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Walk into Getaway Bar in Brooklyn, New York, and you could be forgiven for thinking you had stepped into any one of the many trendy cocktail bars in the neighborhood. And that is exactly how the owner and founder, Sam Thonis, is hoping you’ll feel. That’s because Getaway is New York’s first full-time sober bar – part of a growing global trend that offers people living a sober or semi-sober lifestyle a place to socialize without the pressure to drink.

People in recovery have spent time in diners and cafes

Sober social clubs are not a new idea. People in recovery have looked for places to enjoy the company of others without drinking for decades. One of the hardest parts of recovery is rebuilding your social life. Confronting an addiction often means losing friends that are still using.
So what is a sober bar? We reached out to two sober bars to find out.

What is a sober bar?

Bar culture is a huge part of adult socializing. Unfortunately, enjoying bars when you’re in recovery can be difficult, or even dangerous. Imagine a place where you can relax, meet friends, and enjoy the atmosphere of a bar without worrying about being tempted to drink. Sound good? Then sober bars might be just what you have been searching for.

Imagine a place where you can relax, meet friends, and enjoy the atmosphere of a bar without worrying about being tempted to drink.

If you don’t have a full sober bar near you, don’t worry. There are several kinds of sober bars and events to look out for:

  • Sober Bars
  • Sober Pop-up Events
  • Sober Raves
  • Bars with Curated Mocktail Lists
  • Bars with Sober Nights

Rooted in recovery

When Sam Thonis’ brother entered into recovery, he also began to build a new group of friends. Sam noticed that their socializing options seemed to be limited. They were confined to spaces that either closed early or were specifically aimed at addicts.

“In a place like New York with so many bars and nightlife options, there was nothing really focused on alcohol-free social environments.”

Sam Thonis, Getaway Bar
The Paper Train mocktail mimics the flavors of a classic

He saw a gap in the market for a place that offered a real nightlife atmosphere which both addicts and those merely looking to go out without drinking could enjoy together. It was this vision that led him to create Getaway Bar and, somewhat unwittingly, becomes part of the vanguard for a growing trend that extends beyond the sober community.

It’s all about atmosphere

Sam believes that a big part of what people are looking for when they go to bars is an atmosphere that most non-alcoholic venues lack. Dim lights. Curated music. The performance of a good bartender shaking up a cocktail. It’s a premise that he based his bar around, and it appears that he may well be right.

Getaway bar aims to provide an authentic bar atmosphere as a sober bar
Getaway bar is designed to feel authentic

A key distinction for him is that sober bars are not aimed specifically at being healthy. “We’re not claiming that any of our drinks will improve your health. You can be sober without necessarily being a yogi.” Juice bars and kombucha bars, while non-alcoholic, curate a very different vibe to that of a real bar.

“We’re not claiming that any of our drinks will improve your health… You can be sober without necessarily being a yogi.”

Sam Thonis, Getaway Bar

By offering an authentic atmosphere and carefully crafted drinks, bars like Getaway have begun to bridge the gap between people in recovery and the general public. Despite Getaway’s origins being rooted in serving those in recovery, its impact has grown well beyond that.

“We get lots of people in recovery coming in, but we also have lots of people who are just foodies and interested in the drinks, or who just want to take a night off drinking.”

Sam Thonis

The bar now serves as an alcohol-free space for those in recovery to mingle with other lovers of good drinks in a true bar atmosphere. “We get lots of people in recovery coming in, but we also have lots of people who are just foodies and interested in the drinks, or who just want to take a night off drinking,” Sam explained.

Sober bars offer an authentic atmosphere
Sober people miss out on the atmosphere of bars.

Sober…ish

Other bars have taken a different path to become refuges for those in recovery. Vena’s Fizz House in Portland, Maine set out to provide the best in sodas and non-alcoholic cocktails. Johanna and Steve Corman founded Vena’s Fizz House with no intention of it being dubbed a ‘sober bar’. However, they soon found themselves becoming the poster children of the growing sober bar movement.

“We like to say that our cocktails and mocktails are created equal.”

Mary Jo Marquis

Due to a number of patrons sneaking in alcohol to add to their drinks, Vena’s eventually decided to acquiesce and acquire a liquor license. They began serving both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, but they still maintain their extensive list of lovingly-crafted mocktails and welcome those that are living a sober lifestyle.

“It’s really not a bar scene. I’ve been here for two years and I’ve never seen anyone get drunk. People don’t come here to drink… they come here for the experience.”

Mary Jo Marquis

“We like to say that our cocktails and mocktails are created equal,” said Mary Jo Marquis, director of business development. “It’s really not a bar scene. I’ve been here for two years and I’ve never seen anyone get drunk. People don’t come here to drink… they come here for the experience.”

A non-alcoholic mocktail at Vena's Fizz House
Vena’s Fizz House makes mocktails designed to rival the real thing.

Accidental sober bar

It seems that this is the case for many of the bars that became known as ‘sober’. Some were aimed at those in recovery. Others, however, merely set out to make great non-alcoholic drinks and stumbled into the ‘sober bar’ title. However, as more and more millennials turn away from alcohol, there is a growing demand for nightlife offerings that do not center around drinking. Both for those in recovery and the new movement of ‘sober curious’ revelers.

Sober raves, pop-up sober events, and full-time non-alcoholic venues are rapidly emerging in major cities around the world.

They mostly cater to the growing trend of sober living among millennials. However, these sober bars and events also offer a new option for those in recovery. A place where they can enjoy the atmosphere of adult nightlife in the company of people that aren’t in recovery.

The performativity and vibe give sober bars an authentic feel.

Summary

Addiction recovery can sometimes be a lonely experience. Avoiding alcohol severely limits your nightlife options. Due to a lack of good non-alcoholic nightlife options, addicts were forced to give up not just alcohol, but normal adult nightlife as well. Thanks to the growing sober bar trend, addicts in recovery are finally being given a place to socialize that offers a sense of normality. Take a look for a sober bar or event in your area today!

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