‘Sober bars’ sell classy mocktails and business is booming, owners say

  • Sober bars are opening up across the US, charging the same price for drinks as their boozy counterparts.
  • Owners say the growing popularity of Dry January is great for business.
  • The emerging industry of non-alcoholic ingredients is inspiring bartenders to rethink cocktails.

Many Americans are taking a break from alcohol this month, sparking a national conversation about sobriety and healthy living. But in sober bars across the country, mocktails are a year-round staple, and Dry January is more than just a trend.

The mixed drinks at the many sober bars popping up in big cities across the US are almost indistinguishable from their boozy counterparts — colorful, well-presented and full of interesting flavor. In most cases, a good non-alcoholic cocktail costs the same as a liquor-based drink, which sober bar owners told Insider isn’t a problem for customers.

“The demographic is perfectly fine with paying a similar price,” Joshua James, owner of Ocean Beach Cafe, a sober bar in San Francisco, told Insider. “They’re so excited to see something on the menu — they’re so excited to be involved.”

Most sober bars offer a selection of alcoholic alternatives that go beyond the typical non-alcoholic beer, finding their niche in serving non-alcoholic wine, spirits, and especially cocktails.

“You don’t really gather by the water,” James said. “There is something great about a nice drink in a nice glass.”

The growing non-alcoholic cocktail movement

A person pours seltzer water into a glass with mint leaves and lime

Making a mocktail with ingredients such as seltzer water, lime and mint can help curb alcohol cravings.

Getty Images

Each sober bar offers its own idea of ​​an alcohol-free cocktail, business owners told Insider. While some stick to standard recipes, using ingredients such as non-alcoholic spirits to create one-to-one replicas of classic cocktails, others take the opportunity to experiment and create unique drinks that are all their own.

At Sans Bar, a sober bar in Austin, owner Chris Marshall told Insider that his favorite drink lately is the “sans-hattan,” a non-alcoholic recreation of the Manhattan. Using alcohol-free bourbon, alcohol-free bitters and alcohol-free vermouth, he said the drink delivers the same mature palate as the original.

“You can charge for a cocktail because you’re giving people a bigger deal,” he said.

Marshall pioneered the sober bar business, opening Sans Bar in 2017. He, like many others in the market, was inspired to create a space for a largely underserved demographic.

Marshall said he “just realized that a lot of people struggle to have a social life without alcohol.”

In the years since his bar opened, Marshall said he’s seen significant improvements in the soft drink industry. The advent of soft drinks is a big step forward in the movement to normalize alcohol-free lifestyles, he said.

Consumers have also warmed to the growing soft drink market. Sales of non-alcoholic beverages will nearly double in 2022, according to Nielsen IQ data, far outpacing increases in non-alcoholic wine and beer sales.

“People are quick to call it a trend,” Marshall said. “And it’s not. I think this is a movement.”

Better ingredients encourage alcohol-free alternatives

Kentucky Mai Tai NA drink

“Kentucky Mai Tai” at Ocean Beach Cafe

Ocean Beach Cafe

The growth of new non-alcoholic ingredients has also been a boon for some traditional bars. At Oak at Fourteenth, a restaurant and bar in Boulder, Colorado, equal effort and care goes into creating mocktails and cocktails.

“You should be able to enjoy it,” Kyle Letson, the restaurant’s mixologist, told Insider. “I don’t feel exhausted.”

Sober bar owners told Insider they only see further growth in the industry, as trends like Dry January and sober-curious lifestyles take a stronger hold.

For business owners who have been around for a few years, the increase in foot traffic this January has been palpable. James told Insider that customers travel long distances to visit Ocean Beach Cafe every day.

Newbies like Robert Ashford — owner of Volstead by Unity, a sober bar and restaurant in Philadelphia that opened last year — said now is the perfect time to offer a sober space to anyone looking to abstain from alcohol or make changes to their habits. drinking.

“More and more people are starting to understand what zero-proof alcoholic beverages really mean,” Ashford said. “I think we’re watching this game in real time.”

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