NYC’s sober bar scene is a ‘hip’ oasis for booze-free fun
By Hannah Frishberg
April 23, 2019
Pour one out for the boozy bar scene!
Sober nightlife is taking off in New York City, from posh mocktail bars to buzz-free pop-up parties. The objective: to deliver a fun night out without alcohol — which Americans are drinking less of these days, according to a 2018 report by beverage-market analyzer IWSR.
Liquor is “a toxin,” not a social lubricant, Ashok “Shoky” Pai, a sober Williamsburg resident, tells The Post. On a recent Saturday night, the 40-something real estate agent settled in at Getaway, Greenpoint’s new mocktail bar. Pai, who used to be a club promoter, polished off two Coconauts (pineapple and coconut milk; $13) and a Ginger Spice (ginger, grapefruit juice, tonic and club soda; also $13). He found the booze-free scene refreshing: “It’s nice to be around sober people who’ve got their wits about them,” he says.
Fellow Getaway patron Wayne Hosang agrees. Although the sober bar was filled with millennial patrons, “it has a grown-up feeling to it,” says the Williamsburg-based asset manager, who’s in his early 50s. He’d had a glass of wine at a dinner party before coming to Getaway with sober friends. Even without liquid courage, he says, “people are still being very social.”
‘It’s nice to be around sober people who’ve got their wits about them.’
His friend Sohang Gandhi, who’s 38 and sober, credits the good vibe to a sweeping sense of relief: Finally, a cool, dry place where he didn’t have to “feel weird” about ordering a seltzer. “People that don’t drink also want a hip environment,” says the engineer. “[They don’t want to be] stuck going to restaurant or a movie.”
That makes total sense to Lorelei Bandrovschi, founder of the sober-friendly pop-up party Listen Bar.
“Right now we live in a culture that claims drinking as a default,” says Bandrovschi, who’s 32 and an occasional drinker. Her company takes over otherwise-boozy bars to sling mocktails such as the Ghost Me Maybe (grapefruit, rosemary and tonic; $11).
She thinks the rising interest in wellness is driving the trend of alcohol-free fun — although drinkers are free to join her events, too.
“We’re not necessarily a sober bar,” says Bandrovschi, who estimates that only a third of her clients identify as dry. She thinks of it more as an “alternative” night out — something she feels jaded city dwellers crave, whether they drink or not. “We’re New Yorkers. We get bored. We don’t want to have just one option.”
And, increasingly, there are options: Ambrosia Elixirs, a 3-year-old Bushwick-based herbal bar that serves teas and botanical tinctures, is opening a Williamsburg location in May. On the Lower East Side, upcoming karaoke lounges Juicebox Heroes and Mini Rex will be split into sober and non-sober sections. (One reason to check out the sober side: “People who don’t use alcohol as a crutch to begin with” tend to be easier on the ears, says co-owner Edouard Gave.) London-based sober-ish events group Club SÖDA — that’s short for Sober or Debating Abstinence — is working on more NYC programming, such as workshops, talks, meet-ups and other events. As the club’s co-founder, Ruby Warrington, puts it, “A whole new industry is springing up to meet consumer demand for more alcohol-free options.”
It’s a welcome change for non-drinkers like Pai. When he first got sober, he says, he would order water and lime in a martini glass, just to have something in his hand. But now that booze is less en vogue, he doesn’t feel like he needs to bother anymore. “Sobriety is only going to get more cool,” he says.