How sober-friendly are Houston’s bars? Dry January puts the city’s non-alcoholic scene to the test. – Houston Chronicle

How sober-friendly are Houston’s bars? Dry January puts the city’s non-alcoholic scene to the test. – Houston Chronicle

During a World Series game between the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves last year, I shuffled to the roofdeck bar at Buffalo Bayou Brewing and asked for a non-alcoholic drink. When I handed my credit card to the bartender to pay for my pink lemonade, he waved it off dismissively.

“We don’t charge for non-alcoholic drinks,” he replied, terse. “It’s a bar, we don’t care.”

I applaud the brewery’s decision to not charge for booze-free drinks and was certainly happy to be drinking for free that night (the Astros lost, badly). But the bartender’s exasperated attitude stuck with me. This was “a bar,” and my non-alcoholic drink order existed outside the confines of that definition.

I am not sober, but I regularly plan periods of sobriety year-round. Yes, I do Dry January — in fact I’m doing it right now. For almost a decade, my work life has revolved around alcohol, having spent my entire career in food and drink journalism, with a stint in the restaurant industry to boot. It’s become a ritual to introduce moderation into my life where I can.

I stop drinking alcohol for a month, or even just a week if that’s all I can manage, to give my body (and liver) a rest, to feel healthier, have a clearer mind and sleep better. But if I’m being honest, I also do it to prove I still can.

My encounter at the brewery was a simple annoyance. But I kept thinking how someone in recovery — whose sobriety is perhaps more permanent and fragile than mine — would have felt in that moment. An annoyance could quickly become a trigger.

“One of the biggest challenges is actually just going against our societal norms,” said Susie Loredo, addiction recovery social worker at Legacy Community Health. “There is really an expectation to drink in kind of every social setting these days.”

Whether it’s at parties, on dates, at networking events or happy hour with coworkers, Loredo says societal expectations are the biggest trigger for people in alcohol addiction recovery. Being in any place where others are making different choices than you are — for example, not drinking at a bar where everyone else is — can be uncomfortable, she adds.

I typically don’t go out much during my booze-free periods, to make it easier. But when I decided to do Sober October after a summer of drinking too much, it came at a time when I was socializing a lot. This was before any of us had heard the word “omicron” and there was a lull in cases post-delta surge.

“This will be a great test,” I thought. “Are my usual haunts accommodating to people who don’t drink alcohol? How sober-friendly is Houston’s bar scene?”

Of all the times I’ve gone dry, this was by far the hardest. I begrudgingly knocked back cans of Busch NA at Wakefield Crowbar after the Chronicle’s Monday softball games, the tiny pieces of ice floating inside suggesting …….


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