Booze-free bottle shop in the Lower East Side brings non-alcoholic spirits and beverages to New York City storefront

Photos courtesy of Douglas Watters

A new booze-free spirit store opened its doors in the Lower East Side at the end of 2020.

Spirited Away is New York City’s very first zero-proof spirit shop, offering a variety of beverages and spirits that contain less than .5% or 0% alcohol by volume (ABV). The idea for the shop came to Douglas Watters, the owner and founder of Spirited Away, came to him over the summer of 2020.

“The whole non-alcoholic spirits trend came out of the UK, it is a more mature market for a lot of these products,” said Watters. “We officially opened in November 2020. The idea came to me over the summer and it came together fairly quickly.”

As a Lower East Side resident himself, Watters knew the neighborhood would be ideal for the shop. Though picking a location in the Lower East Side was a personal choice, Watters says that the area was encouraging for him as the neighborhood is starting to have new stores open up on his block.

“One thing I will say that was encouraging to me as I started looking for space. There were a lot of vacant storefronts and some blocks in the Lower East Side that can seem pretty dead at times — it can be disheartening to see businesses going under,” said Watters. “On my block, it was exciting to see a new Korean comfort food place having a grand opening, the clothing store Avenue C is opening a new shop. Exciting to see other stores around me doing the same thing by taking a concept that might be risky and going for it. I’m excited about the innovation and all the new great stores to be created in this weird time.”

That being said, Watters knew he was taking a risk by opening up a new shop during the pandemic.

“There was a hesitation in the back of my mind when thinking about opening the store, as well as a lot of uncertainty,” said Watters. “As business categorized as a beverage store, we not subject to mandatory closing unless rules change. I plan to remain open as long as it’s safe to do so. These are uncertain times.”

Spirited Away has a wide variety of different non-alcoholic spirits to choose from, including several different stouts and IPAs, elixirs and other “mocktail” mixers and alcohol-free spirits such as gin and tequila. The store also has options for artisan sodas available for sale. 

When it came to deciding what to stock the shelves with, Watters said that Spirited Away aimed to find alternatives to the beverages that people often drink to unwind at the end of the day.

“There are a lot of great drinks in the category,” said Watters. “I wanted to sell things for evening drinks that we use to decompress, I stick to what I drink in the evenings in place of traditional wines, spirits and beers.”

Currently, Spirited Away is open in-store and offers local delivery to certain areas of Manhattan. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, Watters knew that having a delivery option was necessary at the moment. In the future, Watters hopes to be able to not rely on delivery as much.

“Based on my own experience of wanting to buy drinks in this time, I was having to order them online because there was no brick-and-mortar store,” said Watters. “Having the store lets people come in, read labels, have someone talk to them — they get that guided experience that you don’t get online. My vision was more of the brick-and-mortar experience, which is more desired. In the coming months, maybe we’ll be able to lean on that heavier.”

When it comes to choosing to drink non-alcoholic spirits, Watters is not out to change anyone’s minds. If alcohol works for you, Watters isn’t looking to make you change your preferences — even he still enjoys an alcoholic beverage from time to time. However, Watters wants his shop to be a resource for people who are looking to try something new.

“For me, as I was thinking more about what I was eating and drinking, exercising, and living life,  the data was there and the info was there that informed my decision to drink less,” said Watters. “People can make their own decisions for what’s right for them. If you decide you want to try non-alcoholic beverages or want to drink less, we are here to help guide you.”

Though the store has been open for a short amount of time, Watters is hopeful for the future of not just his store, but for the alcohol-free cocktail industry.

“It’s too early to tell, but we’ve been keeping busy here,” said Watters. “Every day a new brand contacts me on Twitter, saying that they’re launching new products. There’s a more health-focused mindset and it’s just going to grow, and I want to be a part of that, in the form of just a retail store or some way to serve customers nationwide. I’m very excited about the future of the no to low ABV cocktail category.”

Spirited Away is located at 153 Ludlow Street in the Lower East Side and is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. For more information, visit www.spiritedaway.us.

Photo courtesy of Douglas Watters

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