For the sober or sober curious, going out to a bar used to mean navigating a menu devoid of mocktails, with only a couple of fruit-based beverages, sodas, or water as an option. But the demand for nonalcoholic beverages in the United States has risen noticeably in recent years, and not just during Sober October or Dry January. According to a study by NielsenIQ, 22% of consumers reported drinking less and cutting back on alcohol in 2021. Enter the rise of the sober bar, where mocktails are given priority over cocktails and socializing doesn't revolve around getting drunk. And plenty of people are raising a glass to that.
What Exactly is a Sober Bar?
While there's a growing number of bars that offer robust mocktail sections on their menu, a true sober bar focuses on alcohol-free drinks. Menu items might include elaborate mocktails, but they could also include kombucha, nonalcoholic beer or wine, bitters mixed with soda, and other zero-proof mixed drinks. Alcohol-free bars often function in the same way as regular bars, hosting events that can be enjoyed without booze. Inmoxicated in Racine, Wisconsin, offers karaoke nights and happy hours with $2 off handcrafted “cocktails.” At Unimpaired in Iowa City, Iowa, patrons can shoot pool and throw darts while drinking holiday beverages such as The Santa, made with raspberry, cherry, and nonalcoholic whiskey.
Sober bars go back at least to the 18th century, when a Gin Craze — and subsequent alcoholism — swept across England and a temperance movement arose in response. Moderation or complete abstinence of alcohol was encouraged, and “temperance bars” that didn’t serve alcohol became increasingly popular. Sober bars can be considered the 21st century's temperance bars, and a response to the sober curious movement.
Who Are Sober Bars For?
Sober bars are for everyone, whether you drink alcohol or not. The rise in nonalcoholic bars has coincided with a growing “sober curious” movement, which encourages people to explore what their life might look like without alcohol. For many drinkers, eliminating or taking a break from alcohol leads to substantial health benefits: better sleep, a decrease in anxiety, and lower blood pressure, to name a few. Alcoholics in recovery may find that sober bars offer a safe space to socialize without the pressure of drinking — though, for some, the mere environment of a bar may be a harmful trigger. It’s up to each individual to determine whether a sober bar is right for them.
Are Sober Bars Cheaper Than Regular Bars?
One benefit of frequenting a sober bar: It’ll save you some money. Because the drinks lack alcohol (arguably the most expensive component of a cocktail), prices are more on par with lattes or fresh fruit juice than cocktails. At Unimpaired, you might find a “martini” for $6 or a "piña colada" for $7. And for patrons who find that the drunker they get, the more money they spend — well, that won’t be happening at a sober bar.
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Where Are the Sober Bars?
While sober bars aren’t in every state yet, the past few years have seen this type of bar opening in cities across the U.S. In addition to Unimpaired and Inmoxicated, Sans Bar in Austin, Texas, is a well-known sober bar, offering handcrafted mocktails and live music. Listen Bar, a pop-up that started in New York City, brings its booze-free festivities to virtual and IRL events. The Other Side, a sober bar and cafe in Crystal Lake, Illinois, serves raspberry “palomas” and blood orange “mojitos,” while New York City’s Hekate, a sober bar and specialty tea shop that opened in early 2022, offers mocktails such as The Healer, Spring Spritz, and Earthbound. And if you’re hankering to make your own zero-proof cocktails instead, visit spirit-free bottle shops such as The New Bar in Venice, California; Gem Bar Bottle Shop in Pitman, New Jersey; and Sipple in Houston, Texas.
What do you think of sober bars? Tell us in the comments.