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No Booze Bars Starting to Catch On

There’s something missing from a new wave of bars opening around the world: Alcohol.

Aimed at the growing number of people exploring sobriety, the bars pour adult drinks like craft cocktails without the booze. At 0% Non-Alcohol Experience, a futuristic bar in Tokyo, patrons can sip a mix of non-alcoholic white wine, sake and cranberries from a sugar-rimmed glass. On a recent evening at Sans Bar in Austin, Texas, customers gathered at outdoor tables, enjoying live music, bottles of alcohol-free IPA and drinks like the watermelon mockarita, which is made with a tequila alternative.

Sober bars aren’t a new phenomenon. They first appeared in the 19th century as part of the temperance movement. But while previous iterations were geared toward non-drinkers or people in recovery, the newer venues welcome the sober as well as the curious.

“A lot of people just want to drink less,” said Chris Marshall, Sans Bar’s founder.

Marshall, who has been sober for 14 years, opened the bar after serving as an addiction counselor. But he estimates 75% of his customers also drink alcohol outside of his bar.

“It’s just easier,” said Sondra Prineaux, a regular customer at Sans Bar. “I don’t have to worry about leaving my car here and getting an Uber home. I’ll wake up without a headache.”

Abstinence challenges like Dry January — which began in 2013 — and a growing interest in health and wellness are behind the trend, said Brandy Rand, chief operating officer for the Americas at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.

Last year, alcohol consumption in 10 key markets — including the U.S., Germany, Japan and Brazil — fell 5%, IWSR said. Consumption of low- and no-alcohol drinks rose 1% in that same time period.

Alcohol still far outsells low- and no-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- and no-alcohol beverages. But Rand notes that global consumption of low- and no-alcohol beer, wine and spirits is growing two to three times faster than overall alcohol consumption.

An explosion of new products is also fueling sales. There are drinks from smaller makers like Chicago’s Ritual Zero Proof — which opened in 2019 and makes no-alcohol whiskey, gin and tequila — and big companies like Anheuser-Busch, which introduced alcohol-free Budweiser Zero last year.

“I have the wonderful problem of too many great options,” said Douglas Watters, who opened Spirited Away, a New York shop that sells non-alcoholic beer, wine and spirits, in November.