Stephanie Kinney and Amanda Lewis believe they’ve got the first full-time zero-proof cocktail bar in South Jersey.
By Matt Skoufalos | August 3, 2023
Since moving from Haddonfield to Collingswood this spring, retailer Mercantile 1888 has expanded its offerings to include what cofounders Stephanie Kinney and Amanda Lewis believe is the first full-service, zero-proof cocktail bar in New Jersey.
The core business at Mercantile 1888, which occupies a portion of the former DePace Sports Museum on Haddon Avenue, is a curated selection of gifts and goods rooted in local and regional brands.
Growing with the space, which was approved for café service by former tenants Willam Penn Bank, Kinney and Lewis have found just as much interest from customers popping in for an alcohol-free bar experience as for their retail shopping.
It started with flights of canned, zero-proof drinks during a soft launch at Collingswood May Fair, Lewis said — and then questions started pouring in.
“People were asking, ‘Is this going to be a real bar?’” she said. “We were getting e-mails and text messages from people who said, ‘I haven’t been able to sit in this kind of an atmosphere for 30 years.’ We’ve even had people in tears.
“So we said, ‘Let’s go all the way.’”
After acquiring a kegerator and a three-stage sink from a shuttered restaurant in Philadelphia, the duo began to evolve their bar program from kombucha and cold brew kegs to mixed drinks and cultivated alcohol-free brands.
Zero-proof spirits are designed to offer a sensation that approximates the taste and mouthfeel of alcohol using botanicals like cayenne, cracked pepper, caramel, capsaicin, lemongrass, and bergamot. The bar at Mercantile 1888 stocks brands like Ritual, Seedlip, and Lyre’s, as well as canned beverages, craft sodas, and non-alcoholic beer.
“Most people are used to mocktails that are all juice and sugar, and we’ve tried to make it more of what you can get at a nice bar,” Lewis said.
Kinney, who has been sober for more than a decade, said that, in addition to the curiosity around watching a bartender work, the zero-proof bar allows people who don’t drink to “enjoy the taste without the lasting effects.
“It’s been cool to meet other people in the same situation who’ve been looking for a safe space,” she said.
Kinney and Lewis said the experience has been popular among restaurant-goers killing time before their reservations or extending their evening after dinner. But it’s also given Collingswood visitors and residents another dry gathering space in which to socialize. They also hope to create more live entertainment experiences to accompany the interactions.
“We enjoy hanging out, music, and an atmosphere where you can relax like this,” Lewis said. “If you’re in a bar, I think it intimidates some people.”
The popularity of the zero-proof bar also has inspired Kinney and Lewis to expand in-store and al fresco seating at the shop, the better to accommodate more guests.
“We always had a vision to do something like this,” Lewis said. “We’re vibe people,” she said. “To us, everything is an experience.”
Mercantile 1888 is located at 765 Haddon Avenue in Collingswood. The shop is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, although service hours may be extended to facilitate demand.
Look for Kinney and Lewis to make their HGTV debut August 15 at 10 p.m. on the new season of What’s Wrong With That House?
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