Beer Edition: Denver’s Awake sober bar offers a creative escape from alcohol culture

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Collegian | Ivy Secrest

Ron Jolly plays keyboard for patrons at Awake sober bar in front of a neon sign April 11.

Ivy Secrest, Arts and Culture Reporter

For many 20-somethings, a large part of socialization is local nightlife. It is the essence of the college experience, and with bars reopening and mask mandates being lifted, it stands to reason that many who have missed out on this experience will seek it out. 

Often this includes the consumption of alcohol. While it is normalized, 9% of college students qualify for having an alcohol use disorder, and many students abstain from drinking by choice. This makes alcohol-free social options just as important as social options reliant on alcohol, if not more so. 

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Awake is Colorado’s first sober bar, started by Billy and Christy Wynne. It has been positively received by the community and has raised the question: Should more sober bars be accessible to the public?

“Being a bartender and being sober is very hard, especially once you get into mixology because you have to be tasting things” – Grace Mestecky, General Manager of Awake

“College students have kind of been conditioned to believe that going out and having fun involves using substances,” Ram Recovery President Leah Winningham said. 

From Ram Band to fraternity parties, Colorado State University is no exception to the alcohol-based culture of college towns. This isn’t necessarily a negative, but it can make those who don’t drink feel like social rejects. 

“Honestly, a lot of my friends have stopped inviting me to hang out because of my choice: … I show up sober,” said Alexis Ferguson, a third-year social work student with a concentration in addiction counseling at CSU. “It shouldn’t be something I lose friends over.”

This idea that you can’t have fun without alcohol is dangerous. It can damage people’s health and relationships with others.

A woman with dyed hair mixes a drink behind a bar. Behind her is a mix of non-alcoholic beverages and a wallpaper with an eyeball pattern.
Megan Owen, a bartender at Awake, mixes alcohol-free beverages for customers April 11. (Ivy Secrest | The Collegian)

Bars like Awake prove partying can occur without the use of substances and offer a fun space to do so. Awake fosters a space where people can enjoy nightlife and the bar scene without the pressure to drink, and for many, that is an invaluable experience. 

“Being a bartender and being sober is very hard, especially once you get into mixology because you have to be tasting things,” said Grace Mestecky Davis, beverage director for the company and general manager of Awake.

Bar culture is synonymous with alcohol even for its employees, and very few alternatives exist for creative mixologists like Mestecky. 

Mestecky loved the idea of the sober bar. She enjoys getting creative with drinks and felt it was a good place to exercise that creativity without being surrounded by alcohol. 

“The more people get excited about coming to the sober bar, the more opportunities come to us,” Mestecky said. 

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A large portion of their audience, according to Mestecky, isn’t recovering alcoholics but sober-curious people who simply don’t want to drink that night but still want to go out. 

This could be an exciting prospect, especially for underage students who legally cannot participate in bar culture or sober-curious people who still enjoy the nightlife of Fort Collins. 

“I didn’t want to come into college and have drinks forced down my throat, and next thing you know, I’m crazy, I’m wild, I’m on the floor passed out,” Ferguson said. “I wanted to learn who I was, and I also wanted to figure out where my limit was.” 

Not all students understand the risks associated with alcohol consumption like Ferguson, but many wish to slowly introduce themselves to the culture before diving in. 

Sober bars also provide an inclusive environment for those in the recovery community who aren’t triggered by bar environments. For Winningham, sober bars bring to mind harm reduction. These spaces could offer the same support and community in Fort Collins and to the CSU community.

Awake is located at 2240 N. Clay St., Unit 100 in Denver.

Reach Ivy Secrest at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @IvySecrest.