We’ve all gotten that Facebook invite: Lovely Awesomeness has invited you to an event! This Friday is Lovely’s birthday, and you already can feel the little twinge of discomfort before you get to details. Yep…called it. It’s at a bar.
Of course, for many alcoholics and addicts, going to a bar is just out of the question. It’s a highly individualized thing; generally, you’re the only one who can really know whether bars are off limits for you. If Lovely knows you well enough, she’ll understand it’s not worth risking your sobriety to come to her party (and maybe she should have thought about that before choosing the venue). You don’t even need to explain why you can’t make it out that night; instead you can offer to take her out to breakfast, hit the beach, or catch the latest guilty pleasure at the multiplex.
But for some of us, myself included, going along to a bar with friends we trust is low-level risk. However, there’s a difference between simply surviving the bar experience and actually enjoying it. Here are some tips to help ensure your night on the town is fun enough you won’t even miss the booze.
1) Go with the right friends.
This should go without saying, but the people you’re hanging out with make or break the night, period. When I got sober, I learned to tell the difference between friends and drinking buddies pretty quickly. In fact, after worrying that sobriety would spell doom for my social life, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how engaging many people were even when I wasn’t loaded. (It also surprised me how little some of them were actually drinking.) It’s best to have at least one other nondrinker accompany you to the bar for solidarity. I recently attended a birthday celebration at a place called BottleRock, seriously?) with two other friends who were abstaining for temporary medical reasons. Instead of the awkward loner, I was now part of an elite secret society. Not all friends who drink are going to cause a problem, but you want the people around you to respect your sobriety and know how to moderate. Don’t go to bars with friends who are still in denial about having a problem themselves—that’s just a recipe for unpleasantness. Instead, try to go with people who can call it a night at a decent hour and are there for the company more than the buzz. They’ll be a lot more fun.
2) Suggest a place with good food.
These days, bar food in many cities has advanced miles beyond wings and chicken fingers. When I go to City Tavern in Culver, I’m too immersed in my pretzel burger and sweet potato fritters to think about the admittedly great selection of IPAs on tap. If you can turn a night at a bar into an indulgent dinner, you’ve not only got a reason to be there, you’ve got a reason to be excited. Yelp is your best friend. Do some research. Any place that can legitimately call itself a gastropub is worth your while just for the gastro. A lot of the trends are starting to get repetitive (bacon, sweet potato, short ribs, kale, truffle— BINGO!), but it’s a great way to feel like you’re living it up a little too.
3) Find a non-alcoholic drink you love.
The classic club soda with lime is a safe bet but so vanilla. Many bars stock ginger beer to make Moscow Mules, and it’s a lot more satisfying than regular ginger ale. I often ask bartenders if they serve Bundaberg or another high-end label. Specialty sodas are having a bit of a comeback. Just this week I’ve discovered the magic of Moxie, which tastes like a more mature root beer with a touch of bitters. It’s delicious, complex enough to sip, and apparently found primarily in southern Maine. Plenty of hipster cred. I also sometimes order off the cocktail menu and ask for a virgin. Some sober addicts don’t see the point of mocktails, since the whole point of a cocktail is to get loaded, not to relish the subtle basil and hibiscus overtones. And health-wise, yeah, you’re better off with water than with glorified juice. However, for me personally, having something to lift to my mouth compulsively makes me feel a lot more at ease in any social setting. And if it’s something I don’t usually stock in the fridge, the bar takes on a new purpose, kind of like a 1950s soda fountain. I’ve already documented my life-changing experience with exotic mocktails, though, so I’m a bit biased.
4) Choose a place with other stuff to do.
It turns out bars actually offer entertainment for every high school clique: trivia for the bookworms, karaoke for the performers, darts and pool for the physically adept. The best pool shark I ever saw at a dive bar was a 30-something woman in a headscarf, vaping (before the ban) and drinking ice water. She annihilated us. Trivia’s easier when you’re sober, and karaoke’s harder. Better yet, suggest a bar with live music. There’s a huge entertainment gap between watching your friends try to stack their shot glasses and watching a local banjo-punk band cover “November Rain.” And of course, the elephant in the room: dancing. If you can dance when you’re sober, congratulations—you’ve solved one of life’s great mysteries. Clubbing in general is not a very recovery-friendly atmosphere, so enter at your own risk (I prefer not to). That said, it’s lot easier to dance without a drink in your hand.
5) Drive yourself.
Sometimes in recovery you have to be kind of selfish. This is a tricky one because you obviously don’t want leave your friends in the lurch. It’s always nice to offer to be the designated driver some of the time. But seriously, whenever possible, drive yourself so you can leave whenever you get tired or uncomfortable. There’s only so much Flo Rida and televised hockey you can take. If you do drive a friend to the bar, make sure they’re down to leave exactly when you say so (or get another ride). You never know when you might run into an old hookup or an old dealer or just get the urge to…wait, why are we going to bars again?