I ordered a carrot-and-ginger shrub and hoped it would be palatable. I was pleasantly surprised, drank the whole thing and, voila, was not even tipsy. Even more exciting: my bill. It was a mere $15 for two drinks and a bread bowl — to soak up the non-alcoholic beverages, of course.
Getaway is a sober bar, a new kind of dry nightlife option that is cropping up in New York City. The idea is to provide outlets for people who want to socialize in a bar-like location, but without having to drink alcohol.
The same day he tweeted, Kan launched a group on chat app Telegram to connect with others who were similarly deciding to get sober from alcohol. He didn’t expect that more than 1,000 people would join.
New products for the sober — and ‘sober curious’
The emergence of sober bars is one of the signals that investor Anu Duggal points to when talking about the trend of not drinking. Duggal, who is based in New York City, said that like Kan, she is noticing “a number of people who are choosing not to drink.”
Rather than an indulgence, Kin reasons that the consumption of its product is more for “self-care.” It wants to create a new market of products that don’t contain alcohol but also aren’t laden with sugar.
Kin is co-founded by Matthew Cauble, cofounder of Silicon Valley meal replacement startup Soylent and Jen Batchelor, who serves as CEO. It has already attracted venture capital firms including Canaan Partners, Refactor Capital, Weekend Fund, and Fifty Years, which aims to invest in companies using business to solve the world’s biggest problems. The company declined to disclose how much funding it has received.
“Sober curiosity is a real thing,” Batchelor told CNN Business.
Batchelor says Kin is trying to create more options for consumers. A lot of people feel their choices are to either go out and drink alcohol, or stay home alone. “If those are the two choices, then something is broken,” she said. “You can do the ‘feel good’ thing and still be out at a bar, still take a client out.”
The company is slated to release its second product later this month.
Tech’s complicated relationship with alcohol
While it’s investing in new alcohol-free companies, Silicon Valley is also reexamining its own relationship with alcohol.
Making not drinking hip
Kin isn’t the only new brand trying to lessen the stigma of drinking a non-alcoholic beverage that is getting attention from startup investors.
The idea is to make consumers look cool while they keep hydrated, and to the unsuspecting eye, one may never know they’re downing simple H2O.
The original impetus, according to CEO and co-founder Mike Cessario, was to cater to heavy metal and punk rock fans. But the ability to drink water out of a can (which is more ecofriendly than plastic) and look like you’re drinking a beer or an energy drink, has broader appeal.
Science partner Mike Jones, who lives in Los Angeles, told CNN Business that he made a choice many years ago not to drink alcohol. “There’s many people in my circle that have chosen to not drink and chosen to be selective about what they put in their bodies,” said Jones. “We’re seeing a consciousness around it more and more.”
As for Kan, he says its difficult for him to unpack why now he is seeing a growing number of people similarly giving up on drinking.
Is it part of aging (Kan is now 35 — in a very different life stage than his early years in Silicon Valley more than a decade ago)? A tech industry thing where engineers are constantly tweaking and iterating on themselves? Or, is it something broader, he mused on a recent phone call.
Whatever it is, Kan, who also invests in startups, says he’s not particularly bullish that no-alcohol alternatives will takeover. He said it’s “very unlikely” alcohol will get replaced on a broad scale. “I have a hard time seeing it disappear from the American zeitgeist.”