Sober bars are growing around the world. More and more people are either switching to the alcohol-free life or are getting increasingly sober curious. Sober bars offer inclusive options for everyone to have fun, be healthy and meet friends in healthy environments.

Sober bars aim to grow the number of people experiencing the alcohol-free way of life. These bars offer non-alcoholic versions of beverages usually found at bars such as cocktails. For example in one futuristic sober bar in Tokyo, Japan people can enjoy a mix of non-alcoholic white wine, sake and cranberries from a sugar-rimmed glass. In Sans Bar in Austin, Texas people get together to enjoy live music with bottles of alcohol-free IPA and beverages like the watermelon mockarita. All over the United States (U.S.) sober bars and substance free zones in concerts are popping up.

The sober bars first started in the 19th century targeting those living alcohol-free. Today these bars welcome all people who are alcohol-free, curious about the sober life or just trying to reduce their alcohol use.

In some countries sober bars have been a fixture in society for a long time. For example, in Rwanda there are milk bars where people go to meet friends, new people, socialize and have fun while enjoying food and glasses of milk.

Why are sober bars growing in popularity?

There are several reasons for the rise in sober bars.

Firstly, people have a growing interest in health and well-being. This is specifically true of millennials and Gen Z. Around the world people are increasingly choosing alcohol-free and low-alcohol products. According to IWSR last year, alcohol consumption in ten key markets – including the U.S., Germany, Japan and Brazil – fell 5%. Meanwhile sales of low- and no-alcohol beverages rose 1% in that same time period. Alcohol still does far outsell low- and no- alcohol categories but low- and no-alcohol market is growing faster than the alcohol one according to Rand.

Falling alcohol use in key markets globally
Alcohol consumption fell by 5% in ten key markets, including the U.S., Germany, Japan and Brazil. Meanwhile sales of low- and no-alcohol beverages rose 1% in that same time period.

Secondly, alcohol-free challenges and communities such as Dry January give people the chance to experience first-hand the benefits of the alcohol-free way of life. Dry January has been run in many countries including the United Kingdom (UK), United States (U.S.), France and Switzerland. In countries which conduct Dry January every year more and more people try the alcohol-free month challenge. There are also other sober period challenges, such as Dry February, Sober Spring, Dry July and Sober October. These campaigns have the potential to change the alcohol norm in societies.

This type of thing, it’s not a fad,” said Billy Wynne, the co-owner of Awake in Denver, as per AP News.

People wake up to the negative impact alcohol is having on their life and then change their mind.”

Billy Wynne, the co-owner of Awake in Denver

The pandemic has brought another and more novel development: people who were already consuming little alcohol either maintained that consumption or they went on to further reduce and quit alcohol use all together – trying in the process more low-and no-alcohol beverages and thus giving sober bars a boost.

There are a lot of people, this past year more than ever, thinking more critically about what they’re [having] and how it’s making them feel,” said Douglas Watters, owner of Spirited Away, a New York shop that sells non-alcoholic beer, wine and spirits, as per AP News.

Douglas Watters, owner of Spirited Away, a non-alcoholic beverage shop in New York

How do sober bars help?

Despite the heavy harms products of the alcohol industry causes alcohol is normalized in many western cultures with a high number of alcohol-centric social settings. For example, in the U.S. the state of Washington, D.C., there are 2,055 outlets that sell alcohol – one for every 315 people, which is very high. This high availability is also unequal as some low-income, primarily African-American neighborhoods have more liquor stores and convenience stores selling beer and wine than retail outlets. In the U.S. the case is worse out of major cities where most socializing has become alcohol-centric.

Amidst this pervasive alcohol norm, sober bars provide a creative solution to allow people to experience socializing, having fun, dancing, music and meetings friends without alcohol. When the alcohol is taken out of the picture people realize that the fun is in other things not the substance which is actually a depressant. The sober bars gives people back the power of choice.

Up until I started [having alcohol products] in my teens, I was having fun,” said Lothorio Ross, who is in recovery in Washington D.C., as per ABC news.

So, you can have fun without [alcohol products]; it is possible.”

Lothorio Ross from Washington D.C., U.S.

[This article was edited on March 30, 2021 as per new information from ABC News and BBC]


AP News: “New wave of bars creates buzz without the booze

ABC News: “In an alcohol-heavy culture, more people look for booze-free spaces

BBC: “Where people go to bars to drink Milk