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Christy Wynne and her husband Billy opened Awake in Jefferson Park to provide a comfortable place for people to socialize and connect without the pressure to indulge in high-ABV social lubricants. Part coffee shop, part nonalcoholic “liquor” store, and part watering hole, Awake is all about normalizing, embracing, and elevating the sober lifestyle. While the bar component didn’t open until May 2021, the coffee and bottle shops have been providing zero-proof libations since last November. We caught up with Christy to talk business, nonalcoholic drinks, sticker shock, and all things Dry January.
5280: How has business been?
Christy Wynne: We’re doing well overall. It’s always a little nerve-racking—we came out with such a bang. We were so busy this summer, and everyone in the industry told us things typically dip after Labor Day, and we saw that. But with the holidays, we’re picking up again.
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What part of Awake has resonated the most with people?
The bar resonated most. Just having that safe space for people who either don’t drink at all or don’t want to be around drinking. It’s such a big spectrum—we have pregnant women who come in often, and people who want something different and want to take a break; from the sober curious all the way to people in recovery.
There tends to be a little sticker shock around nonalcoholic drinks. What should people know about that?
I think what people don’t realize is it’s expensive to make alcohol-free spirits, wine, and beer. You make it in the regular way—distill it, brew it—and then they have to dealcoholize it afterward. The reason they do it that way now is they’re trying to maintain that flavor and integrity of it; not build a product from scratch without alcohol, but pulling the alcohol out, and that’s expensive. Especially with the wine, it’s going to be $15 or $20 for a bottle. Just because there’s no alcohol in it doesn’t mean it’s grape juice and it’s going to be cheap.
What has been your biggest challenge?
People are still confused as to what we are. When you say alcohol-free bar, people are sometimes like, ‘Oh, it’s a juice bar.’ They want to put us into a category or label. What they don’t understand, and wouldn’t unless they came in and saw for themselves, is that we’re so far from that. We don’t even have juice! People are still confused because they don’t understand the whole (nonalcoholic) product scene. Typically in the past, if you asked for a mocktail, a bartender would just use some juices and bitters and bubbly water. We’re not doing that. We’re using alcohol-free spirits, there’s a component that makes it extra special. It’s not just thrown together.
Why do you think so many people are interested in Dry January this year?
I think it’s been building momentum for several years. People naturally want to do these kinds of things at the beginning of the year because that’s what we do, but I also think there’s a shift where people are realizing the ramifications of alcohol—the anxiety and depression. There’s a movement toward being more mindful. Also, it’s probably more culturally acceptable to do something like a Dry January now. They can take a break, not necessarily say ‘I have a problem.’ If it’s a popular thing to do, it offers people a safe space to do it.
What are you doing at Awake for the month?
We’re running a kind of challenge group for people who want to sign up. We’ll meet once a week in person, serve a drink of the week, and go through the Alcohol Experiment by local author Annie Grace. It’s for anyone who wants to take a break and learn the science behind alcohol. We’ll also have specials throughout the month in our bottle shop, and we’re having a New Year’s Eve party. That should be really fun to take us into Dry January.
Any tips for people who might be new to this?
There are two pathways to Dry January. There are the people who take a 31-day break from drinking and they sort of white knuckle their way through (‘Gotta get through this!’) and then start drinking again. Which is great, you gave your body a break, but you haven’t really propelled yourself forward in any way.
Another way is to be more mindful, trying to come from a place of curiosity. Stay open and curious about how you’re feeling. Learn more about it and take the 31 days as a growth opportunity. I think usually if people take that approach, they come out so much different than when they went in.
So my best advice is being willing to be more mindful, open, and curious about it. See alcohol for what it is. When you’re open to be proven wrong about the things we think alcohol is providing us, it can really open up a lot if we choose to go there and really want to see it. There’s a lot to be learned and discovered in ourselves.