Sobar: Nottingham’s First Dry Bar Hosts Alcohol Free Music Festival

Britain is sobering up. Our nation’s dirty love affair with binge drinking, which has grown, evolved and continued for generations, is burning out and slowly it’s becoming ever more acceptable to socialise and enjoy ourselves without the almost obligatory accompaniment of alcohol.

Our reputation as a country that relies on intoxication for any social engagement may soon become a misplaced one. An increasing number of ‘dry bars’ – food and drink establishments that don’t associate with alcohol – are cropping up at an accelerated rate as punters swap their raging hangovers for evenings they can actually recall.

While dry bars are a dime a dozen in the country’s capital, it’s only recently that this notion has spread further north and infected the Midlands. The first of its kind, the witty and cunningly named Sobar has become the first alcohol free bar in the East Midlands, and opened its doors at the beginning of 2014.

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Founded by Nottinghamshire based drug and alcohol recovery charity Double Impact, Sobar offers the people of Nottingham a non-alcoholic bar, restaurant and music venue. It seems like risky business opening a bar that avoids selling the one thing it is best known for, so we spoke with Eleanor Youdell, the Business Development Manager at Sobar, who told us that in spite of this, the idea was one that was certain to succeed.

“There are already several similar venues in existence and we visited one in Liverpool, The Brink, to see how that was operating.  We knew from our own service users that there was a need and a desire for something like this.

“It’s not just people in recovery who welcome the option to enjoy themselves without being around alcohol all the time.”

The concept of dry bars is an admirable one, but is it likely that they’ll stick around for years to come, like the more conventional bars out there?

“We hope so – the more choice there is the better, for everyone.  Young people seem to be more health conscious these days and it’s good to provide alternatives for their generation.  And our society is becoming ever more diverse, with lots of groups not drinking for cultural or religious reasons.”

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What is possibly the greatest twist in the Sobar story is not the convention of an alcohol free bar itself, but the fact that the staff members that work within the company largely include those recovering from alcohol or drug addiction, or those who are closely affected by it. By anyone’s standards, employing those who have been personally affected and involved in the charity must make this business a personal one…

“Yes, of course, one of the main aims of the venture is to provide people in recovery with volunteering and employment opportunities.

“We believe in employing people in recovery.  Around 40% of the charity’s workforce are either in recovery themselves or have close personal experience of it within their family.”

Already a hit amongst locals, Sobar offers regular in house entertainment: from poetry events and art exhibitions to live music and its very own quiz night. Most recently, Sobar has been making noise in the media in the form of its first alcohol and drug free music festival – Sound Recovery, which took place on August 16 and 17. An ambitious idea, the two day festival showcased a range of music and all proceeds from the £4-£7 ticket prices went directly to Double Impact.

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One assumption you’d be forgiven for making would be that attracting customers to a music festival that doesn’t involve any form of intoxication would be difficult, but we spoke to Joanna Crossley, Sobar’s Marketing Coordinator, who assured us that this was not the case. After all, modern music festivals are practically synonymous to drug and alcohol fuelled events.

“The festival attracted a lot of people with children and young families who want to enjoy music without the volatility often associated with alcohol.  Several people we spoke wanted their children to come and enjoy music in a safe environment and that is what Sound Recovery offered.

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“There has been a change in the last few years to people’s drinking habits, and more and more people are drinking less or not at all, yet most activities especially music events, revolve around alcohol. We are simply offering something different.  The bottom line for us is that if the music is good enough then it won’t matter if it’s a pint beer or lemonade in your hand.”

As a Nottingham based charity, with a bar set up in the heart of the city, it’s only natural that the talent they acquire for such events is home grown. It seemed like it was important for Sound Recovery to feature artists on its bill that were almost entirely based in the proud city of Nottingham.

“Nottingham has an absolutely thriving music scene and we are incredibly lucky that we don’t really need to look beyond our door step for such variety and talent.  We worked with the team from I’m Not From London, local promoters who are at the heart of the music scene in the city, and they were able to put together an incredible line up.”

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“Sobar has the principle of ‘local and home grown’ at the heart of what we do.  We try to work with local suppliers, and all profits go back into a Nottingham based charity – though of course we would welcome any performers from anywhere in the UK or across the world.”

The festival was understandably a great success, featuring artists such as Chloe Charlemagne, Oscar Speed, Lee Gough, Luna Dogs, Ivory Serfs and Matt Henshaw. As a final word, we asked Joanna what she thought made Sobar’s very own festival such a hit.

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“Sound Recovery is something a little different and special – an intimate, chilled atmosphere where the music is the centre of the event, not just something in the background to accompany getting drunk.  As many of the artists said on the day, this would probably be the first gig they have played where everyone will be listening and remember what they heard the next day!”

So, what does the future hold for Sobar? Eleanor told us that they will be taking part in the forthcoming Hockley Hustle music festival, with a Sobar stage hosting different performances. Not only this, but the bar’s regular Open Mic and ‘Saturday Sessions’ will be starting in the next couple of months. The future certainly looks promising for Sobar, and as stated on their website, their commitment is “to be the best at everything we do”. Almost a year since it opened its doors, they’re doing a hell of a job.

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Photographs by Jade McGirr & ‘Kept In Frame’

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