When you step inside the doors of The Sans Bar in Austin, Texas, it feels like any other high-end bar.
There are tables filled with smiling people sipping drinks from glasses with delicate stems. People gather to play pub games, sing karaoke, or listen to live music. The air is filled with the sounds of revelry, and the atmosphere is jubilant. The only difference between this bar and the dozens of others that line the street outside is there’s no alcohol in the drinks.
The Sans Bar was founded in 2017 by Chris Marshall, who was looking to provide a safe, fun place for sober people to socialize. Chris himself has been sober for 15 years after struggling with alcohol addiction since he was a teenager. When he was 23, he decided to enter rehab to get sober. During treatment, he realized that drinking often helps people feel less alone in the world. Many social activities revolve around drinking, so staying sober can feel isolating and lonely.
“When I went to treatment, I was all alone,” Chris recalled. “And I think that my main motivating factor was that feeling of loneliness. And when I got into rehab, the first thing I heard was someone tell me, ‘You don’t ever have to feel lonely again.’ So this space that we’re sitting in today is a direct result of that very real statement that someone made to me 15 years ago. Telling me that I didn’t have to be alone, that I didn’t have to live alone.”
Chris started his first version of The Sans Bar out of the back of a hair salon with just $200 in his pocket. It didn’t take long before word got out, and before he knew it, people started showing up. Chris focused on creating delicious mocktails and serving non-alcoholic beer and cocktail alternatives. While his drinks are delicious, he says it’s really the camaraderie that keeps people coming back for more.
The Sans Bar continues to flourish, even when the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to close their doors for months. Studies show that many people increased their alcohol consumption during the pandemic, leading them to reflect on their drinking habits. This reflection is contributing to the “sober curious” movement coined by author Ruby Warrington in 2016.
“I think a lot of people for the first time in their life were faced with looking at themselves in a way that they had never looked at themselves before,” said Chris.
The sober curious movement continues to expand. Many celebrities are coming out with alcohol-free beverages, and those products saw a 33 percent increase in sales in 2021. Chris is hoping that this trend continues. His ultimate goal is to open alcohol-free bars in every major U.S. city!
“I believe we are on the brink of a major culture shift,” he wrote on Instagram. “Much like the explosion of the plant based market, non-alcoholic beverages are experiencing exponential growth as consumers increasingly question how alcohol impacts work performance, relationships, and mental health.”
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