Lately, I’ve been curious about sobriety. After a series of life changes—most notably going from spending 9-5 at home in soft pants, hungover if need be, to re-embarking on a commute to the office with both hard pants and small talk—I think I’ve finally hit the breaking point where I’m ready to admit that unfortunately, I do in fact feel better when I make a conscious effort to avoid alcohol and treat my body well. And apparently it’s not just me. Google searches for the term “sober curious” have skyrocketed over the past 12 months. But in case you aren’t one of the hundreds of thousands of people whose interest has been piqued by the movement, here’s a quick rundown.
The phrase “sober curious” was first coined by Ruby Warrington in her 2018 book Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol. Not a complete forgoing of alcohol, sober curiosity is a social wellness movement that empowers individuals in their choice to abstain from alcohol, be it on occasion or for good. The movement also encourages participants to explore their relationship with alcohol and the physical and mental benefits that may come from reevaluating it or cutting it out altogether.
The pandemic is partially to blame for this increased interest in the sober curious movement. What started as the occasional glass of wine—whether alone or in good virtual company via Zoom cocktail hour—soon grew into more-than-occasional full-fledged solo binge drinking for many of us. According to a CNN article published this January, since the start of the pandemic, the average American has had a 14 percent increase in the number of drinking days per month. However, many people are starting to refocus on wellness and realizing that their relationship with alcohol isn’t particularly . . . sustainable. And as is the case with all toxic connections that have run their course, it may be time for a break, babe.
But a break from alcohol is often easier said than done. Don’t feel too bad—that’s by design. Traditionally, alcohol has been integral to all things communal and often synonymous with celebration. But within the American cultural ideology specifically, with an emphasis on hard work and go-go-go mentality, alcohol has often been used as a tool of escapism. Serving as a clear punctuation for the end of the workday, and a tool to relax and unwind, alcohol became an integral part of our societal routine and a necessary counterbalance. This also means that for those who may choose not to indulge, it’s hard to find occasions and venues that don’t center alcohol.
Enter the ever-growing world of nonalcoholic, zero proof, buzzless, spirit-free mock or cocktails. Whatever you want to call them, there’s no denying their impact.
Companies like Chicago-based Ritual Zero Proof, which specializes in spirit-free rum, gin, whiskey, and tequila alternatives, know that people these days are more wellness focused than ever. Rather than taking a stand against alcohol and staunchly advocating sobriety, Ritual’s goal is simply to give the consumer options. And who doesn’t love options? Especially if those options come with a whole new scene of people who don’t know you from that one time you met them drunk at that one place. After all, the real lesson is the friends we made along the way, right?
Enter Humboldt Park’s own Adriana Gaspar and Héctor Díaz—who himself hails from the Gage Park neighborhood. Díaz and Gaspar are partners in life and In Good Spirits, a new local community offering a platform for gathering and celebrating sans alcohol. In Good Spirits is on a mission to refresh social rituals through different but no-less-vibey experiences that help break down the social constructs that pit sobriety against socialization.
I recently attended a sold-out event of theirs at Cindy’s, on the roof of the Chicago Athletic Association hotel. This gathering served as a true testament to the new social scene that’s popping up around Chicago in response to the budding sober curious movement. Surrounded by expansive city views, lush greenery, charcuterie, and ornate glass punch bowls filled with the good ice and a plethora of nonalcoholic options, guests of all races, ages, and stages in their wellness journeys mixed, mingled, and could be seen happily nodding in agreement that: Hmm, yes, I do believe the sparkling nonalcoholic aperitif made with ashwagandha was the collective favorite. Even better if you added a spring of rosemary from the beautiful mostly-edible tablescape.
Gaspar and Díaz confirm that this event was not an anomaly, and that their events draw a good mix of strictly sober and sober curious attendees. “To meet people that have stopped drinking due to things like allergies or other personal reasons has been fascinating. . . . Both sets expressed their desire to still go out with friends and feel included socially without sticking out for only having water in their hand or nothing at all,” says Díaz, who opts for mindful, occasion-based drinking after a recent scare with kidney cancer (which he thankfully beat. Go, Héctor!). Gaspar, in contrast, pledged to strict sobriety in honor of her father.
On both ends of the sober curious spectrum, the couple knows all too well how alienating making the choice to modify your drinking behavior can be. “We really want to normalize not [equating] socializing with drinking alcohol. Drinking alcohol in social gatherings is so ingrained in our society that we think something is wrong with the individuals who are not drinking. If someone’s not drinking, the immediate reaction is to ask, ‘Why not?’”
Instead of allowing their social lives to suffer, they made their own scene and are beginning to change that narrative. For Gaspar, “Coming out of the pandemic and social distancing, being in community was as important as ever. However, I didn’t want to compromise my sobriety journey. Personally, I felt there was work to be done.” And you know what they say: If you want something done right, do it yourself. We all know Chicago is no stranger to the DIY scene—shout-out to those broad shoulders.
Since their inception earlier this year, In Good Spirits has received overwhelming support from both the budding sober curious community and the local restaurants, bars, and venues that welcome those that are welcoming change. Gaspar and Díaz note that it’s been great to witness ideologies of consumers, producers, and distributors looking to support the sober curious space change in real time. It’s a stark difference from most places stuck in the past, when the only options nondrinkers had were water, soda, or a sugary mocktail. For those who are slower to hop on the bandwagon? Don’t worry, Gaspar is making sure to promote the sober curious movement at every bar she finds herself at these days.
“At bars and restaurants, it’s been great to see spirit-free options on the menu more and more,” Gaspar says, “and I’ve had a couple of instances already where the menu didn’t have a nonalcoholic option at the time, but the bartenders crafted one with genuine excitement (shout-out Estereo in Logan Square and La Luna in Pilsen).”
And as far as all their new friends and predictions for a more inclusive beverage future?
“We’re grateful for the opportunity to offer something cool and new in the city, and the impact we’ve been able to make in the few months since our inception,” says Díaz. “In Good Spirits means a lot to us on a personal level and is really a culmination of who we’ve been, who we are, and what we believe in. It’s been a fun and fulfilling journey thus far, and the best part is, we’re just getting started.”