Posted on: December 24, 2019 at 8:29 am
Last updated: October 15, 2020 at 3:10 pm

Bars are an integral part of our culture. For decades, people have gathered at their local watering hole to have philosophical (and not-so-philosophical) debates, to check in on the local gossip, and to simply kick back with a pint on a friday night.

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Yes, bars can be fun places to meet up with friends and be a part of the local crowd, but for someone who is a recovering alcoholic, they can be toxic environments full of temptation.

Luckily for them, there is a new trend emerging in the bar scene: sober bars.

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An Alcohol-Free Bar

That’s right. Alcohol-free, or “sober” bars are becoming increasingly popular across the United States for recovering addicts and alcoholics who still want to have fun on a friday or saturday night [1].

These bars look and feel like the real thing- right down to the dim lighting and dingy booths, except the usual shelves filled with beer and liquor have been replaced with non-alcoholic substitutes like coffee and kombucha [1]. Guests can sit back and listen to a local musician or join in on a round of karaoke while sipping on virgin cocktails and Heineken 0.0 [1].

“I Can’t Stay Sober, But We Can”

This is a popular saying at Alcoholics Anonymous [3]. If you are recovering from addiction, it is extremely important to have a community around you- you need people to support you to stay clean. Without this support, addicts tend to isolate themselves which can lead to depression, and make them more likely to relapse [4].

Unfortunately, it is imperative in the beginning stages of recovery to avoid places and situations where you might be tempted to relapse, which of course means staying out of pubs and bars [5]. 

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It is necessary, then, to seek support in other places and other circles. In recovery, other sober individuals are the best people to have around you during vulnerable times [4]. Recovery is about moving forward, and establishing new, sober relationships based on a foundation of recovery encourages healthy changes and communication [4].

A Step In the Recovery Process

For many recovering addicts, it can seem difficult to imagine having an active social life again, since a majority of their past activities revolved around alcohol and drug use [4]. This is where a concept like a sober bar becomes so valuable.

Paul French is the owner of one of these in Barstop, Texas, called Cherokee Recovery Village. A former addict himself, he now works as a licenced chemical dependency counselor and says that his bar is a crucial help for people recovering from alcohol dependency [1].

The bar-like environment exposes you to triggers to potentially weaken them, which will hopefully allow you to eventually go into places where there’s drinking and partying without it affecting you so much [1].

These bars also provide a community for people recovering from addictions, and helps them to stick to their recovery programs.

Recovering alcoholic Ember Zenchyshyn has been sober for three years and frequents Cherokee Recovery Village.

“I can’t do this alone,” she says, “I need to have the people walking through this with me and kind of be a part of something.” Zenchyshyn often feels like she misses out on fun times with friends. She reveals, “I didn’t want to give up the fun lifestyle. I didn’t want just to go home and go to sleep at 10 and not do things.” [2]

Not Just For Recovering Addicts

These sober bars are not exclusive to people recovering from addictions. They are also great spaces for people who simply don’t partake in any substance use, but still find the bar atmosphere to be fun [1].

Lorelei Bandrovschi, co-owner of Listen Bar, a monthly alcohol-free pop-up bar in New York City, want non-drinkers to have a space that is “theirs”.

“Nondrinkers have been made to feel like the odd ones out,” Bandrovschi says. “We are here to say that [they] deserve their own space and to be the star of the show.” [6]

Interestingly enough, only one third of the bar’s guest identify themselves as non-drinkers. The rest are occasional or regular drinkers, who just want a night out without the hangover the next day [6]. 

Sober Bars Popping Up Everywhere

The concept of an alcohol-free bar is becoming more and more popular across the United States. Here are a few more sober spots that have popped up in the United States:

  • Sans Bar in Austin, Texas is a weekly pop-up bar. They have taken their concept on the road, and done pop-ups in Nashville, Kansas, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, among others.
  • The Other Side in Crystal Lake, Illinois, has ping pong, pool tables, and more, and offers karaoke, open mic nights, comedy and dancing.
  • Listen Bar in New York City is a monthly pop-up that focuses on making amazing alcohol-free cocktails.
  • Getaway in Brooklyn, New York features cozy couches and chic decor that make this spot perfect for Instagram.

Whether you’re recovering from addiction, you simply don’t drink, or you just feel like having a night out without the consequences the next morning, perhaps a sober bar is just the thing you need.

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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