Abby Ehmann on Hekate, Manhattan’s First Nonalcoholic Dive Bar
HEKATE, NIGHT-WANDERER, mistress of ghosts, patroness of witches and sorcerers; she is the spirit of the crossroads who moves freely between two realms. She is the moon goddess and the Greek witch of myth—but given her skillset, she’d make an excellent patron saint of dive bars, those timeless realms where dusks merge into dawns and spirits of the night mingle and part, mingle and part.
Like Hekate, for whom she named Manhattan’s first nonalcoholic dive bar, Abby Ehmann moves freely between two worlds. Her first bar, Lucky on Avenue B, is a self-proclaimed dive. As someone once said, elegant bars are all elegant in the same way but each dive bar is uniquely divey. Says Ehmann of Lucky and the magic of dive bars, “Dive bars are welcoming neighborhood places. You know—a good jukebox, cheap beer, no pretension, a place where people actually talk to each other. The elevator pitch for Lucky was that it would be ‘a dive bar for grownups,’ which meant a glass of wine you won’t spit out and a toilet you’re not afraid to sit down on. Taking the concept even further, we don’t have TVs, Fireball, Red Bull, Southern Comfort, Jack Daniel’s, or anything from Anheuser-Busch, [all of] which turns off about 85% of possible customers.”
The bro-free spell that Ehmann cast at Lucky drew so many regulars that she started to see unwelcome effects of its success. She says, “We created an appealing sense of community at Lucky, which meant some people were coming in every day and, you know, drinking every day. I realized that I have a responsibility toward these people. I wanted to create an equally welcoming environment but take booze out of the equation.”
Across Avenue B from Lucky, Ehmann opened Hekate, Manhattan’s first nonalcoholic dive bar. Instead of slamming down drafts and shots, its bartenders are slinging nonalcoholic cocktails and zero-ABV beers, plus witchy herbal teas. Unlike Lucky—which, like most dive bars, dispenses units of drunkenness—Hekate sells drinks with a spectrum of other properties. “Zero-ABV beer and nonalcoholic spirits can be triggering for some customers, so we offer a variety of options,” Ehmann says. “Our witchy teas are delicious and healthy, and if they make people feel good, that’s even better. And so many of the new products contain adaptogens or herbs that purport to lift your mood or have other positive effects.”
It’s too easy (and too puritanical) to say that Lucky is Hades while Hekate is the earth, or that the two realms do not meet. Says Ehmann, “In a lot of ways, Hekate is very similar to Lucky: welcoming, unpretentious, friendly, warm, unfussy. No BS. No twirly mustaches.” For Ehmann, Hekate is a complement to Lucky. “It’s hard to meet people if you don’t drink. There aren’t many spaces for sober people to socialize. They can go to a coffee shop, but everyone is working on their laptop—it’s way too quiet. I wanted to create a space where you can still have fun, meet other people, celebrate special occasions, without worrying about drunk people spilling their drinks on you (or being accidentally served booze).”