Did you resolve to cut back on alcohol for your New Year’s resolution? How’s it going? If you need something to further your resolve, maybe a new approach or a fresh start, then the options for where you can socialize are growing.
If you’re sober-curious or determined to cut back on alcohol even just a little, it doesn’t have to be deprivation-filled and difficult. It’s getting easier to find at many bars alcohol-free, interesting cocktail options that are consciously designed for taste. Not just sugar and fruit juice bombs with a little seltzer or souped-up slushies but carefully created specialty alcohol-free drinks.
Options made with nuanced recipes, carefully crafted for your glass, have been out there for a while now. We tried one a few years ago at Black Cat Bistro that was so delicious, we didn’t miss alcohol a bit. But until recently, you had to know where to look.
Now, it’s getting easier to find alcohol-free establishments with music and other adults–something that feels more nightlife-cultured than a coffee shop. One of these is Awake, a sober bar and coffee shop in Denver’s Jefferson Park neighborhood that’s been so successful, it has announced plans to expand through franchising efforts.
Owners Billy and Christie Wynne were inspired by their time in France where they experienced a growing non-alcoholic social scene. It was alcohol-free, sophisticated, and fun. When they came back to the U.S., they couldn’t find anything that quite replicated it, so they made their own place. They wanted it to be something that would present living alcohol-free as a positive experience – healthy and in the moment, not framed by loss and denial.
Awake opened as a coffee shop in November 2020 and expanded to an alcohol-free bar – AF in Awake’s shorthand – on Mother’s Day weekend the following year. Now they have an AF bottle shop too. The space is elegant and adult – somewhere you’d like to linger. Drinks are made with carefully selected alcohol-free spirits like whiskey and tequila, which you can enjoy by the glass or purchase by the bottle in their shop.
The cocktail names alone promise a good time. There’s Love Point No. 9 with Sexy AF Amar-Oh, For Bitter or Worse Saskatoon, rose, lemon, and Anima Mundi Euphoria. Further down on the drink menu is the New Fashioned with Kentucky 74, bitters, and an orange twist. There are plenty of choices for AF beer, wine, and spirits on the rocks too.
We talked to General Manager Grace Mestecky Davis about her job.
“I never liked drinking, and it felt hypocritical to build these cocktails with alcohol,” she told us. “When I heard they were looking for a mixologist, I was so excited.”
Mestecky Davis said that customers are appreciating what Awake has to offer.
“We knew this concept was new and niche in the market, but we could never have anticipated the response. Ever since we’ve been open, we’ve been pretty busy. But since Dry January, it’s been really strong.”
How busy is busy? Mestecky Davis said that while their fire code allows for 45 people on Saturday nights, they can turn that over multiple times, serving 300 people or more.
Some differences in this bar: What’s in your glass doesn’t have to be just non-alcoholic, it can actually be healthy.
“Butterfly pea flower, raw honey, mugwort. Anything that has a nutritional value. Many of the spirits even have a healthier herbal component to them.”
Another difference: last call. It’s at 10 p.m., and it’s calmer than last calls at spots that pour alcohol.
“It’s easier not to have to kick as many people out of the bar,” she said. “It’s calmer. For sure.
Awake’s Light and Stormy
Combine 2 ounces of Three Spirits Social Elixir and non-alcoholic ginger beer over ice in a Collins glass. Garnish with a lime wedge, and enjoy the uplifting, euphoric effect of this herbal play on a Dark and Stormy.