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In a world filled with bars, liquor stores, and other reminders of just how much we consume alcohol, maintaining a sober lifestyle can be challenging. It is especially difficult when safe spaces that encourage sobriety or offer the kind of the social comforts associated with imbibing (but without the booze) are also few and far between.
Thankfully, Awake in Jefferson Park, which opened in early May in the building previously occupied by the Hidden Idol tiki bar, is setting the precedent for more sober-conscious spaces to take root in Denver. The community-centered, zero-proof bar/coffee shop/alcohol-free “liquor” store sits on the corner off Clay Street and West 23rd Avenue—across from Jefferson Park itself—sporting a bright and welcoming atmosphere by way of floor-to-ceiling windows and communal seating that encourages conversation.
“To me, the concept is very simple,” explains Billy Wynne, who owns Awake with his wife Christy. “We wanted to focus on giving people that social experience they become accustomed to in a bar without the challenge of alcohol. We’re so used to socializing in a muted way, so we need to go above and beyond making people feel comfortable and relaxed and welcome.”
Christy says the couple aimed to keep the design simple and minimalistic. “The opposite of addiction is connection, so I wanted the vibe to be really beautiful and for it to feel like we are all waking up to a higher consciousness,” she says. “I wanted it to be a warm, beautiful, soft, vibrant environment. The reason dive bars get away with what they do is because no one will notice because they’re drunk. I wanted the details to be just right because people are going to notice.”
It’s hard not to feel at ease walking inside Awake; there is something about the harmony between purpose and presence that assures you’re in the right place. But the Wynnes know being in the right place means different things to different people, which is (partly) why their business encompasses multiple concepts.
The main attraction is the sober bar, where guests can sip a wide array of alcohol-free cocktails, beer, and wine. If you fall in love with a particular drink, chances are it is available for purchase from the bottle shop portion of Awake. The Wynnes display a selection of their favorite nonalcoholic brands, encouraging guests to become more familiar with the myriad of options available and to generate buzz for companies producing alcohol-free alternatives. And for those who love a pick-me-up, the coffee shop offers a menu of coffee and espresso drinks, alongside breakfast burritos, fresh-baked goods, and other light snacks from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
The essence of Awake—its name, its overarching concept of being present and “waking up,” as the tagline displayed in the bar suggests—is exactly what it sounds like: encouraging people to live more consciously by cutting out alcohol. “It started with my own sobriety,” explains Billy, whose own sobriety journey catalyzed his urge to provide easier access to others trying to live alcohol-free lives. “Our family was living in southern France for the 2018 to 2019 school year, and I stopped drinking in January. We noticed a wide variety of alcohol-free beer there, but demand was outweighing supply. So there were some hints that there was a movement worth pursuing.”
“This [sober] movement is not going anywhere,” says Christy. “If anything, it’s just going to keep getting bigger and bigger. My background is practicing medicine and we see the ramifications of drinking alcohol. It’s a health problem, mentally and physically. It’s true that the effects of alcohol can be pretty varied and damaging, and in a world where the social pressure of drinking is so high, finding safe, supportive spaces and accessible alternatives is difficult.”
Christy says that even having to visit liquor stores to buy alcohol-free products is an issue for many people—a pain the Wynnes hope to alleviate with Awake. “I’m a sober coach now and that’s a really big issue for people. We’re in such an alcohol-saturated society that you can’t even buy alcohol-free products without being around alcohol,” she says.
The Wynnes also didn’t want to play into the tropes of what alcohol-free drinks looked like. “We wanted to provide a place that’s sophisticated,” Christy says. ‘We don’t just serve sugary mocktails. There are a lot of great products with low- to no-sugar, a lot of herbs and botanicals. And a sophisticated space where you can still sit around with friends and have a beautifully curated drink that feels really special.”
As for what’s on the menu, you can order nonalcoholic versions of classic cocktails, like the Awake 75—a popular, zero-proof spin on the French 75—an espresso martini utilizing local favorite Queen City Collective Coffee; a fan-favorite spicy margarita; a variety of wines; and tons of alcohol-free beer options, from Grüvi’s stout to Wellbeing Brewing Company’s Heavenly Body golden wheat and Surreal Brewing Company’s Juicy Mavs hazy IPA.
Giving back to the community is also a big part of Awake’s mission: 20 percent of the business’ monthly profits go to a different local charity every month like the Empowerment Program and Thriving Families, and discounts are available for Medicaid or SNAP members and veterans.
“We’re proud to be in Jefferson Park, this crossroad of communities, to welcome all people from Denver. Not drinking doesn’t have to be boring,” says Christy. “I think it’s more sophisticated to not drink and embrace sobriety. We’re fighting this conditioning that we’ve been taught our whole lives. It’s radical. I love the movement and the energy behind it.”
Awake is open Monday–Tuesday, 6:30 a.m.–3 p.m.; Wednesday–Thursday, 6:30 a.m.–10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6:30 a.m.–11 p.m.; and Sunday, 6:30 a.m.–6 p.m. (The full bar menu is available starting at 5 p.m., Wednesday–Saturday, and at 12 p.m., Saturday–Sunday.)