Alcohol-Free Bars Caught on in the U.S. and U.K. But Can They Go Global?
In the United States, there’s the salad bar. In Italy, you take your espresso at the bar. In Japan, standing sushi bars are popular destinations. Cafés and restaurants—institutions at the core of human interaction—take divergent shapes within different cultures.
A bar provides patrons with a universally accepted environment: Walk in, sit down, and order an item from the menu—food or drink—that almost always tastes the same, no matter where you are. So what exactly is a bar, and what makes it a constant, reliable experience in each corner of the world?
Purveyors of a new trend that has recently enveloped London and New York—and seems to be making a mark in other major cities—believe that the bar’s magnetism goes beyond the chemical addictiveness involved in drinking cocktails. These aspiring trendsetters argue that the bar’s atmosphere is what renders it a timeless and successful institution—especially in the age of social media.
“[The trend] is a logical extension of the current wellness revolution,” says Ruby Warrington, the author of Sober Curious, a book exploring the culture of the nondrinking masses with the goal of normalizing it. Warrington argues that attitude changes in America—our new focus on meditation and yoga, healthy food, and generally mindful practices—have evolved into an awareness of the detrimental effects that alcohol can have on the body. Are countries that pride themselves on a healthy relationship with alcohol, then, not ideal breeding grounds for liquor-free establishments? Are these new bars replicable concepts outside the likes of New York and London, cities renowned for excessive drinking? Is the fad here to stay?
According to Sam Thonis and Regina Dellea, co-owners of the new alcohol-free Getaway bar in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, the appeal of their venture goes beyond the need to stay sober. “We have the same comforts that a bar would,” says Thonis. “The lighting, the music, the layout. It’s just a place where everyone is on the same boat, and you don’t really have to explain yourself.”
When asked whether a traditional drinking den with a mocktail menu would tackle the same need, Dellea points out that “there is a difference between having a drink that was designed to have alcohol in it and removing [it], and then a drink that was designed without the intention of having alcohol.”
Lorelei Bandrovschi, the mastermind behind Listen Bar, a monthly alcohol-free pop-up bar whose first iteration landed in New York in October 2018, echoes Dellea’s sentiments: “I don’t think it’s about whatever percent of alcohol is in your Coors Light when you’re going to a bar. If the crowd is right, the music is right, the vibe is right, it’s been a revelation [to people, saying] ‘Wow, it really is a bar.’”
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