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Sobriety is having a big moment: Alcohol-free events are launching, sobriety coaches’ calendars are booked up with clients, and online sobriety groups have grown to six-digit memberships, as hipster adults are choosing artisanal mocktails over trendy rosé. (In fact, a recent Nielsen report shows more than approximately one in four adults are cutting down their alcohol consumption.)
And mixing up those mocktails are a smattering of sober bars—establishments that strictly offer non-alcoholic beverages or that cut off booze on certain nights to cater to their sober customers.
“This is more than a trend,” says Joshua Grigaitis, co-owner of Pop's Blue Moon, a sober bar on Saturday nights in St. Louis, Mo., “this is a movement.” It’s one, it seems, rooted in a sense that sobriety doesn’t have to be a stigma—sobriety can be a healthy (and delicious) choice to make.
“It seems that people are more comfortable discussing their relationship with alcohol than they have been in the past,” says Regina Dellea, co-owner of the totally booze-free bar Getaway in Brooklyn, New York. “There used to be a stigma around being sober that we think is starting to fade away. There also seems to be more openness to having an occasional relationship with alcohol, rather than being someone who drinks every day or someone who never ever drinks.”
A sober bar is, perhaps surprisingly, much like any other: There’s music and dim lighting, the occasional spilled drink, and quiet conversations as well as raucous laughter, describes Dellea.
Sober bars are not in any way meant to shame people who enjoy alcohol. Instead, they are meant to create a new and supportive experience. “I think people need to make the decision they want to experience something different,” says Grigaitis. “Stepping out of a comfort zone and trying something different can bring new feelings, energy, and ideas. That’s what happened to me.”
If you’d like to experience a sober bar for yourself, here are five you can visit across the country.
Sans Bar in Austin, Texas
Sans Bar is billed as the first alcohol-free bar in Texas, serving up a rotating menu of up to eight zero-proof cocktails and bottled, alcohol-free beer, wine, and beverages. “What may be unique about Sans Bar is that we are conversation-centric,” says owner Chris Marshall, “meaning we really engineer the environment so authentic connections can happen. No one is dancing on top of the bar.” (But there is, sometimes, karaoke, live music, and even the occasional drag show.)
Getaway in Brooklyn, New York
“If a person’s goal for a night out is to get drunk,” warns Dellea, “our bar is not for them. If they want to taste interesting, thoughtfully constructed drinks and enjoy a night socializing or reading a book, then they should consider our bar.” But chances are people won’t miss booze with this bar’s impressive mocktail menu: Getaway’s Coconaut mocktail includes pineapple, coconut milk, cream of coconut, San Pellegrino Aranciata Rosso, and nutmeg, while its A Trip to IKEA mocktail is made with the store’s lingonberry, lemon, vanilla, cardamom, and cream.
The Other Side in Crystal Lake, Ill.
While many people who visit sober bars aren’t recovering from an alcohol addiction, some are—and The Other Side caters to those who need a supportive community to be able to say goodbye to booze. But that doesn’t mean this bar isn’t fun for everyone. In addition to alcohol-free drinks, there’s also pool tables, ping pong tables, bag toss sets, darts, and video games for all to enjoy.
Pops Moon Bar in St. Louis, Mo.
Each Saturday night, St. Louis’ oldest continuous bar goes booze-free. (They even take down their alcohol signage so that they don’t trigger anyone.) But even if there’s no booze, there’s plenty of non-alcoholic craft beers from Wellbeing Brewing, mocktails, and other drinks—and there’s always live music, with performances ranging from bluegrass to hip hop. It’s the variety of the menu and the environment that Grigaitis thinks attracts people. “This is the ‘mindful drinking movement,’” he says. “For me, it's not about being sober—it's about having choices.”
Listen Bar in New York, New York
Open only one night per month, Listen Bar hosts sold-out parties with fun monthly themes. Past themes included an alcohol-free cocktail competition and a booze-free New York Fashion Week party, while upcoming themes include costumed karaoke (for Halloween) and fireside stories. Its mocktails are as fresh as its monthly themes, too: To make them, bartenders use fresh ingredients you’d find in boozy artisanal cocktails, such as strawberry, lemon, rose water, and egg white.