- More and more people — particularly millennials — are choosing to drink less alcohol.
- A “sober curious” movement is on the rise for those who want to drink less or stop drinking alcohol even if they don’t consider themselves to have a drinking problem, Becky Hughes recently reported for The New York Times.
- During “Dry January,” people temporarily give up alcohol for the first month of the new year.
- I recently went to a booze-free pop-up bar in Brooklyn that serves $11 mocktails, and while I like the idea of nightlife that’s not centered around drinking alcohol, this particular event missed the mark for me.
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Interest in “going dry” or drinking less alcohol has risen in recent years, Becky Hughes recently reported for The New York Times.
“Semi-sobriety is no longer confined to Dry January (or Drynuary), the monthlong challenge that rose to popularity five years ago, and the ‘sober curious’ movement is giving people who don’t necessarily identify as having a drinking problem a framework for abstaining,” Hughes wrote.
To appeal to those who want a fun night out minus the booze, alcohol-free bars are starting to open up in New York City. Getaway, an alcohol-free bar that sells mocktails and alcohol-free beer and wine, opened in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, last year.
Then there’s Listen Bar, a booze-free pop-up bar founded in 2018 by millennial Lorelei Bandrovschi, who started the event after she took a month-long hiatus from drinking alcohol and discovered a lack of nightlife options that weren’t centered around drinking.
Although I’m not taking part in Dry January myself, I headed to the hipster haven of Williamsburg, Brooklyn to check out one of Listen Bar’s recent Dry January pop-ups. Here’s what it was like.
Listen Bar’s weekly Dry January pop-ups are on Tuesday nights at the Williamsburg Hotel, a hip 5-star establishment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
I paid $18 plus tax and tip, for a total of $20.93, for my ticket.
I usually avoid going out to places where I have to pay a cover charge except on special occasions. But Listen Bar’s event page promised DJ performances, “dance party vibes,” and “fun and games,” so I hoped I’d get the best bang for my buck.
The event was to run from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., and I got to the Williamsburg Hotel a little after 7 p.m.
The entrance to the pop-up bar was off to the side of the main hotel entrance.
After leaving my coat at “coat check,” which consisted of a coat rack sitting out in the open, I stepped inside Listen Bar’s temporary space.
Listen Bar, which typically operates one night each month (except for Dry January, when it’s hosting weekly events) in venues across New York City, has an entirely alcohol-free menu of mocktails, booze-free beer, and kombucha.
One of the mainstays of Listen Bar is music (hence the “listen”); all of the bartenders are musicians, and they’re the ones who curate the playlists with their own music, their friends’ music, and other musicians that influence them.
The room was spacious, with high ceilings and ornate chandeliers. Colorful artwork covered the walls, and heavy velvet curtains covered the floor-to-ceiling windows on one wall.
The crowd was young, hip, and stylish. I saw a lot of leather pants.
One of my first thoughts after stepping inside was that the space seemed too brightly lit. I kept expecting them to dim the lights throughout the evening, but they never did.
I ordered the Spicy Titties, which came with a fresh slice of jalapeno. I added CBD drops.
It was tasty and refreshing, but I couldn’t help but think that paying $14 (plus tax and tip) for what was essentially soda and juice (and CBD) was a bit steep, even for New York City.
My companion, however, a “Mandalorian” fan, was not impressed with his “Baby Yoda Tears” drink.
We both added CBD drops to our drink, which brought the total to almost $40 including tax and tip.
Toward the back of the room was a live tattoo station, where you could sign up to get tattooed for a bargain price of $40 to $60.
I seriously considered it.
If I’d been drinking alcohol, I probably would have done so, so perhaps my booze-free cocktail was for the best.
Suggested tattoos included, of course, a Baby Yoda.
One brave soul started getting a tattoo on her wrist mere minutes after the event started.
Listen Bar was selling black sweatshirts — with “good ass times” on the front and “Listen Bar” on the back — for $60 via Venmo.
A mix of R&B, soul, and jazz music played in the background as people sipped their booze-free beverages and lounged on the velvet furniture or stood near the bar.
As I chatted with people at the event, I met two people who were there because they don’t drink alcohol at all.
This came as something as a surprise, as I’d been expecting most attendees of this pop-up bar to be on the more “sober curious” side of things rather than straight-up sober.
“I am a woman in recovery, and because of that journey, I am here enjoying a nice social event where I can enjoy great music and meet great people without the inclusion of alcohol,” Felecia Pullen, the founder of a substance abuse recovery center in Harlem, told me.
But Listen Bar isn’t only meant for sober people.
“We’re a bar not just for non-drinkers, but for everybody,” reads the bar’s website. “Whether sober or hungover, everybody’s welcome to hang. In fact, two thirds of our guests identify as drinkers.”
Another sober guest, a 34-year-old who lives in Manhattan, said she’s attended several Listen Bar events and it’s usually “a mix of drinkers and non-drinkers, for sure.”
A little after 8 p.m., I started to wonder when the DJs would start performing and when activities other than the live tattooing would kick off.
The DJs for the evening were Cool Company, a “future R&B duo” that says they’re influenced by artists like Outkast, Frank Ocean, and Childish Gambino.
The duo mingled in the crowd and chatted with Bandrovschi, the founder. Bandrovschi also introduced them to the crowd at one point when she took up a microphone to welcome everybody to the event. I didn’t get a precise headcount of the attendees, but I’d say there were no more than 40 people there at the event’s peak.
Bandrovschi thanked everybody for coming to her sober party.
“Who says you need to be loosened up to be loose?” she said.
But to be honest, I didn’t feel very loose. The bright lights made the space feel very un-bar-like, and I was reluctant to pay another $11 plus for a drink with no alcohol in it. I also wished there were some snacks.
By about 8:45, I was somewhat bored, wondering when the DJs would start performing. And that’s when the limbo started.
Listen Bar promises “fun and freaky” activities each night of its events, from their staple live tattoos to karaoke, astrology readings, sex-toy-truth-or-dare, and dominatrix lessons.
All of those sounded more exciting than the activity of this particular evening, which was, inexplicably, limbo.
It started with the founder, Bandrovschi, who shimmied under the pole and encouraged others to follow suit. At one point, someone spritzed coconut whipped cream into her mouth.
I could only watch sober strangers limbo for so long. It’s an activity I associate with high school luau parties, not hip venues in Brooklyn.
A little after 9 p.m., with a little under an hour remaining of the event, I headed home.