Sunset spritz, blueberry cardamom sour, spicy prickly pear margarita, chai espresso martini. What do all of these cocktails have in common? They’re alcohol free. But not in a skip-the-spirit way. Instead, they feature alcohol-free zero-proof spirits.
Sam Bail has a depiction of what socializing as an adult in New York City often looks like, and it’s easy to imagine many others sharing her sentiment. “You go to the neighborhood bar, you have a drink. You go meet a friend for dinner, you have drinks. You go for brunch, you have drinks. You go to a concert, you have drinks,” says Bail, the 38-year-old founder of Third Place Bar.
A few years ago, Bail was going through a rough patch in life and didn’t want to wallow in it by staying home alone all the time. But where does one go in the evenings if they simply want to be around people? There aren’t many nightlife options where alcohol isn’t present. Bail gave her neighborhood bar its fair share of visits, and suddenly found she was drinking all the time.
“I realized if you don’t want to sit at home, stare at the wall or watch Netflix — if I just want to be around people after six or seven o’clock after the coffee shops close in New York City, there’s nowhere to go,” she says. “It’s just bars and restaurants.”
So, Bail decided to open a bar for people like her, who want to be out and about in the evening, but don’t want or need to center the experience on alcohol.
Third Place Bar redefines the concept of adult socializing and offers a sophisticated alternative to traditional nightlife. It operates a series of events run by Bail where people from all over New York City can come together in an environment that allows them to connect with others without feeling pressure to drink.
“[We want to] provide an alternative to going out and feeling like you should be drinking,” says Bail.
Despite the absence of alcohol, the environment and ambiance at Third Place Bar events are on par of those at popular nighttime haunts.
“The vibes [at Third Place Bar] are awesome,” says Travis James, 32, a frequent patron of Third Place Bar. “It’s definitely very very welcoming. A lot of different people come…nobody has ever had a bad time coming to Sam’s events.”
James, who is sober and in recovery, moved to New York from Philadelphia just over a year ago, and was eager to make new friends and develop meaningful relationships with other people who don’t drink.
“Third Place Bar has been a really big part of my journey,” he says.
But going to a Third Place event isn’t always easygoing in the beginning. While the pressure of having to drink may be gone, so is the sort of social lubricant that alcohol can provide when meeting new people. James admits to being nervous his first time attending an event, but says as the night goes on, everybody realizes they’re there for the same reasons and starts to open up.
There’s been upwards of 30 Third Place Bar events so far since January, which are often held in partnership with other businesses, like the alcohol-free beverage brand Minus Moonshine. There’s no shortage of variety. They’ve done comedy nights, trivia nights, drag brunches, vegan pop-ups, ‘friend speed meeting’ and more.
Third Place Bar is celebrating ‘sober October’ and has a handful of specially curated events slated for this month.
“[It’s a time to be] more intentional about how much you drink, when you drink, and to sort of reevaluate your relationship with alcohol,” Bail says. “It’s an awesome opportunity to make it exciting and easier for those who are new to sobriety or new to being sober curious.”
Despite the amount of events put on by Third Place, Bail is, for the most part, a one-woman army.
“I’m the founder, owner, CEO, bartender, social media manager, accountant,” she says. “I do everything myself.”
This includes creating the drink recipes and menus that are constantly changing.
While Bail enjoys the creative process of running a po[-up, she envisions a time when she’ll be able to have a staff and direct her energy more into managing the day-to-day operations. She hopes to have a brick-and-mortar location in the next six to 12 months.
In a time where we are surrounded by so many forms of stimuli vying to grab and sustain our attention, it’s very easy for the power of simple human connection to go underappreciated. Third Place Bar does an excellent job of mitigating that.
“Third Place Bar is about real connection,” says James.
“Even if you do drink, I don’t care,” Bail added. “I just think it’s so important to have an alternative where we take alcohol out of the equation.”