Staying Dry

The potions are potent at this teetotalers’ bar

By Clarissa Hyman

Updated on January 14, 2021

The winter wind chills your bones as it gusts down the main street of Rawtenstall, in the county of Lancashire, in North West England. It can make you feel as battered as the cod in the chip shop. In the former mill towns that cling to the Pennine mountains, they have a term for the bluster: "It's proper parky," they say. Then they add, "Cheer up, lass. Have a Fitzpatrick's tonic."

Mr. Fitzpatrick's is the last temperance bar in Britain, and I get a glow just thinking about the kick of its Ginger Cordial (see Recipe: Ginger Cordial), or the creamy finish of the Dandelion & Burdock. It's part of my heritage; I was brought up in nearby Manchester, where such botanical pick-me-ups were once as much a part of the local diet as oven-bottom barms (buns baked in the bottom of the oven) and Bury black puddings (a local variety of blood sausage).

During the Industrial Revolution, the region experienced a massive population influx. The easy availability of ale and gin led to widespread alcoholism, and in response, the Temperance Movement began in the Lancashire city of Preston in 1835. Prohibition was never legislated here, but nonalcoholic bars sprang up to promote abstinence from the "demon drink." The Fitzpatricks, an Irish family of herbalists, started their business in 1899. At their peak, they had around 28 shops. Interest in "taking the pledge" faded after World War II, and the Rawtenstall location is the sole survivor.

Chris Law, the present owner, has ensured that the tiny Victorian bar still looks much as it ever did: ceramic tap barrels; shelves lined with jars of medicinal herbs, roots, and extracts. Law makes the old-fashioned cordials on the premises using natural extracts sweetened with sugar, and regulars still like to pop in for their favorites. The original formulations are little changed; choices include malted Black Beer & Raisin, and earthy Sarsaparilla Cordial, diluted with still or sparkling water and drunk hot or cold. Teens prefer garnet-red Blood Tonic with its distinctive taste of raspberry bubble gum. As Chris wryly observes, "I don't think they realize it's made with rose hips and nettles."

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