I write about booze and nightlife all the time, but you’ll almost never see me making jokes about drunkenness and reckless behavior. There are several reasons for this, some of them selfish (I don’t want to turn off advertisers), some of them journalistic (I find most drunk jokes juvenile and unfunny), and some downright responsible (I honestly don’t want to encourage dangerous activity). And yet, writing solely about the flavors of the different spirits I sample does make me a bit of a fraud. Yes, I’ll review a spirit like whiskey because I like the taste, but I tend to leave out the part about how I also like how it makes me feel. So let’s put it out there: Alcohol is a drug, and a powerful one at that. It’s a potentially dangerous drug. It’s a drug that a lot of people have trouble with. It’s a drug that causes damage. And yet it’s the most glamorous, socially acceptable drug history has ever seen.
Think about bars and nightclubs. I love them, and spend my share of time in them, but they’re essentially places to purchase and consume the drug known as alcohol. Everything else is window dressing. Elaborate, fabulous window dressing with a good beat. People would never flock to the top nightclubs in a city like New York, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas if they were exactly the same, minus the alcohol.
Or would they? New Directions Recovery Services in Chicago is about to find out. They’re the force behind The Other Side, a new spot in the suburb of Crystal Lake that aims to be everything a great bar can be, minus the alcohol. Its stated goals are to unify the sober community, provide a fun environment for people living substance-free lifestyles, and change the stigma associated with sober living. But, according to founder and recovering addict Chris Reed, it’s not limited to people in recovery. It’s open to anybody who’s into a sober night out, whether it’s a one-off for people who just don’t feel like drinking, or the first step toward a life of sobriety.
I have the deepest respect for people who are getting help with their addictions–think about everything they face in our alcohol-celebrating society–but I can only see it from a drinker’s perspective. Regardless, the more I think about it, the more it sounds like a great idea. And if I was in the Chicago area, I’d drop by just to see if it’s really possible to replicate the experience of going out and partying, minus the liquor.
Something tells me it is. First of all, there’s some science to the idea that the enjoyment of alcohol is a shared contextual experience. I read about an experiment once where a group was together drinking, but one of the members was served non-alcoholic cocktails. While he had a blood alcohol content of zero, he acted just as loud and silly as his legitimately drunk friends. And perhaps there is something to the lights, music, and general atmosphere of a great bar that gives one a euphoric feeling that makes chemical enhancement superfluous. Maybe it’s possible to get high on your thoughts alone.
But I can think of a few other reasons that a party at The Other Side, or other alcohol-free bars (there have to be a few), might be superior to a "normal" night out.
1. No more crutch. People who need the self-confidence that alcohol supposedly gives you would have to dig into their reserves of inner courage to chat up that attractive guy or girl, and would probably be all the more emboldened for it. (Your sexual performance would probably be better, too.)
2. You’d remember your conversations. The long, heart-to-heart talks with friends and lovers would still be sharp in your mind the next morning, follow-up plans would be kept (one hopes), and you’d know any emotional connections you made were real.
3. If you’re really into music and dancing, you could focus on it. I hear that major DJ’s and noteworthy live bands will perform at The Other Side. You’d be able to pay attention to their art and artistry, and be able to look them up the next day.
4. You wouldn’t blow all your money. While this is the part of the equation that makes me worried for The Other Side’s future (will they be able to pay the rent over the long term?), it would be nice to wake up the next morning with four out of those five twenties you took out of the ATM still in your wallet.
5. Less chance of a fight or some other barroom nonsense breaking out. No lager louts, no loutish behavior.
6. The general feeling of good health that a night off provides. Your liver is important. Be nice to it.
7. No drunk driving. As a New Yorker who exclusively takes public transportation or taxis, I’m befuddled by how people in car-centric cities are able to party the way they do without driving drunk. My conclusion: With some rare exceptions, they don’t. Just ask my friend Paul, who was a passenger in a car that got demolished by an extremely drunk driver just two days ago in Dallas. (He’s fine. Seat belts, people!)
And so, stylish Chicago-area people of both the drinking and non-drinking variety, take a look at The Other Side and think about dropping by for a sober night of music, dancing, fun, and possibly hooking up. It’s unlikely that the booze-free bar concept will put much of a dent in Chicago nightlife, but it’s nice to know there’s a cool place to hang out that doesn’t have alcohol but also isn’t another boring coffee shop.
[Related: BlackBook Chicago Guide; Listing for The Other Side; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]