Along with Colorado’s first alcohol-free bar, sober socializing options hit Colorado Springs
New bars come to the Denver area often, but it’s not often that one makes such a splash.
When Awake opened its doors in May, it caused quite a stir because of the one thing it doesn’t serve: alcohol.
The Jefferson Park eatery, which serves non-alcoholic beer, wine and spirits and a coffee menu, was quickly dubbed Colorado’s first “sober bar.” It also houses a bottle shop that offers non-alcoholic products from around the country.
Awake comes from owners Billy and Christy Wynne, who both quit drinking a few years ago. They realized that they were not alone.
“We’ve seen this movement of people making alcohol-free choices,” said Billy Wynne. “It was the beginning of the sober curious movement.”
Around the same time, companies large and small were introducing “different and exciting” zero-proof products, Wynne said. Heineken launched a popular non-alcoholic beer and the wine selection grew. Wynne also heard about non-alcoholic bars in Brooklyn, NY and Austin, Texas.
“We haven’t seen anything like it near us, or certainly in Colorado,” he said. “So that seemed like the natural next step.”
It doesn’t seem like a natural move considering the pair have no experience running a bar. Billy Wynne runs a health consulting firm and his wife Christy is an integrative medicine physician assistant and sobriety coach.
But they felt called to “contribute to this social change”.
Awake seems to have awakened something. Offering live music and other entertainment, the theater has been a hit since it opened. For Wynne, community is more important than popularity.
Comments from customers are evidence that Awake is building “a safe place,” Wynne said.
“One thing we’ve learned is that the community of people who don’t drink is much larger and more interested in socializing than we previously thought,” he said. “A lot of them didn’t have a place where they felt comfortable.”
While Awake is the first of its kind in the state, the sobriety movement has been quietly brewing in Colorado Springs. Since opening downtown in 2015, Ohana Kava Bar has billed itself as a no-nonsense bar. When a second location followed in 2019, owner Matthew Clark wrote online that his island-style bar “offers an atmospheric nightlife that helps people “To stay sober but sociable”.
Unlike Awake or other similar providers, Ohana does not serve any products that imitate alcoholic beverages. Alongside kombucha and loose tea, the menu features kava strains, a drink made from a South Pacific root that Ohana’s website says “induces a sense of well-being and euphoria and increases social skills.” It’s a fitting alternative for late-night bar-hoppers, as kava is traditionally enjoyed in the evenings with friends and family.
In December, Colorado Springs launched a new series of “sober social” events hosted by Stephan Black, a local real estate agent and owner of Samich Shop within CO.ATI
“So many things revolve around alcohol,” he said. “I wanted to create an environment for people who wanted to go out but didn’t necessarily want to drink.
Black, who is 36 and has a background as a nightclub manager, quit drinking a few years ago.
“I got to a point in my life where I was like, ‘I don’t want to go out and drink,'” he said. “I think for people in my age group, you want to start enjoying your time more and remembering your time.”
He hosted the first sober social event at CO.ATI, which offers some drinks for those taking a break from alcohol during “dry January,” and says locations will rotate in the future. Black has encountered other opportunities in Colorado Springs, such as asking bartenders at bars like Icons to make a soft drink. There are a few mocktails listed on the menus at Jax Seafood and 1350 Distilling.
“With more and more people looking for it, there might be a need for sober bars here in Colorado Springs,” he said. “I could see that happening.”