Melbourne had just emerged from its fifth lockdown and the bar was packed. A little after six on a drizzly Saturday eve, every table was occupied by punters perusing the leather bound drinks list and shouting questions over the din. The decor was bordello chic, all velvet sofas, gilded mirrors and midnight-blue walls. Tasselled lamps adorned the bar and bird cages swung from the ceiling. Wait staff carried trays of negronis, 18 bucks a pop. The clientele skewed young and female. Around the biggest tables clustered twentysomething white women, dressed up for a big night out to cast off the lockdown blues. They had the expensive hair, perfect makeup and slight hauteur of cool girls worldwide. As night fell, they drank round after round of drinks poured from the backlit bottles that lined the bar. It was Sex and the City meets hipster Melbourne. Except in one crucial respect, it wasn’t. Despite appearances, there was no alcohol in this scene. The beer, the wine, the cocktails—all devoid of grog. The bar was Brunswick Aces, Australia’s first alcohol-free watering hole, and every carousing patron was sober as a judge.
Welcome to the new sobriety: feminised, young and aspirational. Until recently, sobriety was the realm of AA. It was meetings and Twelve Steps and white-knuckled deprivation and being a Coke-drinking social pariah at the boozy BBQ. It was a fate to be avoided unless absolutely necessary—unless you were an alcoholic, an addict, a user who needed rehab. Today, that’s starting to change. What was once stigmatised is becoming mainstream—even glamorous— across the booze-saturated cultures of Britain, the United States and Australia.
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