How To Have Fun in Sobriety: Go to a Sober Bar

How To Have Fun in Sobriety: Go to a Sober Bar

By Zachary Siegel 08/28/16

We interview the founder of The Other Side about how his sober bar keeps people plugged in and shows them that recovery doesn't suck.

Image: 
The Other Side of Paradise
Courtesy Joe Bongiovani/Frontier Marketing.

During the summer of 2015, 32-year-old Jason Beaty of McHenry, Illinois, a city 50 miles northwest of Chicago, drove on a suspended license, violating the terms set by a drug court program—though he was some 40 days sober at the time. The judge, who called Beaty’s decision-making “piss poor,” was tired of watching him stumble through early recovery only to return to drug using. So he recommended Beaty live in a halfway house in nearby Woodstock. 

After accumulating over 13 years of prison time and 17 years of heroin use, Beaty projected a bleak future for himself, one where any chance of being a husband to his wife, a father to his children or a son to his parents, was beyond reach. “Jail for life or die of an overdose, I believed, was in my future.”

Despite all that, it was by the judge’s recommendation that Beaty plugged into a community of sober people who helped him discover what was missing in his numerous other attempts at recovery. In the halfway house, a guy nicknamed Boston told Beaty about a sober bar in the area called The Other Side. “A sober bar? What hell is a sober bar?” Beaty thought. 

A sober bar, it turns out, is a lot like a regular bar, with pool tables and a stage for live music, people dancing—only everyone guzzles energy drinks instead of alcohol. Beaty went to the bar the night of a big party for one of its co-founders, Chris Reed. “I was on my last chance, the judge told me I’d go to prison if it didn’t work this time. If I didn’t attend that party, I’d probably be in jail today,” Beaty said.

Courtesy Joe Bongiovani/Frontier Marketing

What happened that night? Beaty discovered the missing piece. “The fellowship, the friends I can hang out with who hold me accountable, I didn’t have any of that,” he said. “I only went to meetings then went home.” Before hanging around The Other Side, Beaty said he lacked the whole camaraderie of recovery. 

Now over 15 months sober, Beaty credits The Other Side for his recovery finally sticking. To understand how The Other Side began, and more importantly, what it does for people like Beaty, The Fix caught up with 25-year-old co-founder Chris Reed, who—like me—grew up in suburban Chicago. 

The interview below has been edited for space and clarity. 

How did this whole sober bar thing come about? 

I got sober in 2009 and I ended up starting a construction company. I was maybe six months sober when the housing market collapsed. So I got a contract to do property maintenance on foreclosures. Me and some guys I got sober with were boarding up houses, winterizing them. I bought all this equipment and gear and leased this warehouse for 2 years to store everything in and have somewhere to run the business out of. 

Then, when I was like a year sober, we wound up losing that contract with the banks. But I didn't really want to do it anymore because it sucked. 

Courtesy Joe Bongiovani/Frontier Marketing

What sucked about it? 

It was on the West Side... 

Where you bought your heroin? 

Yeah. 

Same. 

It also took forever to get paid from the bank. You always had to take a million pictures. It was more work than it was really worth. So I ended up selling all the equipment and we were left with this empty warehouse. The guys I got sober with, who helped me get sober, and others in the recovery community all just started hanging out in this warehouse after meetings. We’d hang there at night, we put a card table in there. 

So you were stuck with this big warehouse. How’d that turn into a sober bar? 

I went to this recovery conference in Las Vegas and I met this group of people from Los Angeles. We all just hit it off. Instead of going back home, I went and hung out with them in LA for like a week. When I went out there, they took me to this party. It wasn't AA or NA or 12-step related at all, they just threw these sober parties every couple months. They rented out a conference hall attached to a hotel and there were DJs, a hookah bar, it was catered and even sponsored by Monster Energy—they donated like thousands of energy drinks. It was this huge, crazy party—everyone sober. There was around a thousand people there. I came back home and thought we should throw sober parties once a month. They were immediately successful. 

Courtesy Joe Bongiovani/Frontier Marketing

Was there a cover? How'd you fund the parties? 

We ended up doing a suggested donation because at this point in time, we had the idea to start a nonprofit. We didn't want to make money but we wanted it to support itself. So we went to the City of Crystal Lake and told them what we were up to. Then, the building commissioner and a couple city inspectors showed up on the night of a big party and were like: no…no way. They made us kick everybody out. 

What was the problem? 

Nothing was fire coded. It wasn’t safe at all. There were like stairs with no handrail. It was kind of reckless. But the city wasn’t opposed to what we were doing. They were like: this is just a warehouse, you just can't do it here. 

We wanted to keep it alive, so we formalized a non-profit called New Directions Addiction Recovery Services. Then, we filed for a special use permit and they approved it. They re-zoned our unit for a special nightclub without alcohol. They didn't have to do that. They went above and beyond to help us through that process. 

So what was the damage? 

In order to open again, we were given a list of things that needed to happen. It totaled to about $50,000. But there was a reporter from the Chicago Tribune covering something else at the city council hearing when they told us how much it would cost. She loved our story: bunch of guys in recovery trying to make something happen. 

They ran it on the front page of the Sunday paper—the same Sunday Obama was inaugurated for a 2nd term. It went fucking everywhere after that. Jimmy Kimmel did a monologue about it during his opening. We ended up raising $50,000 in like 26 days. Checks came in from all over the country. 

So you went viral. What did that do for you and your group who started this thing? 

I don't think it really changed our attitude or anything like that. It just really enabled us to help other people and do what we felt was important. But maybe it did change our attitude by showing us we can do things. Like, if we want to do something and we put the work in, then it's possible. We overcame what seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. After that it was like, well, what else could we do? 

Courtesy Joe Bongiovani/Frontier Marketing.

Isn't that really the story of kicking a habit? Then once you do it, the world opens up. 

Totally. When I was using I had all these ideas, stuff I wanted to do in life but never had the ability to actually do it—or I never thought I could so I never tried. But this whole thing smashed that notion. It did a lot for my recovery, too. 

Let's talk about your recovery. You come at it from the 12-step abstinence side of things? 

Yeah, that's what works for me. I have experience living a spiritual life and I do meetings regularly. 

I'm interested in people's conceptions of spirituality. It's such a gigantic word. 

The drugs and alcohol were just a symptom of the way I was living. I was so selfish and fearful and self-seeking, which were just features of how I lived my life. That's just how I was. When I'm living like that, I cause so much damage and create so much chaos that eventually the only thing that makes me feel okay is drugs and alcohol. 

So spirituality is ultimately the opposite of all that. Putting others before myself and not being constantly consumed with what I think I want and what I need. I don't need to run my life today. If I wake up every morning and try to do the best I can at serving other people—then everything is taken care of for me. 

How does your role in The Other Side contribute to all that? 

It's only a piece of it. I'd say working directly with people who suffer from addiction does more for my recovery, but I get a sense of purpose from The Other Side. Just like I’m sure you get a piece of service by writing these articles that maybe will help someone out who reads it. 

Once in a while someone sends me a nice note—it always makes my day.  

Exactly. So The Other Side is kind of like that. It’s part of my life. It helps me understand how what I went through can be a tool to help others going through something similar. 

What do you see The Other Side do in terms of fulfillment for people? 

Definitely the fellowship. It helps people stay plugged in and close to others in recovery. But for me, that’s only one part of what I need to do in order to stay sober. Like, if I’m going out and having fun all the time, that’s fantastic. But if I’m not working on myself at all or paying attention to how I’m treating people or how I’m acting as a person in my life, if I’m not doing anything to help somebody else, I become unhappy. I don’t feel good. 

The Other Side is a small piece. It brings us together and it shows us recovery doesn’t suck, that you can still socialize. 

Tell me about the non-profit. What parts of recovery does it touch on?  

We identified three main areas that we wanted to create programs for. The first is advocacy and prevention, the second is connecting people to treatment, and third is continued support. 

The Other Side falls under continued support. Like we said, it helps people stay plugged in. We’re also in the process of creating a sober living home. We just received a $400,000 donation from a family in McHenry County. We just went through all of the zoning approvals, which is a really long, crazy story I could tell you another time. We now have an approved sober living house in downtown Crystal Lake. 

We have a program called Wake the Nation that does naloxone training. We’ve trained most of the police departments in McHenry to use it. We also do trainings at The Other Side for anyone looking to be trained. When we have naloxone available to us, we distribute it to whoever wants to get trained. So that’s the prevention. 

We do speaking engagements in high schools. We also have a recovery resource group that takes place every Tuesday night at The Other Side. It’s an open format group where as a collective, we share and exchange information. We get people plugged into recovery, whatever they need. 

What about your life outside of recovery?

I think some people can get in a 12-step program and it becomes their life. For me, my experience with the 12 steps is that they gave me a life. I’m able to be useful in other areas as far as being a good employee, a good employer. We still have the construction company. I’ve got a full-time job with a window company, doing in-house sales for them. 

Outside of all that, we live on the Fox River. We have a boat and we go out and wakeboard, like all the time. 

Anything else you want people to know? 

If you like what we’re doing, then support us. You can donate to help keep our doors open. You can become a member or join our newsletter. People’s support is how we stay doing what we’re doing.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Disqus comments
Zach1.jpg

Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

Disqus comments