Are sober bars growing in popularity?

By Emily Hawkins

- Last updated on GMT

Sober spaces: there is a growing market for venues offering late night drinks in a zero-alcohol environment
Sober spaces: there is a growing market for venues offering late night drinks in a zero-alcohol environment

Related tags Soft drink Alcoholic beverage Bar

Although many licensed venues have upped their game and stock more zero- and low-alcohol drinks, some customers want an alcohol-free environment too.

More young people are choosing sober lifestyles, with the proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds who do not drink ​having increased from 18% in 2005 to 29% in 2015.

Catherine Salway and Andrea Waters, co-founder of Redemption bar
Catherine Salway and Andrea Waters, co-founder of Redemption bar

Dry bars are not a new concept, temperance taverns provided a non-alcoholic community space in the late-19th-century. Pubs like Fitzpatrick's Herbal Health in Lancashire sold drinks​ like dandelion and burdock, sarsaparilla, and herbal brews.

Today, groups like Club Soda advocate the acceptance of non-drinking and mindful drinking with festivals that attract thousands of attendees.

Redemption bar in West London has thrived since it opened in 2014, offering alternatives to meat, sugar, wheat and alcohol. Increasingly abstinent Millennials and the recent popularity of clean-eating and veganism, mean a fresh demand​ for spaces void of temptations like sugar and booze.

Market shift

Catherine Salway, Redemption co-founder, said totally dry bars like hers are a minority but “the market is changing."

Redemption’s founders went from "being laughed out the boardroom" to managing two bustling venues in Notting Hill and Shoreditch, with a third set to open next month in Covent Garden.

At first the bar appealed to women under-30s, but with clean-eating and non-drinking trends becoming more mainstream it now appeals to older, male customers too.

Redemption Bar Shoreditch (17) (1)

Early-week trade sees regular drinkers trying to have a drinking-free day, whereas Fridays and Saturdays attract longer-term teetotallers​ and those searching for a sober space.

“People said London was fuelled on alcohol, but not everybody and not all the time - sometimes people might like a break from it.”

"Young people don't want to get drunk anymore, they've seen their relatives get really drunk and don't think it is a good look. They care about how they look on Instagram,” Salway explained.


Chelmsford, Essex will see its first sober bar, named Abstinence, open its doors this winter.

Owner Wendy Sillett chooses not to drink and said she found it “increasingly hard” to be in licensed venues when there was anti-social behaviour.

She struggled to find nearby sober events that went on late on Fridays and Saturdays, even going out of the country with friends to attend alcohol-free nights.

Sillett told The Morning Advertiser​: “Not everybody drinks these days, whether they're of a mind where they choose to live a healthier lifestyle and are conscious of what they put in their body or whether it's religion or an allergy or health issues or people in recovery.”

Avoiding temptation 

Abstinence bar will open in Essex
Abstinence bar will open in Essex

“There are so many licensed venues to choose from but very little open later in the evening for people who do not drink,” she continued.

Some products can legally be branded as zero-alcohol while containing a small percentage, but Sillett wants the bar to be entirely dry​ and is working on a unique mocktail menu.

For Salway and Sillett, their operations are about giving customers more choice and control.

Many customers are content with a soft drink in a licensed venue, but, Salway said, "if you're someone who finds it hard to resist temptation, if you can create a space where there is no temptation and any choice you make is a good one, people can relax."

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