Conversations and quotes in this article have been transcribed from the Foodbeast Katchup podcast: "#110: WTF is a Zero-Proof Bar?" out now on Spotify, the Apple Podcasts App, and all major platforms where podcasts are heard.
There are challenges to living a sober lifestyle in a world where the social norm is to go out for drinks, have a glass of wine with your food, have a beer while watching the game, or just having a drink because it's Wednesday.
As you read that previous paragraph, cast your initial judgement on me, and decide if you want to further hear what a guy who doesn't drink has to say in this article, just know that is probably a similar process for folks around me in social settings.
It all usually goes in this order:
Person offers drink, or asks what I'm drinking. I say that I don't drink. Person tries to counter with, "You'll be fine with one drink or one shot." I repeat myself, this time emphasizing that I've never drank. Person gives befuddled look and decides whether they want to continue trying to convince me to drink or move along with others whom they feel more comfortable with at that moment.
That brings me to the peculiar new trend of zero-proof bars, where not a soul is drinking alcohol, and the entire process that I described above is kind of turned on its head.
"Zero-proof" bars were the topic at hand in an intense Foodbeast Katchup podcast conversation, as the hosts explored the budding trend, if they even make sense as a construct, and if they can actually catch fire at a large scale.
I actually had the chance to experience one of these alcohol-free bars, as Temperance Bar made its debut in Fullerton, California this January.
So I went to their grand opening, and as the media made its rounds, getting their photos and videos, my first mind-bending experience occurred right as I was offered a drink.
My initial reaction to the bartender handing me a finely crafted tropical cocktail was, 'No thank you,' as refusing drinks at media tastings has become a reflex of mine.
Then after a few seconds of doing the mental gymnastics of what I was actually attending, it hit me that there was no alcohol in the drink, and I could actually partake for once.
That's a pretty huge feeling for anyone who doesn't drink, for whatever specific reason, and is usually the odd-man-out during these get-togethers.
This whole no-booze experience was put together so that people like myself can feel comfortable in that type of setting, and it honestly worked.
The carefully curated cocktails were being mixed together by an actual bartender, which led to the next jarring experience. It felt like they were putting together an alcoholic drink.
Watching bartender Paul Joseph Piane chop up mint leaves, pour in the zero-proof distilled spirits, shake the ingredients around, and gently pour them into glasses really made me question myself, and the bar, to the point where I had to make sure to ask, 'There's zero alcohol in this right?'
The feeling of being in a bar was still there, and it kind of freaked me out at first. I'm sure vegans have experienced this confusing feeling to some degree, where you've had some type of vegan shrimp or vegan burger that gives off such similar vibes to its meaty predecessor that you can't help but double check and ask, "This burger is vegan right?"
The last unorthodox experience was walking out of a bar without feeling pressured, awkward, or judged by others.
As Katchup co-host Geoff Kutnick brought up in the Katchup podcast conversation:
"You shouldn't be pressured at a bar to drink a cocktail if you don't want to. Is it directly aimed at your character? No. But is it a comment that you have to take for that moment? Yes. And is it uncomfortable, yeah. Can it ruin a night? Absolutely."
While the pressure to drink is something you get used to as a non-drinker like myself, I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel nice to go out and not have it be an issue. And while I've gotten used to it, I'm sure those who struggle with sobriety would definitely appreciate the lack of tension.
Probably one of the most common questions asked at a non-alcoholic bar would be, 'How do you justify the $7-$12 for a drink that doesn't even have alcohol?'
To that I would answer, probably the same reason you pay a premium for an alcoholic drink that's realistically only worth a few dollars. You pay for the ambiance. You pay for sharing your time with good people, and enjoying different flavors on your palate. You pay for the craftsmanship and care that went into that drink.
Like most, you pay for an experience you can't get at home, and at least at zero-proof bars, you pay to feel included in a positive setting.