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Sidecar bar manager dishes about booze-free cocktail menu, staying sober in an industry filled with temptation

Throw out preconceived notions of drab spritzers and overly-sweetened libations, the new zero-alcohol drink menu at Sidecar Jax is sure to impress.
Credit: Nicholas Hogan
Photo of Shannon Michelle

Wedged between a pizza shop and a paper company, an eclectic Jacksonville bar known for its craft cocktails is introducing a special menu featuring handcrafted drinks of the non-alcoholic variety.

Shannon Michelle is the bar manager at Sidecar Jax in San Marco and says she's noticed a shift in the way people consume alcohol.

"Everywhere I have gone recently has some sort of focus on the non-alcoholic side of the industry," Michelle says. "I want to bring this same idea to Jacksonville, in a way where it can be both approachable and appreciated so we can continue to grow with the upward rising of a more conscious drinker..."

More people than ever are flocking to bars and local watering holes to enjoy each other's company without the social lubricant of alcohol. Michelle gives a nod to Wild Crafters in Riverside, an alcohol-free bar that opened last month that she says is "already ahead of the movement."

"As a bartender, I feel like we get to really see the trends right when they happen, which is truly exciting," she explains. "I started getting into bartending right after the Bourbon Boom happened almost 8 years ago, I have watched the craft movement rebuild and the narrative start to change from drinking to get drunk to people becoming imbibe-curious, and now they’re taking that curiosity over to mocktails."

And those mocktails are anything but boring.

Go ahead and throw out any preconceived notions of drab spritzers and overly-sweetened libations, the new zero-proof drink menu at Sidecar is sure to delight any palate. You’ll see creative reinventions of full proof classics and modern takes on the mocktail featuring Seedlip Drinks, NA beers and coffee.

Michelle promises the menu has “a little something for everyone to keep your day interesting.”

It’s no surprise that she’s been such a big advocate for the new alcohol-free menu items. She reveals that she recently made the decision to stop drinking, a feat that many in the hospitality industry would argue is a difficult one.

“Drinking allowed me to build friendships, garner bravery and made for some fairly wild stories… but I had to face a stark reality once I started rounding the corner into my late twenties,” Michelle says. “What I thought was self-medication for my social anxiety had actually become the source of most of my panic, and in a fit of self-care I decided to give up what I assumed gave me my superpowers for nearly a decade. Giving myself that gift of clarity was one of the best things I have done for me and my career.”

First Coast Brews Q & A:

Q: Can you give us details about a few drinks that we might see on the new menu? 

A: My favorite mocktail I’ve been working on, is something that is just really simple. I love being able to draw out and highlight the complexities of certain flavors in the shortest way possible; in my book, less is more. So, I created an homage to one of my favorite classic gin cocktails, the Bees Knees, using Seedlip Garden, fresh lemon, lavender and honey, with a spritz of juniper aromatics over the cocktail to allude to the cocktail’s roots. There is something so comforting about this drink that it makes you forget that you’re not even really drinking.

Credit: Nicholas Hogan

Q: What are your thoughts about the rise of the sober movement and have you seen evidence of it at Sidecar? If so, what type of people do you see ordering non-alcoholic? (Millennials, GenX, pregnant women, etc)

As a bartender, I feel like we get to really see the trends right when they happen, which is truly exciting. I started getting into bartending right after the Bourbon Boom happened almost 8 years ago, I have watched the craft movement rebuild and the narrative start to change from drinking to get drunk to people becoming imbibe-curious, and now they’re taking that curiosity over to mocktails. I’ve definitely felt the heat from this one, and while its not as often as an Old Fashioned order, I get the sober friend or the guest who physically just can’t drink in that moment ordering non-alcoholic beverages from time to time and it keeps becoming more frequent. An important player and influencer in this sober movement though have definitely been those of us in the food and beverage industry. You’re now seeing people who used to go out and party regularly, start to acknowledge the need for preservation and make a call out to longevity. And while it's mostly the younger generation out there on the forefront of this movement, those who have been in the game awhile are starting to see the usefulness of it too.

Q:  Any advice to people that are "sober-curious"?

Anything that’s good for you, whether for your mental or physical health, is worth giving a shot! Consider what might work best for you and then talk to someone you know and trust about keeping you accountable. Sobriety looks different for everyone, so don’t get caught up in the black and white misinterpretations others might have and create something beneficial for yourself.

Q:  What does the future of the sober movement look like for the next generation?

A: Inclusivity. I’d love for the stigmas associated with non-drinkers to absolve going into the future so that all different kinds of people can gather inside bars as they were intended, to enjoy one another's company. Hopefully, spearheading this menu at Sidecar can make an impact in hospitality and encourage other bars in the area to acknowledge the kind of importance these drinks will have on this community.

Q: You mentioned you've been sober for about 9 months. What inspired that lifestyle change?

A: When I started casually drinking around the age of 17, bar hopping and house parties became a part of my personality. Drinking allowed me to build friendships, garner bravery and made for some fairly wild stories I’d share with my coworkers on Friday nights, but I had to face a stark reality once I started rounding the corner into my late twenties. What I thought was self medication for my social anxiety had actually become the source of most of my panic, and in a fit of self care I decided to give up what I assumed gave me my superpowers for nearly a decade. Giving myself that gift of clarity was one of the best things I have done for me and my career.

Q: Were you a bartender before you stopped drinking, and if so, have your on-the-job duties and experiences been different while sober? How?

A: I’ve been bartending since I was 22, but I started in the service industry at 15, so I’ve been selling alcohol as a way of making income for almost half of my life. I would say that my duties have stayed the same, there is just a clear definition that my work is my work. I have a lot of people ask me how I can still do what my line of work requires of me as not only a sober bartender but as a bar manager; I tend to still taste drinks for quality and consistency and participate in staff tastings as well as training with brands for my own knowledge. Where I used to partake in these things and maybe enjoy an extra sip or two at my own expense, now I’m all business and use these opportunities I get to expand my understanding of cocktails and the entire spirits world. Cocktails are my life, and I hope to keep breathing into that life for a very long time.

For more information about Sidecar Jax, click here. 🍸

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