Ian Landis is opening Bone Dry Sober Bar along with co-owner Brieana Poulter.
Written by Gabriel Dillard
The concept of a “sober bar” could seem oxymoronic to some — like “accurate estimate” or “plastic silverware.”
For Ian Landis, who is in the process of opening Fresno’s first sober bar, it represents an opportunity for the committed sober to partake in a bar-like social experience without the influence of alcohol.
As odd as it may sound, Landis said he has only had four people react negatively when he tells them about his plans for Bone Dry Sober Bar.
Three out of four of them, he recalls, were intoxicated at the time.
Landis recently sat down with Business Journal reporters to offer an update on Downtown Fresno’s upcoming Bone Dry Sober Bar and to try a new beverage called Psychedelic Water — one of a growing number of drinks being embraced as a sober alternative.
It was Bone Dry Sober Bar’s second-place win (and $7,000 cash prize) of the Create Here business plan contest that made it possible for Landis to secure a space in the Sun Stereo Warehouse rehabilitation project. In the heart of Downtown Fresno’s burgeoning Brewery District, Bone Dry will be located a stone’s throw from three beer pubs and a cocktail bar.
With its foot traffic, nightlife and frequent street events, that’s exactly where he wants to be.
But combining nightlife and sobriety makes for an interesting set of opportunities and challenges:
Hours of operation
Bone Dry Sober Bar can stay open later than the alcohol establishments in the neighborhood, where last call could be anywhere from midnight to 1:30 a.m.
While Bone Dry Sober Bar will sell zero-alcohol products made by alcohol brewers and distillers, there will be no required involvement with California Alcoholic Beverage Control — a bureaucracy that can make or break a business with its regulatory power.
While Bone Dry Sober Bar could be regarded as the perfect place for minors to congregate and drink “fake alcohol,” Landis is clear that anyone under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
Teens are welcome, of course, but Bone Dry is meant for the sober community — people of drinking age who have chosen not to partake.
“It’s like a religious building that opens its doors for everyone, but it’s really meant for the congregation,” Landis said.
While most of the products are what Landis calls “0.0” — containing no alcohol whatsoever — there are some nonalcoholic beers that do contain small amounts of alcohol. For that reason, patrons who order a product that is 0.5% alcohol or lower are subject to an ID check to ensure they are at least 21.
Landis has done the research, finding that California has no laws for the prosecution of proprietors who serve non-alcoholic drinks to minors. But regulators also make clear it’s the responsibility of business owners to ensure no such rule is necessary, he said.
What’s on tap?
Landis said Bone Dry Sober Bar’s main attraction will be mocktails. He has hosted a number of pop-up events, serving specials including the “Wildfire Season” with zero-proof whiskey, cider, bitters and smoke. The “Ghost of Summer” features zero-proof gin, mint-cucumber syrup, lime and soda. One of Landis’s favorites is Chicago-based liquor replacement company Ritual Zero.
What he WON’T SERVE are non-alcoholic drinks spiked with other types of substances, including tobacco or CBD (both are gaining in popularity). That’s because the sober community is divided on whether those are actually sober drinks.
That also applies to plant extracts such as kava and damiana leaf, which are ingredients in Psychedelic Water. He considers those sober drinks and was a fan of the prickly pear-flavored variety of Psychedelic Water, which has gone TikTok viral.
It looks a little like hard seltzer, without the carbonated punch. The taste is great, according to this reviewer (Gabriel Dillard, the author of this blog), and it leaves you with a faint warmth in the body that could be interpreted as anxiety reducing. In fact, it’s been used as a natural treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, though health officials warn it could be harmful to the liver.
The need is there
Landis hopes to open Bone Dry Sober Bar in the fourth quarter. While the whole idea might seem silly in a place once known as “America’s drunkest city” and the most dangerous California city to drive due to drunk drivers, that’s the point, Landis said.
Not only is alcohol consumption in key global markets falling, consumption of low- and no-alcohol drinks is rising. Landis said as the number of problem drinkers rises, so too does the proportion of the so-called “sober curious,” as well as those who are committed to sobriety.
“In that regard, I actually think there’s no greater place in the world, especially in America, to have a place like this other than Fresno,” he said.