By John Hand –
College is a time of newfound freedom for young people, allowing them to do pretty much whatever they want. For many college students, this means drinking and partying. In fact, in America being a college student and drinking is practically synonymous. This reality, however, may be changing and some enterprising businesses are taking advantage of the shift to open nonalcoholic bars.
One study suggests that college-age drinkers are definitely on the decline. The research found that over a 16-year period to 2018 the percentage of students who abstain rose from 20 to 28 percent.
College kids apparently aren’t the only ones cutting back on their cups. A Gallup Poll revealed that adult drinkers are at their lowest level in more than two decades. The percentage of no-alcohol drinkers in America between 2019 and 2021 alone declined from 65 to 60 percent.
There are several reasons for people coming off their cups. More people than ever are aware of the negative effects of alcohol, while individuals overall are focusing more on their overall physical and mental health. This shift has also been fueled by the rise of non-alcoholic beers and mocktails. With this has come the emergence of nonalcoholic bars designed to meet the vibe of traditional waterholes without having to deal with alcohol.
The U.S. market for non-alcoholic drinks is surging, increasing almost 21 percent in 2022 alone to $395 million. Nonalcoholic beer sales jumped 19.5 percent during this time, while non-alcoholic wine sales grew 23 percent and similar sales rose a whopping 88 percent.
Booze-free bars aren’t new in the U.S. The current number is hard to pin down, but it is growing and now extends into the hundreds and perhaps thousands. The first recorded non-alcoholic new style of bar surprisingly appeared almost 200 years ago as part of the 19th-century prohibition movement. Now, these bars are in virtually every major American city, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington and Austin, etc. They are also popping up around the world in places like Australia, Germany, Japan and England.
These unique taverns are also finding a home in some of the most alcohol-friendly regions in the country, such as Wisconsin. Most Wisconsinites, after all, love three things: cheese curds, the Green Bay Packers and beer. Want proof? One study found that 25 percent of the state’s residents drink excessively and 41 of the 50 drunkest counties in America are located in Wisconsin. Yet this love of libations by Wisconsinites hasn’t stopped non-alcoholic bars from popping up in the Badger state.
These bars, however, aren’t always designed to simply help people avoid alcohol. They seem more geared to creating a unique social experience.
“We’re not geared just towards people in recovery—we’re for anybody that doesn’t want to drink that day but still wants to go out and enjoy themselves,” said Jeff Gustin, who opened Inmoxicated, a non-alcoholic bar, in Racine, Wisconsin. “Our intention was to give back a nightlife to those that are living a sober life and those who just didn’t want to go to a bar and deal with the alcohol and the drunk scene.”
Listen Bar in New York is an example of an establishment that has taken the approach even further. In addition to serving nonalcoholic drinks, Listen Bar offers classes on how to make delicious nonalcoholic drinks at home.
Part of their appeal is the effort and creativity that go into the nonalcoholic drinks. This includes the use of shrubs, fruit juices, syrups, and bitters. Some companies now produce drinks that provide an energy boost or that simply help others chill—all without alcohol.
This sobering news means bar time can take on a whole new feeling.