Bartenders Talk Being Sober In The Alcohol Industry

By Bryan Le 01/28/19

Fine cocktail places are getting into the sober spirit, supporting a health-conscious clientele with non-alcoholic drinks.

Close up of bartender pouring bright red alcohol cocktail into the glass
Drinks are for customers. Maksym Fesenko |

The concept may at first seem like an oxymoron, but sober bartenders are becoming more common as the industry transforms.

Bar professionals like Jack McGarry of New York’s famous Dead Rabbit and Nectaly Mendoza of Las Vegas’ Herbs & Rye don’t drink anymore, breaking the industry stigma of sober servers and, eventually, sober bar patrons.

“It sort of ties back into the maturity and the further professionalization of our industry,” said McGarry, explaining that the bar industry was traditionally synonymous with a party atmosphere that invited health problems and alcoholism.

As bartending has evolved, it has increasingly entered into a professional space—some places elevating themselves to something comparable to a fine-dining restaurant. Moderation and sobriety have come hand-in-hand with this professionalism, and they’re welcoming to any customers who are also seeking the same.

“The reality is, anyone who drinks regularly knows there are periods where people might not want to drink,” said Jim Kearns of The Happiest Hour and Slowly Shirley in New York.

To accommodate this, it’s increasingly common for bars to have alcohol-free cocktails on the menu. Not only do some establishments take pride in their non-alcoholic concoctions, any restaurant seeking the coveted Michelin stars is required to offer a non-alcoholic cocktail menu to even be considered.

Mendoza also has some wisdom to dispense regarding cutting down alcohol in your life: don’t try too hard.

“If you’re trying to lose weight, and you only eat a can of tuna and water, you’re setting yourself up for failure,” said Mendoza.

Another key factor is dealing with friends or family who might be put off by you not joining in on the liquid revelry. On this, the pros agree: just be honest.

“Tell your people you’re doing it for a month so you have their support, and they can also hold you accountable for it,” McGarry advised. “You’re just making it more difficult [by lying]. It’s already difficult enough without making it harder.”

Kearns’ advice is more blunt.

“If anybody is mad about a choice that’s made in someone’s best interest, maybe they’re not a very good friend,” he said.

In the end, it’s your choice, they stress. And it’s not as hard as you might think.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter