Mel Babitz is a big drinker. She even sells beer, wine and spirits from around the world. But you won’t get tipsy on products sold at her bottle shop because they all are non-alcoholic.
“I’m a well-hydrated person,” she says with a laugh.
After a six-month stint above Tonic Coffee in Lawrenceville, The Open Road is now open at 600 E. Warrington Ave. in Allentown. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Orders can also be placed online for pickup and delivery.
The Open Road sells hundreds of products that have zero to 0.5 percent alcohol by volume, which is roughly the alcohol content of a very ripe banana. Because of state regulations, sales still are restricted to patrons 21 and over.
A service industry veteran who has never been much of a booze imbiber, Babitz launched a series of non-alcoholic pop-up events in August 2019 after noticing the trend in other cities, including Unimpaired Dry Bar in Davenport, Iowa, and Awake in Denver. Babitz notes that the pandemic caused alcohol sales (and drinking problems) to skyrocket, and she wanted to give folks an alternative.
While traditional bars and breweries are opening up throughout the region, Babitz plans to debut The Open Road Bar in the near future, giving folks a social outlet without societal pressures to pound shots or chug beers. She also hopes to collaborate with local bars, breweries and distilleries to help them offer more non-alcoholic beverages to their clientele.
Sober or sober-curious customers will find familiar brands on the shelves: Heineken, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Budweiser all have alcohol-free versions. Also in stock is a wide selection of lesser-known canned IPAs, stouts, red ales and wheats. Babitz aso carries teas and seltzers, beverages in the style of whiskey, gin, rum, tequila and aperitifs, as well as libations made with hemp-derived CBD. Most of the products Babitz features aren’t available in other local stores.
There’s a mural on the side of The Open Road building with a Maya Angelou quote: “If you’re always trying to be normal, you’ll never know how amazing you can be.” Babitz saw it while making a delivery and took that as a literal sign that this was the space for her company, which had its grand opening on April 9.
Babitz is happy to serve as a nonjudgmental resource for people who want to dip their toes into non-alcoholic waters.
“I don’t use the word sober for myself because it doesn’t fit me,” she says. “I’m not a sober establishment and I’m not trying to preach that people shouldn’t drink. I just want to let them know that there are more options.”