On New Year’s Eve, 1980, the legendary Hong Kong Café in L.A.’s Chinatown hosted its last beer-soaked, raucous punk show. This past New Year’s Eve was also a milestone event for the historic neon-lit space: It was the opening preview night for Stay, the first alcohol-free cocktail bar in Los Angeles.
The sultry new cocktail lounge is the brainchild of actor and interior designer Summer Phoenix, of the celebrated acting family, and Stacey Mann, who worked in art direction for movies like “Red Rock West.” Located off Broadway on the pedestrian plaza of Gin Ling Way, the former Chinese restaurant oozes Hollywood glamour, from its ornately painted facade and entrance flanked with guardian lion statues to the glowing backlit bar, groovy ’70s coffee tables and original embossed ceilings. Vintage punk photos decorate the hallway, in a nod to the bar’s run as an important venue on L.A.’s punk rock music scene.
Non-alcoholic cocktails, beers and wines have been exploding in popularity over the past two years, with bottle shops like Soft Spirits and Boisson opening across Los Angeles. But while stores, restaurants and bars are increasingly offering deeper selections of zero proof drinks, until now, there hasn’t been one place in the city where everything on the menu is non-alcoholic.
Beverage director Derek Brown, a prominent mixologist on the zero-proof scene, created the entire menu, naming the complex creations for signs of the Chinese zodiac. At Stay, the smoky Ox is made with Kentucky 74 bourbon alternative and ginger syrup, while the zippy, margarita-esque Tiger combines Free Spirits Tequila Alternative and lime with green Tabasco. Other drinks have flavor profiles that recall espresso martinis, rum and cokes or gin martinis.
Mann grew up in the business, as her family ran a jazz club in New York. But Phoenix says her experience in hospitality was more limited. “I played a waitress in a movie, that was the extent,” she says.
“I wanted a place where I could gather where alcohol wasn’t the focus,” says Phoenix, who has been working on the concept with Mann for about two years, after they first kicked it around over a decade ago.
“Even two years ago, people were still like zero proof, what’s that? But now it’s in the zeigeist, the time is now and we feel very fortunate and grateful,” says Phoenix.
“We’re motivated to change the way people socialize. You can imbibe, you can enjoy, without alcohol being the focus,” says Mann.
What do they say to those who question why alcohol-free cocktails can be the same price as those with spirits? “We are in the wellness capital of the world. There is plenty of literature that shows that drinking alcohol in any amount is not something that is contributing to good health. We pay all sorts of money to take care of ourselves — it’s a personal choice,” says Phoenix, who points out the drinks are also labor-intensive, with housemade syrups and an array of zero-proof spirits.
A selection of plant-based bar snacks is curated by Kitchen Mouse’s Erica Daking. DJ nights, art openings and live music will also be on the menu.
Stay Zero Proof, 425 Gin Ling Way, Los Angeles