When The Open Road Bar debuts in Lawrenceville next weekend, you can pick up a variety of beers, seltzers, wines and spirits. The only thing you can’t get is drunk.
Located at 3410 Penn Ave. above the new Tonic Coffee, the business sells more than 100 non-alcoholic beverages from all over the world.
Owner Mel Babitz says booze-less craft beverages are riding a wave of popularity as people are focusing more on their health and changing the way they socialize.
Last year, right before the pandemic, Babitz hosted pop-up happy hours Downtown at Creative Coffee & Supply on Smithfield Street. The events had the atmosphere of a traditional pub – folks talking, laughing and sipping from cocktail glasses while listening to music – but without intoxicants.
She also ships products (most of which aren’t sold in other area stores) nationwide and makes local deliveries. That’s how she found a brick-and-mortar space.
Babitz was dropping off spirits at Tonic Coffee — where you can get a signature, non-alcoholic drink such as a Lychee Champagne made with Thomson & Scott Noughty Sparkling Chardonnay and lychee – and the owner told her she had a second-floor event space she would not be using for a while. So Babitz signed a six-month lease.
The Open Road Bar will operate as a bottle shop to start, but Babitz hopes to offer tastings and other events soon. Right now, to access the bar, customers must go through the café, but they will eventually enter through a door at the rear of the building.
There are similar watering holes across the country, including Unimpaired Dry Bar in Davenport, Iowa, which opened in 2020, and Awake, Colorado’s first sober bar.
In the future, Babitz wants to own a permanent spot where folks can belly up to the bar and drink low- and no-alcohol suds.
While big-name beer brands such as Heineken, Corona and Budweiser have non-alcoholic offerings, Babitz hopes local breweries and distilleries will jump on the boozeless bandwagon. BrewDog Pittsburgh, located at 6144 Centre Ave. in East Liberty, sells several non-alcoholic beers, which The Open Road Bar also carries.
Babitz is excited to introduce people to a new type of social lubricant. She’s a member of several online non-alcoholic communities and offers educational seminars on Instagram, where she interviews everyone from brewers and distillers to bar owners and mental health experts.
“There’s an open road of possibilities to expand on our preconceived notions of what to drink, when to drink and how to drink,” Babitz says. “Drinking doesn’t necessarily have to be about alcohol.”