Sans Bar Serves Austin’s Thriving Sober Social Scene
Chris Marshall opened Austin’s first booze-free bar in 2017
By Phaedra Rogers
Photograph by Vicki Quintero
Alcohol has a funny way, or not so funny way, of exposing our social side. Even the most unassuming introvert becomes outwardly after a couple of martinis. Birthdays, major holidays, minor holidays, making it to Friday, surviving Monday – you name it – there’s no shortage of excuses to raise a glass.
But, for every push, there’s a pull. Dry January, which encourages people to go without alcohol for the first month of the year, sprung up as a major movement in the U.K. in 2014 and reportedly has its roots in Finland as far back as the 1940s. Hashtags like #sobercurious and #mindfuldrinking are fervently populating social media, making sobriety seem as hip as eating avocado toast. But why? And why now? For some, it’s a wellness thing, a curiosity thing or cutting-back thing. For others, it’s a life-saving thing.
If it seems counterintuitive to go to a bar without alcohol, consider that everyone has a relationship with alcohol, including having no relationship. For the non-imbibers, times are changing – and sobriety no longer needs to equate to a lackluster social life.
Just ask former substance abuse counselor-turned-bar owner Chris Marshall. He’s the founder of East Austin’s thriving alcohol-free watering hole, Sans Bar. “In my years as a counselor, one of the biggest struggles for people was feeling disconnected once they stopped drinking. There was usually a social void that fell on Friday and Saturday nights,” Marshall says. His vision was to create a third space between work and home where people could socialize in a lively, sober environment.
It started in 2017 with $200 and no business experience. But Marshall’s desire to create a sober bar was more significant than any lack of expertise or funding. He hosted monthly pop-ups, and every month, the crowd swelled. “When you remove alcohol, you have to replace it with something. That something is connection,” Marshall says. “Bars are typically social hot spots, so why should that change without alcohol?”
Sure, anyone can go to a bar and order a booze-free beverage, but often temptation outwits intention. Sans Bar is the antidote for people looking for an alternative to a traditional pub, dive or cocktail lounge. “We feature the same things as a typical bar, but without the hangover,” says Marshall. “Karaoke, live music, dancing, games, it’s all there.”
Sans Bar is Austin’s first sober bar and has become a fixture in the city’s bar scene with a permanent address in East Austin.
Sober drinking no longer equals boring drinks. Zero-proof cocktail manufacturers such as Seedlip and Ritual Zero Proof Whiskey have seen explosive growth recently. Sans Bar patrons can sip swanky, clean-crafted cocktails like Rosemary Ginger Mules or edgier offerings like I Love You So Much, a zero-proof cocktail with mesquite-smoked habanero and mango.
Are you #sobercurious, or just #curious? Either way, one thing seems clear: whether someone is full-time sober, or simply switching things up, Sans Bar is there for it.