And Can Houston Support a Sober Bar?
It’s an interesting contrast. During 2020, news stories reported the increased drinking and increased alcohol sales during COVID-19. Words such as “surge” and “rising sharply” were common descriptions.
On the other hand, the sales of non-alcoholic beverages also increased during the pandemic. Global consumption of zero-proof beer, wine, and spirits is growing two to three times faster than overall alcohol consumption, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. “Why the Alcohol-Free Category is Thriving,” which was published in an industry magazine, provides another concrete example.
According to Chris Marshall, founder of Sans Bar, a sober bar in Austin since 2017, both of those things can be true. Marshall was a substance use counselor for 14 years before he established one of the first alcohol-free bars in the United States.
“We’re still in a weird place where we’ve been in a pandemic for the last year. Prior to the pandemic, there was a huge interest and rise of non-alcoholic spaces,” says Marshall. “I think that trend continued during COVID when people looked at trying to innovate and change their relationship with alcohol.”
Marshall says attitudes towards alcohol are definitely shifting, but quietly and privately people are dealing with the pandemic by self-medicating with alcohol. As people felt disconnected from social groups, routine and going to work, Marshall says people leaned on alcohol harder than they normally would.
“People were drinking alone and drinking more to cope with the stress of the pandemic,” Marshall relates.
Can Houston Support a Sober Bar?
Marshall, who grew up in Houston and actually got sober in Houston in 2007, says Houston is near and dear to his heart. He thinks about a Sans Bar in Houston all the time. Currently, Houston does not have a sober bar.
“I think a sober bar could absolutely work in Houston,” Marshall says. “There is a really strong recovery community in Houston. There is already the groundwork for a sober bar, you just need the money behind it.”
Marshall says Houston has a lot of communities – who because of what they believe or where they live – don’t drink alcohol. Those people who don’t drink end up going to places with alcohol only because there are no other alternatives.
“I would like to see that change,” Marshall says. “I would like to see more options for people who choose not to drink.”
Everyone who comes through my door is investing into the concept of an alcohol-free space. They are legitimizing it every time they show up. It went from being a moment to a movement, because people decided it was more than a moment.
These days Marshall is branching out with new ideas for the sober bar industry. One unique option is his Sans Bar Academy, a 10-week training to educate the next generation who want to get into this business to do a physical space or pop-up options.
“This will accelerate this movement of people who want to drink less or not at all,” Marshall relates. “That really is what I hope to do.”
Marshall wants his legacy to be more than one bar in Austin that supports the local community. His goal is to make it globally acceptable where no one has to be pressured to have a drink or order a drink. That’s the mark he wants to leave on the world. Imagine going to a bar, he says, and they ask “do you want it with alcohol or without alcohol?”
“It’s so much bigger than Sans Bar,” Marshall relates. “I want people to be themselves – and if that means they are drinking less, or not at all, or not drinking for that night. They deserve a good experience and an opportunity to have all the connection in the world.”