New Bars Cater to the "Sober Curious" - Liberty

Thursday, October 12, 2023

New Bars Cater to the "Sober Curious"

 

Thursday night scene at Hekate, a low-key new bar in Manhattan's East Village. Desire Rios.

I quit drinking 6 years ago. Hangovers, empty checking accounts, nausea on the subway, and more.

Then there are the things I miss: the shady splendor of diving, the shallow charm of cocktail lounges, and the relative ease of meeting new people and making new friends. I miss the chance to walk around with

Luckily for me, the last few years have been full of non-alcoholic bars, dance parties, and "low-key curious" events. They cater to millennials and zoomers who reportedly drink less and are looking for alternative nightlife that isn't alcohol-centric.

In honor of a dry January, I spent a long weekend exploring New York City's new mocktail lounges and liquor-free pop-up parties.

My first stop was Club Curious, a three-room store in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn that serves as the clubhouse for Curious Elixirs, a brand of non-alcoholic bottled cocktails. Club Curious has hosted private events, but tonight was their first public event.

About 40 customers gather in the dimly lit store and stuff their mouths with homemade focaccia. The bar served eight mocktails inspired by classic drinks such as old-fashioned drinks, painkillers, and French 75's. I ordered "no". “8,” meaning a neat emulation of Amaro, sat next to a young woman in a two-tone bob flipping through copies of the “Egyptian Book of the Dead.”


Bartender and 'spiritual advisor' Mistress Nette prepared non-alcoholic drinks. Desire Rios.

Patrons sampled one of Hecate's signature mocktails. Desire Rios.

A mentalist named Jason Thrun performed a magic trick and was able to name the deceased pets of two spectators. I went on a small stage and improvised music with my friend Eli Kim, 41.

While they were jamming, I chatted with 42-year-old Benjamin Ickies, a professional accordionist and mathematician.

One time, as I stood up to buy a drink, I noticed that the bartender had abandoned her post to snort on stage. Free party at Butler Cafe The Third Place Bar

Arrived in 3rd place at 6:30pm. Janet Hannah, 39, ordered a spritz, which incorporates an Aperol spritz that tastes like bitter Shirley Temple, before joining Sober Black Girls, a social support group based in New York City. I was seeing another member of the club.

Janet and I lived in Wisconsin and went to college in Minnesota, so I was used to telling my wayward Midwest upper-class friends that I was no longer drinking... Paddy. We exchanged and made loose plans to meet at another somber bar. As with bar chatter, I took the plan with a grain of salt.


Hekate is one of New York City's new non-alcoholic bars with tremendous curiosity. Desire Rios.

Event organizer Sam Vail, 37, a data engineer by day, greeted guests in a leather miniskirt and metal band t-shirt. Unwrapping the soft pretzels and straightening the table of gift bags, she lamented how bright and cheery the place was.

"Too nice, too bright," says Bale. Bale called himself an "old punk" and said he was looking for a more "divey in" permanent home. "I want a bad toilet"

She wasn't a fan of my next stop, Sèchey. Sèchey is a luxury boutique selling non-alcoholic spirits on Hudson Street in the West Village. In honor of Dry January, a party will be held this month at Absence of Proof, an alcohol-free pop-up bar.

Her mother handed me a plastic flute of Prima Pavé Rosé Brut before ushering me into a basement lounge modeled after a 1920s speakeasy. It included antiques, tassel table lamps, and an ornate glass-paneled vintage piano.


Instead of liquor bottles, the bar at Kava Social in Brooklyn is lined with botanical extracts, dried fruits, and teas. Desire Rios

Seasonal Pumpkin Spice Cava Latte. Desire Rios

Crowds of well-dressed young professionals order lychee martinis and bespoke mocktails, take photos and sometimes sing the late-2000s hits like Lily Allen's "Smile" and M.I.A.'s "Paper Airplane." increase. gain. get. I danced

"I wish I had enough money to throw a party like this at my house," said Mitchell Laudutt, 28, an M.B.A. student who lives in Queens with his girlfriend's parents.

We left Sechèy in time for our final visit to Kava Social, an alcohol-free bar opening in Williamsburg in 2020.

Bright and airy, with colorfully painted floors and ample seating, it feels more like a co-working space than a cocktail bar. Bartender Jerry Lange, 35, told me he didn't see the big crowd an hour ago...or banged on his laptop.

A regular, 26-year-old photographer Julian Foglietti was hopping from table to table. He moved to New York from Ohio eight months ago and comes to Hippo Social several times a week to make friends outside of traditional bars. "It laid the foundation for my entire social life in this city," he said.

I asked the bartender for a recommendation and got the Passion Twist. Passion Twist is a cocktail made with passion fruit tea and kratom, an unregulated herbal supplement often used as a mood booster. The drink tasted like cherry cough syrup and reminded me that kratom may have an acquired taste like alcohol. Thanks.


Monday night scene from Hippo Social in Williamsburg, 2020. Desiree Rios

Sunday afternoon, I went to Hekate, one of the newest low-key bars in town. Located on Avenue B in the East Village, it feels like a witch's cafe with tin ceilings, antique china cabinets, and worn hardwood floors. To my surprise, a woman named Janet I met at Third Place turned my half-hearted plan into action.

Arriving around 4 pm, the long, narrow bar was packed with an eclectic crowd. Two gray-haired women were sitting at a table, drinking tea and chatting. We were seated next to a woman in her 30s who calls herself a "sober curiosity".

I ordered a mock sangria and Janet had a purple mocktail called "Healer".

When Mr. Korra flipped over the God Light card during my reading, he gasped.

Sure enough, he popped out the front door and tugged a few times from the arc before heading back to the bar to finish reading.

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