Could alcohol-free bars be the answer to the UK’s rise in sobriety?

May 16, 2019

silhouettes of people dancing in a nightclub

It’s no secret that the British public are drinking less, and with an average of 18 pubs closures per week in the UK, it seems bars and nightclubs are having to find new ways to adapt to a lack of alcohol-fuelled business.

A new trend to hit the nightclub scene that accommodates this new trend of teetotalism is alcohol-free bars and clubs, also known as ‘dry bars’. On first thought, it doesn’t feel like the two go together – after all, bars and nightclubs were built on the premise of getting tipsy with friends and dancing the night away with something boozy and sugary flowing through your veins. But with the UK’s attitudes towards alcohol changing, could alcohol-free venues be the answer to bar and nightclub closures and rises in sobriety?

The evolving attitudes towards healthy living have been the driving force behind many new and innovative dining experiences in the UK. Unique and healthy dining experiences such as vegan-only restaurants, DNA-matched dining and even protein restaurants for gym lovers have been launched across the country in response to consumers becoming more health conscious. So why can’t the same be done for nightclubs and bars in regard to teetotalism?

Stockholm, Sweden has had great success with alcohol-free nightclubs, particularly with SOBER, an aptly named nightclub that is alcohol-free, even ensuring its patrons are sober by asking them to take a breathalyser test before entry.

Back in 2014, when SOBER first launched, Naomi Bullock detailed her visit to the world’s first alcohol-free nightclub in Grazia Daily.

“What’s noticeably different about SOBER is that the bar is not fought over in the way it is at normal clubs, people pushing to get served through 5-people-thick queues. In fact, lots of people last night were dancing minus any drink in hand.

“One thing that really strikes you is that there is none of the unpredictability or the extremes of alcohol-fuelled clubs, the mood is more consistent, a lot less messy because people aren't getting increasingly wasted. I chat to Mårten (the owner of the club) and he tells me Swedish clubs can get very aggressive, people pushing each other and being antisocial and it's true, you see none of this at SOBER.”

fruity mocktail on the bar

In the UK, however, it seems most alcohol-free venues are in the style of bar and restaurants rather than nightclubs (for now, anyway). One of the UK’s most prominent alcohol-free chains beginning to make a name for itself is Redemption. This London-based booze-free bar and restaurant offers a buzzing atmosphere with a collection of bright and intriguing mocktails, the perfect place to unwind with friends after a long week but without the alcohol. Coined the world’s ‘healthiest restaurant’, Redemption is perfect for health-conscious diners as you can also order an array of low sugar, gluten-free, vegan dishes.

As well as this, there are a handful of sober societies in the UK, one of the more well-known ones being Club Soda. Describing themselves as a ‘mindful drinking movement’, the club looks to help create a world where “nobody has to feel out of place if they are not drinking alcohol”, whether they are looking to have a break from alcohol, learn to practice mindful drinking or go teetotal.

Club Soda has even gone as far as launching an alcohol-free festival alongside Drink Wise Age Well, with one of their most recent events being held in Glasgow. According to the Evening Times, the festival in Glasgow gave attendees the chance to “taste the new wave of alcohol-free drinks hitting the market”, as well as receive support and speak to experts in a range of engaging exhibits.

As well as offering a fun, alcohol-free festival, the event looked to help over 50s make healthier and more mindful choices around alcohol through offering support and workshops. Drink Wise Age Well Glasgow Locality Manager, Graeme Callander, told the Evening Times: “People aged over 50 are likely to have grown up in a culture of drinking and may increasingly look to alcohol to help them cope with stressful situations whether at work, or in later life transitions such as retirement and bereavement. Our association with Club Soda allows us to show that reducing your drinking - or quitting altogether - needn’t be dull and can reap tremendous benefits.”

It seems the growing popularity of teetotalism has enabled it to take on a new dynamic, one that puts emphasis on experience rather than missing out. With this change in attitude, I truly believe it will only be a matter of time until alcohol-free nightclubs start cropping up on UK high streets. And for the bars and clubs at risk of closing, if becoming an alcohol-free venue offers a new lease of life, then I’d say what’s to lose?


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