How to Cultivate a Sober (or Sober-Curious) Lifestyle

Bartenders share all their best tips for those considering a less alcohol-filled lifestyle.

Considering the sober—or sober-curious—lifestyle?

Cutting back on drinking alcohol can be a life-changing step for many people, but it can also be a difficult one. While the challenge of Dry January or Sober October may be helpful in embracing non-alcoholic options, putting that into practice year-round requires some focus and good alternatives. Restaurants and bars, both in the U.S. and around the world, are starting to catch on to sober and sober-curious customers. In fact, in 2024, 61 percent of Gen Z said they planned to reduce their alcohol intake, compared with 40 percent in 2023, according to a survey by NCSolutions. In the same survey, nearly half of millennials said they planned to drink less in 2024, a 26 percent increase from last year. 

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A scroll through social media will confirm that many people are interested in drinking less, although many servers and bartenders still seem perplexed by guests inquiring about non-alcoholic wines or alternative cocktails. (PSA: stop saying mocktail—while the term uses the word “mock” to mean faux, some find it feels dismissive and disrespectful to sober people and suggests that an N/A cocktail is a lesser version of an established drink.)

“I feel people are more comfortable asking for non-alcoholic options and they expect, rightly so, a more diverse and unique choice,” Davide Segat, bar manager at the NoMad Hotel in London, tells Observer. “I see people becoming more knowledgeable about the products in the market and developing a personal favorite. I am also seeing people become more conscious with their drinking—we have a few regulars that alternate boozy, stirred-down cocktails with a non-alcoholic one to balance and enjoy more.” 

Alcoholic drinks offer the possibility of a buzz, but also serve a real function, especially during a meal. A glass of wine, a beer or a negroni has a welcome bitter dryness that can balance the food, and whet or clear the palate. Drinking an overly sweet soda, juice or—please no—a non-alcoholic mojito just doesn’t cut it. As the hospitality industry continues to become more inclusive to sober and sober-curious drinkers, it takes a bit of navigating to know what to order, how to order it and how to stock your home bar, without sacrificing flavor. 

Mariena Boarini, a mixologist at Wynn Resorts, has been sober for seven years—but that doesn’t stop her from creating new cocktail experiences. STUDIO_J_INC

Find Your Why

There are a variety of reasons, aside from problem drinking, why someone might decide to be sober, including health concerns, general well-being and pregnancy. That “why” is usually personal, and doesn’t necessarily mean someone is an alcoholic or problem drinker. Everyone interested in exploring a sober or sober-curious lifestyle should determine what giving up booze can do for them in their own life. 

“I’m all for living your best life and being mindful in how we consume, in all aspects,” Mariena Boarini, the master mixologist at Wynn Resorts, who helms the Wynn Las Vegas’ Drinking Well program, tells Observer. “I think feeling your best and drinking your best don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Personally, I have been sober for seven years, but I still wake up every day excited to create cocktail experiences, experiment with new spirits and set trends within the industry.” 

After taking a break from drinking or completing Dry January, Segat recommends making a mental note of how you feel—and taking that forward. “I can safely guess [you] have felt several positive changes,” he says of a trend like Dry January. “Productivity, better sleep, clearer head, concentration and additional energy are some of the main ones. Then I would ask, ‘if you feel better in many ways, why don’t you continue?’” 

Abe Zarate, sommelier at The Modern in New York City, feels the benefits are limitless. Importantly, they can include saving money and not suffering hangovers. A good starting point is to reassess one’s relationship with alcohol. “We might’ve convinced ourselves that alcohol gives us qualities, but without it the—often uncomfortable—moments of clarity offer us an opportunity to dig into what we are actually craving. It’s never just about the drink,” Zarate says. 

Davide Segat.

Stay Social

Switching to sobriety doesn’t have to mean giving up drinking or going out—it just means changing what you’re drinking while doing so. Whether you’re at a concert, out for a night on the town or at dinner with a group of friends, there are ways to feel included without partaking in booze. For instance, when Zarate quit drinking alcohol, he focused on making small shifts rather than just staying home in order to avoid social situations. 

“I knew I would eventually find myself in environments where it would be around and I didn’t want to be scared of a substance forever,” he says. “For those reasons, I chose not to change my lifestyle; I only changed the beverage I’m holding and I’m more thoughtful about the people I share my space with. I’m not focused on staying away from alcohol as much as I am focused on becoming increasingly more comfortable with the weirdness and awkwardness of emotions and social dynamics.” 

For Segat, going out can actually be a more positive experience without alcohol. His main tip? “Don’t worry too much. You can still go out and be social. Your friends should, and most probably will, be happy you’re making healthy choices and seeing you looking after yourself. There is so much stigma about going out sober, but most probably, the worry is coming from you.” 

He adds that people might be surprised at how much you can enjoy a night out without drinking. It’s a “better connection with people,” Segat says, adding that there’s “no regretting stupid choices when you drink too much.” 

An influx in “soft cocktails,” which have a lower alcohol content, have also become more popular. NoMad London

Know Your Alternatives

Non-drinkers can, of course, go to high-end cocktail bars where bartenders like Segat and Boarini create unique, well-balanced drinks that just happen to be booze-free. The NoMad in London serves an entire menu of non-alcoholic cocktails within its two bars. Many other spots, though, haven’t quite caught on to the trend yet, especially outside of metropolitan areas and in parts of Europe and the U.S. that are very fixated on drinking. It’s common to ask for a non-alcoholic drinks menu and be handed a list of sodas—or that dreaded non-alcoholic mojito (in reality, it’s just overpriced soda!). If you prefer not to be stuck with water, there are a few things you can ask for. 

“With the advent of so many creative ingredients, I usually like to look over the cocktail menu first and try and deconstruct a crafty N/A [cocktail], while utilizing ingredients that I know they have at the bar and that I enjoy,” Boarini suggests. “For example, [if I’m] eyeing a spicy cucumber margarita and a Tiki cocktail that lists pink guava juice on a menu, I will ask the bartender to make something non-alcoholic in the style of a spicy tropical margarita, utilizing the pink guava juice. Bartenders enjoy being creative, and being able to vocalize flavors and styles that you enjoy will help them curate something unique for you.”

Zarate encourages the bartender to make recommendations, but he’s also a fan of simple N/A beverages. “I love tonic water with lemon, especially because it’s available at most bars,” he says. “I’m three and a half years into my sobriety, so if there are really no options besides soda, I like to turn it into a challenge and see how I can enjoy myself with just water.”

And if the options suck, speak up. “Just make sure you ask for it,” Segat says. “The more people ask, the more professional bartenders and owners will understand there is a bigger demand, and most likely will act on it.”

There are tons of non-alcoholic options to stock your home bar. dpa/picture alliance via Getty I

Stock Your Home Bar

A home bar doesn’t have to be filled with just whiskey and tequila. There are more and more non-alcoholic spirits options on the market these days, many of which can be used to recreate classic cocktails or to create new ones. 

“A good cocktail is a completely subjective thing, so I always encourage people to identify what they enjoy drinking, and find ways to emulate that by understanding the DNA of the cocktail and finding non-alcoholic replacements,” Boarini says. “Right now, I am obsessed with Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic Classico Sparkling Wine, which tastes exactly like Champagne, which is one thing I miss! I love having a cold glass of it on its own or making an N/A spritz with their Italian Spritz Non-Alcoholic Aperitif.”

Other popular alternative brands are Seedlip, Pentire, Spiritless Kentucky 74, Monday, Ritual, Everleaf, Optimist Botanicals, Figlia and Wilfred. But Segat says you don’t need to invest in non-alcoholic spirits to make a delicious cocktail at home. He suggests “upping your tea selections at home” to help mix drinks. “Tea is one of the tastiest and most versatile N/A drinks out there,” Segat says. “It’s so easy to make, there are so many flavors to choose from and you can build around it.”

When it comes to non-alcoholic beer, the world is your oyster. Not so much with non-alcoholic wines. Thankfully, though, that list is growing. Zarate’s favorite is Thomson & Scott Noughty Sparkling Rose. He also recommends trying Leitz Eins Zwei Zero, Surely Sparkling Selbach-Oster Funkelwurtz Zero, and the white wine alternatives from Proxies.

Don’t try to precisely replicate an alcoholic drink—enjoy the new options in your life. Sabin Orr

Embrace the Evolution

Most importantly, don’t get caught up in trying to exactly replicate the alcoholic drinks you used to love. Being sober means finding new favorites and enjoying fresh options, like kombucha sparkling wine or a creative N/A spritz. 

“There are many great products on the market, but [oftentimes] we think of a great non-alcoholic product as something that could fool us into thinking that it’s the ‘real thing,’” Zarate explains. “I see the N/A category really hitting its stride once the collective focus shifts to simply creating delicious, high-quality beverages—whether they’re reminiscent of wine or not. The demand is already there.”

“We are in an exciting time where there is a whole range of innovative non-alcoholic spirits that emulate the flavor profiles of gin, tequila, amaro, vermouth, wines, champagnes, et cetera,” Boarini  adds. “Paired with craft elixirs such as fermented kombucha or tepache, flavored sodas and tonics, herbs, teas and tisanes and innovate garnishes, a non-alcoholic beverage can have the hallmarks of mixology culture, while creating an experience with refinement, sophistication and robust with flavor—all while telling a story.” 

As more and more people consider becoming sober or cutting down on alcohol intake, for a variety of reasons, it’s clear that the hospitality industry still has some catching up to do (ahem, the use of the word mocktail). But every step towards being more inclusive to non-drinkers is a positive one. 

How to Cultivate a Sober (or Sober-Curious) Lifestyle