Elias Majid behind the bar
Elias Majid of Eli Tea Bar Credit: Courtesy Elias Majid

The “sober curious”—individuals who abstain from drinking to explore the positive effects of sobriety—have a new enclave in Andersonville. Eli Tea Bar, an alcohol-free social space, offers options for those rethinking their relationship with alcohol, including more than 100 loose leaf teas and special in-house blends, bubble tea, and kombucha on tap. Bar owner Elias Majid, a member of the LGBTQ community, presided over a soft opening of the bar in early December. 

“I think there’s a constant yearning for that third place, that community space, for the LGBTQ+ community and often it’s limited to late-night clubs,” says Majid, a botanist who earned his degree at Loyola University before opening the original outpost of Eli Tea Bar in suburban Detroit nine years ago. “I think the marketing and the media for the LGBT community is solely focused on partying hard and that you have to be drunk and you have to be high to be the life of the party. There are other ways to be the life of the party. There are other ways to meet people.” 

The sober curious or “elective sobriety” movement is not new—sober bars first appeared in the late 19th century as part of the temperance movement. A driving factor in this renewed interest in safe sober spaces could be related to the significant spike in alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report published in the November 2021 issue of the journal Alcohol, between March and September 2020, beer, wine, and liquor store sales totaled $41.9 billion —20% higher than during the same months in 2019 and 18% higher than between August 2019 and February 2020. Some researchers suggest that this increase in alcohol consumption could be related to a rise in domestic violence and other dysfunctional behaviors.

For the sober-curious novice, having tea or coffee in place of a good stiff drink could be a slightly daunting endeavor, but Majid, a nondrinker, encourages people to explore nonalcoholic beverages, which could actually lead to feelings of clarity and empowerment, particularly in social situations.

“Many people have the misconception that tea is weak or maybe low in caffeine, or they think the opposite—that tea is unusually high in caffeine. There’s so much more to the tea world than people think. There’s so much more than just a tea bag,” says Majid, a self-described tea ethnobotanist. Majid defines this as an individual that is “not only interested in the science behind tea and the processing behind tea, but also someone who is also taking into consideration the cultural use of the teas.” 

Majid asserts that food and beverage establishments likely do more than a physician, on an everyday level, to help bolster the public’s overall health and well-being. 

“I think food businesses have a responsibility to offer their customers healthy products. In our case, we avoid high-fructose corn syrups. We avoid food coloring dyes unless it’s plant-based such as crushed flowers. And then for things like our bubble tea, for example, we’re using fresh milk or vegan milk. Any customer can get anything with any vegan milk or if they want no sugar, we can do no sugar. And that’s dramatically reducing the calories, which is something that has hit a note with our customer base for sure.”

Eli’s Tea Bar will also feature kombucha on tap, a beverage associated with maintaining a healthy digestive system among other benefits. 

Credit: Elias Majid

“Kombucha is a fermented probiotic tea. It can be alcoholic, and it can also be nonalcoholic depending on the sugar level. So, you can actually go to bars and get a glass of kombucha instead of a beer. We are going to have kombucha on tap in a beer kegerator. There’ll be four different flavors. We’re sourcing it from Kombucha Brava in Evanston. However, in a year or two’s time, I do have plans for us to start fermenting our own kombucha and introducing that as well.”

One type of drink you won’t find on the menu at Eli’s, no matter any purported health benefits—mocktails. 

“We are definitely avoiding the faux pas of creating mocktails,” says Majid. “All of our specialty drinks, our zero proof drinks that we create, are their own things. They’re not mocktails at all. Mocktails are boring because they are simply subtracting the alcohol. We give customers something enticing to try. Why not try rhodiola—it’s great for anxiety. Why not try lion’s mane—it’s good for your brain.”

The 2,000-square-foot Andersonville shop includes cafe seating, a walk-up window for low-contact to-go orders, and a small performance stage in the back room for drag bingo, DJs, open mikes, calligraphy workshops, and more. Majid says interest in performing at the Andersonville space has been “kind of crazy,” with more than 51 performers applying for a spot on the schedule. 

“What attracted me to Andersonville was that it has a strong community customer base. Residents walk into downtown Andersonville, they frequent the shops, there is a strong sense of family and community. I honestly was looking between Andersonville and Boystown [Northalsted] and I feel like Boystown has lost some of that edge. I mean, if you walk down Clark Street in Andersonville on a Tuesday in the summer, there’s people everywhere walking around.”

Eli Tea Bar
5507 N. Clark, 248-825-8064, eliteabar.com. Grand opening Sat 12/18, noon; tentative hours for December (after the 18th) are 10 AM-11 PM Fri-Sat, 1 PM-9 PM Wed-Thu, closed Mon-Tue. Contact the bar for more information about upcoming events.

While Eli’s Tea Bar is the only active sober bar within the city of Chicago, numerous Windy City watering holes offer inventive, spirit-free beverages that could appeal to the sober curious, especially if the venue has something other than booze for patrons to focus on such as shuffleboard, trivia nights, arcade games, and live music. Other alternatives that offer a hybrid coffee/cocktail bar experience include the Golden Dagger near DePaul, and Cafe Mustache in Palmer Square. Slightly Toasted in the West Loop offers an all-day coffee shop and bar featuring responsibly sourced coffee and reportedly one of the largest whiskey lists in Chicago.  

“We started off as a tea shop and then it became apparent that we were attracting sober-curious people, people who just don’t want to drink, people who simply want to socialize. And now we’re actively marketing as a sober space,” says Majid. “When sober bars started to become trendy again, I noticed that they tend to open with a pretty big press announcement and then they close. They’re not sustainable.”

Majid says Eli Tea Bar’s enduring success is due, in part, to the convivial vibe of his sober space, a nod to the boutique coffee shop culture of the 90s, when people interacted with each other instead of staring blankly into the blue glow of smartphones and laptops. 

“We’ll have all sorts or programming activities that we’ll use to kind of get people, gay or straight, to bump elbows,” says Majid. “I think what we aim to offer is something new, but also familiar. We’re not trying to be overly avant-garde about what we’re offering. We’re not a coffee shop, we’re not a wine shop. We’re something in between.”

An earlier version of this post included information about a “soft opening” for the bar on Sat 12/4, which happened, however Eli Tea Bar has reported that they will be closed again until their official grand opening on Sat 12/18.


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