At Anchorage’s newest pop-up bar, bartender Mike Jipping spent a recent evening pouring drinks for people as they filled the snug lounge inside the Historic Anchorage Hotel downtown.
Along with a few friends, he threw back a wellness shot. Containing a hearty dose of ginger and apple cider, the shots made people pucker as they laughed it off.
Booze-free beverages were flowing and spirits were high at the new monthlong sober lounge hosted by Recover Alaska. The lounge, open from 6 to 9 p.m. every Thursday in January at the hotel, is aimed at elevating the conversation around alcohol, reducing stigma and honoring sobriety.
Organizers and industry leaders hope the pop-up sober lounge will help kick-start the creation of permanent sober bars and spaces in the city.
It’s important, “making sure our children watch us having a lot of fun and being really cool without drinking alcohol and knowing that that is a super viable choice, because in our culture it doesn’t always feel that way,” said Tiffany Hall, Recover Alaska’s executive director. Hall has been in recovery for a little over 13 years.
Each week’s pop-up features a zero-proof drink menu ranging from sugar cookie and spruce tip sodas to craft cocktails to alcohol-free beers. On Thursday, beverages were on hand from 49th State Brewing Frontier Soda, Athletic Brewing Company, Amalga Distillery and Beach Tribe Soda Works, which is owned by Jipping.
Beth Klein, who operates as That Trivia Gal, is hosting trivia for each night of the pop-up lounge. Attendees are encouraged to reserve a trivia spot for free on the Eventbrite website before each event.
Hall said recurring events like the pop-up sober lounge are important for the community and important in helping normalize sobriety. Her organization works to reduce excessive alcohol use and harm across the state through prevention, advocacy, policy changes and increasing access to care. Alaska has long had higher-than-average rates of alcohol misuse.
In addition to the sober lounge, Recover Alaska is offering its first-ever texting challenge through January to help encourage and support people who have opted not to drink alcohol for the month — a popular challenge known as Dry January.
For those in Anchorage and Juneau, tangible perks will be offered, like a free cup of coffee or a scoop of ice cream. To join, text “DRYANC” (in Anchorage), “DRYJNU” (in Juneau) or “DRYJAN” (nationwide) to 844-726-2669.
Northern Hospitality Group President David McCarthy has seen a significant shift in trends as crafted non-alcoholic beverages have made their way onto drink menus across the state.
“One of the fastest-growing breweries in the nation does not produce beer with alcohol in it,” he said of Athletic Brewing Company, a Lower 48-based brewery focused on making non-alcoholic craft beer.
Northern Hospitality Group, which owns 49th State Brewing and Frontier Soda, started focusing on creating zero-proof beverages in 2010 at their 49th State location in Healy.
What started with homemade lemonade, root beer and carbonated water has expanded into crafted booze-free beers, sparkling glacier water and a variety of sodas. In the last couple of years, McCarthy said he’s seen the non-alcoholic part of their business grow 20% to 30% of their total production.
It took about six years for non-alcoholic drinks to gain momentum among their customers, but McCarthy is glad these options are becoming more mainstream. For him, having zero-proof beverage options at restaurants and bars is key to inclusivity.
Hall, with Recover Alaska, praised the various alcohol-free events being held around Anchorage, such as Drag Lotería hosted by Arciniega Street Productions at Cafecito Bonito. But, she notes, there aren’t any permanent nightlife venues dedicated to sobriety in the city.
“I love that a lot of restaurants and even some bars now have menus for alcohol-free cocktails,” Hall said. “But I would love it if somebody opened a place like that was the primary thing, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, here are three options.’ ”
McCarthy is excited about what Recover Alaska’s pop-up sober lounge could mean for the future.
“People are taking action of creating these weekly events ... and to me, I think it’s gonna gain momentum,” he said. “I think it’s gonna become bigger and bigger in time.”
For people interested in recovery resources or help, visit recoveralaska.org.