Located along the banks of the Schuylkill in charming Manayunk, The Volstead by Unity is Philadelphia’s first zero proof bar. Opened in the spring of 2022, The Volstead is the newest addition to Arielle and Robert Ashford’s Unity spaces throughout Philly—all of which aim to support individuals’ health and wellbeing while creating a sense of community. They serve non alcoholic drinks in order to carve out a safe space for people who are in recovery, choose not to drink, or are just “sober–curious,” and provide delicious, 100% vegan food to support sustainability. They also employ those in recovery and returning from incarceration.
Walking along Main Street, The Volstead’s bright purple exterior draws me in. Right outside the front door is a heart–shaped mosaic sign that reads “I believe in you.” Stepping into the restaurant is like entering a fairytale: I’m greeted by a beautiful wood bar with orange neon–lit shelving, dark green and black walls, railings covered in flowers and vines, and lightbulbs surrounded by geometric cages hanging from the ceiling. The hostess seats me at the bar while the television plays Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
In accordance with Philadelphia’s alcohol laws, you still must be 21 to drink their zero proof cocktails. However, in addition to The Volstead's fully stocked, alcohol free bar, they also have a selection of kombucha.
Because it’s still so hot outside, the bartender makes me a drink that tastes and looks like summer. With a sunset–like gradient and a strawberry and orange slice on the rim, it’s citrusy and refreshing.
I order the short stack of oat pancakes, and as I wait, I notice an employee standing near the kitchen wearing a shirt that says, “Zero proof nights lead to perfect mornings.”
Three pancakes, dusted with powdered sugar and topped with whipped cream and strawberries, arrive in front of me. They're warm and sweet, and they melt in my mouth. The bartender then hands me another drink and tells me it’s their apple bourbon fizz. I admire its layered presentation: cider at the bottom, then foam, and lastly an apple slice topped with cinnamon. I take a sip and it tastes like fall. The warm cider mixed with the cinnamon is the perfect combination.
Then, to my surprise, the waitress brings over some tasters of other offers from their upcoming fall menu. First up is the “Regal Bacon Chedd’r Slider" with house–made vegan grounds, vegan cheddar cheese, and king oyster mushrooms as a substitute for bacon. It also comes with pickles, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and sweet potato fries on the side. Biting into the slider, you’d have no idea it’s vegan.
Up next, it's Volstead's pumpkin bucatini, made with pumpkin puree, heirloom tomato, pumpkin seeds, and brazil nut parmesan. The dish has so many different textures and flavors, from the creamy sauce to the crunchy toppings. It’s the perfect combination of strong, salty flavors and more subtle notes.
Lastly, I sample a plate of three appetizers—Carolina corn ribs, balsamic soy garlic roasted mushrooms, and garlic parmesan boneless wings. The corn rib has a subtle yet smoky flavor with coriander and paprika, and the mushrooms are light and chewy with a hint of sage. The wings are made out of seitan, and are salty, garlicky, and fried to the perfect consistency. If I wasn’t so full, I'd eat the whole thing. Luckily, they have to–go boxes.
The Volstead's chef tells me that even though he isn’t vegan, he cooks exclusively vegan food because it’s cleaner and healthier. Their fall menu, with flavors like cinnamon and cranberry, is the they've put together since they officially opened last March, and he feels it’s the best one yet.
When I’ve packed up my leftovers, the hostess offers to show me the upstairs section of the restaurant. Walking up the stairs, there's a wall covered in moss and flowery vines and a built–in shelf containing their zero proof bottle shop. The Volstead by Unity is the perfect restaurant set in a scenic location and buzzing with youthful energy. The food and drinks are amazing, and the people who work there are friendly and passionate about what they do.
TL;DR: Visit The Volstead by Unity for a good time with your besties; sober, plant–based, or otherwise.
Location: 4371 Main St.
Hours: Wednesday and Thursday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.