Maine Bar Draws Non-Drinkers And Foodies With Unique Offerings

By Victoria Kim 01/23/18

The Portland-based business started out as a sober bar with an eclectic selection of mocktails.

bartender presenting fruity drink

The sober movement is gaining ground, accommodating the growing community of people who choose to be sober by replacing blackouts and hangovers with a focus on health and wellness.

Vena’s Fizz House of Portland, Maine, is just one piece of this movement. It opened its doors in the summer of 2013 as a “sober bar,” with its unique concoctions and quality ingredients as its biggest draws.

As CNN reports, Vena’s “sophisticated” drink offerings, which were once 100% alcohol-free, are able to please the palates of sober patrons and adventurous foodies alike.

Vena’s was born from the vision of Steve and Johanna Corman, a couple of teachers who built the business from the ground up, with the help of YouTube how-to videos and a whole lot of creativity.

“I had this whole vision. A bar with bartenders, and they’re mixing and muddling and shaking. But there’s no alcohol,” said Johanna Corman. “It’s seltzer-based, but they’re using really good, healthy ingredients.” 

Steve mans the bar as head bartender, while Johanna concocts new ingredients (like cider syrup) and works the retail end of the business. The couple openly discusses recipes and ingredients, some of which can be purchased in Vena’s retail shop.

“I love old fashioned ingredients, like bitters and tonics and shrubs and syrups,” said Johanna. “I just could see the whole thing in my brain.”

The self-proclaimed “liquid alchemists” eventually added booze to the menu to appease the drinking crowd who enjoy Vena’s mocktails but prefer a buzz. Thus, drinks like the Lumbersexual were born, transformed from Lumberjack Love by adding gin.  

The home-grown business got a boost when Food Network star Alton Brown, the host of Good Eats, stopped by in 2014 and got a taste of the Lumberjack Love: spruce pine syrup, lemon, spiced tonic, Alpine Herb bitters, wormwood bitters, and Owl & Whale’s persimmon bitters. 

While Vena’s caters to the general community, sober or not, another bar, The Other Side, was created with the goal of supporting people in recovery. 

The Crystal Lake, Illinois-based establishment features pool tables, dancing and live music, like any bar, but offers energy drinks in place of beer and liquor.

“The fellowship, the friends I can hang out with who hold me accountable, I didn’t have any of that,” said one patron of The Other Side, Jason Beaty, who credits the sober bar for being a crucial piece of his recovery.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr