Awake, the first ‘sober’ bar in Denver, is all about partying without drinking

The Jefferson Park establishment, which also serves coffee during the day, is all about making sobriety fun and normal.

Chelsie Kipp mixes up a "honeybee sage" at Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House. Dec. 18, 2021.

Chelsie Kipp mixes up a "honeybee sage" at Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House. Dec. 18, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Desiree

Alcohol is ingrained in our society and socially acceptable at most events. During the holidays, drinking is almost a given. There’s the Christmas cocktails, coquito, spiked hot chocolate and the popping of champagne for the new year.

A 2019 Denver Public Health survey showed that more than one in four Denver adults, about 27%, binge drinks. In 2018, about 30,000 people came to Denver Health emergency rooms for a substance-abuse issue and about 36% were due to alcohol abuse. Also in 2018, 38% of fatal crashes in Denver involved alcohol.

So, during that holiday party, what happens if you’re practicing sobriety? In recovery? What happens if you’re just sober-curious?

Awake, a coffee shop by day and an alcohol-free bar at night at 2240 Clay St. Unit 100 in Jefferson Park, encourages sobriety, one zero-proof cocktail at a time.

Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House founders Christy and Billy Wynne stand in their Jefferson Park cafe. Dec. 18, 2021.

Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House founders Christy and Billy Wynne stand in their Jefferson Park cafe. Dec. 18, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The bar is owned by Christy and Billy Wynne. Bohemian eyes line the back wall, which is filled with bottles of spirits and wines, all zero-proof. The couple decided that alcohol no longer served them, so instead of treating it as a loss, they opened the bar.

“There’s an underlying assumption that something’s wrong or that it’s this sad thing when someone quits drinking,” Billy said.

“Our deep conditioning in our society is that we need to have alcohol to somehow up level experiences,” Christy said. “There’s a huge spectrum of people who are reevaluating their relationship with alcohol. I think it’s just important to have spaces like this to start the conversation and normalize the choice to not drink alcohol…So that it’s not such a weird thing in our society, where obviously you must have a problem if you quit drinking. It shouldn’t be like this.”

Fixings for nonalcoholic cocktails behind the bar at Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House Dec. 18, 2021.

Fixings for nonalcoholic cocktails behind the bar at Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House Dec. 18, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

In 2019, the Wynnes realized that their relationship with alcohol was no longer viable. Billy said after 25 years of drinking he had seen and felt it all and was “tired of the routine.”

“It was taking up a lot of mental space,” he said. “Even if I wasn’t drinking or drinking a lot, I was thinking about drinking. I’d be thinking about how I was avoiding it or thinking about what would be on the menu that night. It was taking up a lot of mental energy to participate in alcohol.”

Christy said she’d been drinking for about 32 years and “got good at it” because “we get good at what we practice.” But at one point, she just didn’t feel well.

Cocktail glasses hang over the bar at Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House. Dec. 18, 2021.

Cocktail glasses hang over the bar at Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House. Dec. 18, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

“It was interfering with how I felt,” she said. “You don’t have to say you have a drinking problem for drinking to be a problem. We really don’t have to wait around for some sort of rock bottom. Some people are like well, I haven’t gotten a DUI or haven’t had this, so they justify that their drinking is fine because they haven’t had those big things happen but what are you waiting for? Are you waiting for a rock bottom? We’re allowed to exit out early before we hit those rock bottom places.”

The Wynnes noticed that more and more non-alcoholic products were being released and offered in stores.

Nonalcoholic wine bottles on a rack at Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House. Dec. 18, 2021.

Nonalcoholic wine bottles on a rack at Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House. Dec. 18, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

“I feel like for a lot of people, the reason they choose to drink is because nothing else is offered to them,” Christy said. “It’s either you have this glass of wine or you can have a soda or a water. It’s like, well, I don’t want to be at the kids table, drinking a Shirley Temple. I want the wine. I think if other things were offered and accessible, I believe people would be more open to choosing the alcohol-free option.”

Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House. Dec. 18, 2021.

Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House. Dec. 18, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The bar had a slow start due to the pandemic. The Wynnes officially opened Awake in November 2020, but mainly focused on the coffee and bottle shop portion of the business.

In May 2021, they officially opened the bar, becoming Denver’s first and only “sober” bar.

The Wynnes said some of their products, such as their tequilas and wine, mimic the taste of their alcoholic counterparts, while some of their drinks are herbal based.

A "honeybee sage" ready for sipping at Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House. Dec. 18, 2021.

A "honeybee sage" ready for sipping at Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House. Dec. 18, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The current winter mocktails on rotation include, gingerbread house nog with vegan eggnog, nutmeg, ginger snaps and a choice of Rum-ish or Lyre’s American Malt, two zero-proof spirits. Christy said their most popular drink is the smoked sage honey bee. Bartenders smoke sage in a glass before pouring Mockingbird Tequila and lemon juice in it.

During the day, Awake serves coffee from Queen City Collective Coffee, baked goods from Aspen Baking Company and, of course, breakfast burritos.

Christy said some patrons have told her they haven’t stepped foot in a bar in years because they weren’t comfortable, but they feel safe in Awake.

Chelsie Kipp works the bar at Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House. Dec. 18, 2021.

Chelsie Kipp works the bar at Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House. Dec. 18, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The Wynnes said more bars around Denver have started to add zero-proof drinks to their menus, and they hope the trend continues.

"Together we wake up." Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House. Dec. 18, 2021.

"Together we wake up." Awake Sober Bar and Coffee House. Dec. 18, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Looking for some tips to continue your sobriety during the holidays and beyond? Are you curious about becoming sober?

Christy is an integrative medicine physician assistant and certified sobriety coach and has two main tips: mindfulness and good planning.

Wynne says be mindful of your physical and mental health. How have you been eating? Have you been drinking enough water? How have you been nourishing yourself?

“If it doesn’t go as plan, don’t beat yourself up for it,” Wynne said.

Billy added, “My little bit of advice is be proud. You’re making a choice that is healthy and empowering. Maybe you have a rum alternative or a microbrewed IPA from Denver that you can whip out at a party and it’s something new and different that you can talk about if people are interested.”

Christy will be hosting some dry January workshops next year. She said Awake plans to host meetings to help those who are interested in sobriety.

If you’re struggling with alcohol abuse, call Denver CARES Detoxification and Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation at 303-436-3500.

You can also call the Denver Area Central Committee of Alcoholics Anonymous at 303-322-4440. Both are open 24 hours a day.

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