary, and Indian tonic, as well as a refreshing concoction consisting of pomegranate syrup, lemon juice, ginger beer, and rosewater.
"We have definitely noticed a giant increase in the number of people ordering mocktails, as people are more conscious of how much they intake, but still want to be included." - Michael Riojas
Virtue Feed & Grain's bartender, Mika Radenkovic, who has been behind their bar for over seven years, served up a delicious berry-based Stardust Mocktail for me, which she created with muddled fresh blackberries and raspberries, simple syrup, club soda, and Sprite. She shares that their AF mojitos are very popular as well.
So if you’re looking for a fun night out, whether it’s knocking back some traditional martinis, or creative new libations, with or without the alcohol, Alexandria’s hot waterfront spots will leave you buzzing!
Martha Carucci has called Alexandria, Virginia her home for over 25 years. In addition to heading Alexandria-based non-profit, the National Breast Center Foundation and the Walk to Bust Cancer, she is the author of Sobrietease and Sobrietease 2: Make It a Double. She openly shares her journey through sobriety over the past nine years, hoping to help others along the way and reduce the stigma of alcoholism. Martha is a contributing writer for VIP Alexandria Magazine.