Your Guide to the Sober-Curious Movement

Why mocktails are popping up on menus around the country.

By Jessen O’Brien

There’s a new cocktail trend picking up steam that’s decidedly different from the summer’s Aperol spritz craze or the explosive demand for old-fashioneds, manhattans, and martinis that grew out of the hit TV show Mad Men. Mocktails have become fashionable as more and more people dip their toes in the sober-curious movement.

Sober-curious? What does that mean exactly?

With the growing interest in wellness, people have taken up everything from juice cleanses to yoga. Now, that same desire to be healthier has helped kick off the sober-curious movement, in which people give up or cut back on alcohol for health reasons. People who are sober-curious may generally abstain from alcohol but indulge on special occasions. Or they might take a complete break from alcohol in the long or short term. Although being sober-curious is distinct from being in recovery, it can encompass many of the same behaviors that involve consciously drinking less.

How did this become a movement?

It’s been building for a while, helped along by the wellness movement and boosted by social media and the growth of sobriety influencers, whose content may be geared at those in recovery but often reaches a wider audience. Dry January—as well as Dry July and Sober September—have given people another entry point by encouraging them to not drink for a month.

Journalist Ruby Warrington also helped the sober-curious movement gain momentum. In 2018 she published Sober Curious, a book about the movement and its potential benefits. But even before the book came out, Warrington had helped found Club SÖDA NYC (SÖDA stands for Sober Or Debating Abstinence), a series of events for people who are reconsidering the role alcohol plays in their lives. And today there are several options for people who want to go out and not drink, including sober bars.

Wait, sober bars?

That’s right, sober bars. Listen Bar (3 Bleecker St., New York, NY; mocktails for two, $22*) has been around since October 2018. It’s a pop-up that opens once a month and offers an alcohol-free menu designed by mixologists. But there are also bars that specialize in mocktails open year-round, like Getaway (158 Green St., Brooklyn; 929-337-6025; mocktails for two, $26) in Brooklyn. It’s not just a New York thing, either. There’s also Sans Bar (1818 E. 12th St., Austin, TX; 512-589-1634) in Austin, which has pop-ups around the country. And bars and restaurants all over are experimenting with adding mocktails to their menu.

Mocktails? I’m a grown-up.

Mocktails these days are a far cry from the Shirley Temples you might have ordered as a child. They’re complex and at times involve ingredients from Seedlip, which makes distilled but nonalcoholic spirits. In fact, there’s a whole industry that’s cropped up around bottled beverages for the sober or sober-curious. In addition to Seedlip, there are also Curious Elixirs and Ambrosia Elixirs (109 Troutman St., Brooklyn, NY; 347-678-9622), both of which make and deliver nonalcoholic cocktails. Which means that whether you’re sober-curious or just curious, it’s become much easier to have a drink that doesn’t contain alcohol but tastes decidedly adult.

  • *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: December 2019