Yes, There Are Cool Sober Cafes
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Yes, There Are Cool Sober Cafes



This post was originally published on July 15, 2015.

For sober alcoholics, stepping inside a hip and happening restaurant can certainly trigger cravings. The sights and smells of alcohol combined with social pressure to drink can make them slippery places to navigate, especially when you’re newly sober. And watching carefree diners sip expensive Sangiovese as they polish off a $30 plate of ricotta gnocchi in a sage brown butter sauce can be a real mind fuck.

Maybe drinking with dinner is okay! Look at how innocuous it is! Maybe if I pair wine with the $30 gnocchi, I’ll be able to drink like a lady too!

Not if you’ve got a genuine drinking problem.

Thank You, Liverpool

Now there may be a solution to this dining dilemma—recovery cafes where the sober crowd can relax, socialize, guzzle coffee and snack on biscotti without being judged for either their addiction or for being teetotalers.

A pioneer of this burgeoning hospitality concept is The Brink in Liverpool, England. This isn’t exactly the city you’d expect to have a sober cafe, given Liverpool had more hospitalizations due to alcohol than any other UK city as recently as 2007. But in 2011, psychotherapist Jacquie Johnston-Lynch was inspired to create the first sober restaurant in the UK.

Though Johnston-Lynch is not a recovering alcoholic or addict, her brother was killed in a drunk driving accident and her son is a recovering alcoholic. She felt Liverpool needed a sober venue that competed with the city’s coolest bars and pubs.

“Just because people are in recovery from drugs and alcohol doesn’t meant they are less than others,” she told the blog of Scotland’s Castle Craig Hospital.

The Brink isn’t just for recovering alcoholics. It also caters to “normies” with inventive and locally-sourced cuisine and a wide array of coffee drinks. The food is what sets The Brink apart from other recovery cafes. Though there are a few others in the UK—and a few in the US—they operate as coffee houses that serve biscuits, cakes and scones, but don’t offer a hot breakfast, lunch menu or full-on dinner service.

The main courses at The Brink are eclectic, boasting everything from fish n’ chips to a baby aubergine (that’s eggplant to you Americans), chickpea and tomato curry mash-up. They’ve also got a tropical spiced chicken kebab with harissa (if you haven’t tasted harissa, drop everything and head to the nearest Moroccan joint) that comes with fruit-dressed Israeli couscous along with a za’tar flatbread.


Say Yes to “Nojitos”

Best of all, and most important for recovering alkies, The Brink sports a signature list of mocktails like the “Bollywood Sour,” a blend of lemon, ginger, elderflower and apple juice mixed with sparkling water and topped with a garnish of lemon, lime and crushed ice. There’s also the “Nojito,” a combination of lime juice, lemonade and fresh mint poured on the rocks Mojito-style.

Even a boozer might be tempted to try one.

In addition to the ambiance, food and kickass mocktails, The Brink offers both group and one-on-one counseling for anyone struggling with alcoholism or addiction. There are no appointments and no fees—you just walk into the restaurant day or night and head to the back where there’s one room for the groups and one for the individual sessions. Often people with drinking problems will stumble in, even late in the evening, and be counseled to hit detox and enroll in a residential treatment center.

“The idea behind this is that [alcoholics]would go to a non-stigmatized venue,” says Johnston-Lynch. “They wouldn’t have to go straight to their GP [or]a drug and alcohol center. They could just go into this bar and discreetly speak to someone”.

Many of us have had the experience of being on the brink of a drink, so we hang out at the AA halls or hit three meetings a day to ward off the urge, which can definitely be a good thing. But at The Brink, or other recovery cafes, you can relax in a safe place with supportive people who will talk you off the ledge, all the while drinking locally-roasted coffee that is arguably a step above shitty AA coffee.

Not a bad bang for your buck (or British pound).

Photo courtesy of TheBrink

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.