There is something missing in a new wave of bars opening around the world: alcohol.
Aimed at the growing number of people exploring sobriety, the bars serve adult beverages such as craft nonalcoholic cocktails. At 0% Non-Alcohol Experience, a futuristic bar in Tokyo, patrons can enjoy a blend of non-alcoholic white wine, sake, and blueberries in a sugar-rimmed glass. On a recent night at Sans Bar in Austin, Texas, patrons gathered at outdoor tables, enjoying live music, bottles of non-alcoholic IPA, and drinks like watermelon mockarita, which is made with an alternative to tequila.
Sober bars are not a new phenomenon. They first appeared in the 19th century as part of the temperance movement. But while previous iterations were aimed at non-drinkers or people in recovery, newer venues welcome the sober and curious alike.
“A lot of people just want to drink less,” said Chris Marshall, founder of Sans Bar.
Marshall, who has been sober for 14 years, opened the bar after serving as an addiction counselor. But he estimates that 75% of his customers also drink alcohol outside of his bar.
“It’s easier,” said Sondra Prineaux, a regular at Sans Bar. “I don’t have to worry about leaving my car here and getting an Uber at home. I’ll wake up without a headache. “
Withdrawal challenges like dry January, which began in 2013, and a growing interest in health and wellness are behind the trend, said Brandy Rand, Americas COO of IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.
Last year, alcohol consumption in 10 key markets, including the United States, Germany, Japan and Brazil, fell 5%, IWSR said. Consumption of low-alcohol or non-alcoholic beverages increased 1% in the same time period.
Alcohol still outsells non-alcoholic or low-alcohol drinks. Drinkers in those key markets consumed 9.7 billion 9-liter cases of alcohol in 2020, compared to 292 million 9-liter cases of low-alcohol or non-alcoholic beverages. But Rand points out that global consumption of beer, wine, and spirits with and without alcohol is growing two to three times faster than total alcohol consumption.
An explosion of new products is also driving sales. There are drinks from smaller manufacturers like Chicago’s Ritual Zero Proof, which opened in 2019 and produces nonalcoholic whiskey, gin and tequila, and large companies like Anheuser-Busch, which introduced nonalcoholic Budweiser Zero last year.
“I have the wonderful problem of having too many great options,” said Douglas Watters, who opened Spirited Away, a New York store that sells beer, wine and non-alcoholic spirits, in November.
Watters said blocking the pandemic caused him to reconsider his usual pattern of ending each day with a cocktail. He began experimenting with non-alcoholic beverages and in August decided to open his store. Many of her clients are sober, she said, but others are pregnant or have health problems. Some are training for marathons; others just want to cut down on alcohol.
“There are a lot of people, this past year more than ever, thinking more critically about what they’re drinking and how it makes them feel,” he said.
Joshua James, a veteran bartender, noticed something similar during the pandemic. After a stint at Friendship House, a substance abuse treatment center, he recently opened Ocean Beach Cafe, a non-alcoholic bar in San Francisco.
“I wanted to destigmatize the words addiction, recovery and sobriety,” he said. “There are a thousand reasons for not wanting to drink so much.”
The coronavirus, James said, “accelerated” the change in many people’s drinking habits. But it has also hurt the fledgling nonalcoholic bar scene.
Some bars, like The Virgin Mary Bar in Dublin and Zeroliq in Berlin, have temporarily closed their doors due to regulations. Getaway, a nonalcoholic bar in New York, was turned into a coffee shop to weather the pandemic. Owner Sam Thonis has added outdoor seating and hopes to reopen the bar this spring.
Billy Wynne, the co-owner of Awake in Denver, is also selling coffee and bottles of nonalcoholic spirits for now. But he plans to open the doors of a nonalcoholic bar next month.
Wynne says that the price of the drinks will be comparable to that of a normal bar. Alcohol is cheap, he said, and the process of extracting it from some drinks makes them more expensive.
Alcohol delivery site Drizly charges $ 33 for a 700ml bottle of Seedlip Spice 94, a non-alcoholic liquor. That’s a little more than a 750ml bottle of Aviation Gin, which sells for $ 30. But Wynne thinks customers are willing to pay for the craftsmanship that goes into a tasty cocktail or wine, whether or not it has alcohol. .
He said his clients tend to be in their 30s and 40s, and the majority are women. Some tell him that they have been waiting their whole lives for him to open a bar like hers.
“This kind of thing is not a fad,” he said. “People don’t wake up to the negative impact alcohol is having on their life and then change their mind.”
AP video journalists John Mone in Austin, Texas, and Haven Daley in San Francisco contributed. On Twitter, follow @deeanndurbin_ap.