New York City’s social energy is heavily fueled by alcohol: It’s stacked high with world-class bars, wine tastings, breweries, and cocktail parties. It’s the city that never sleeps, after all, and that’s rather hard to do without a little chemical help.
However, mocktails and other non-alcoholic drink options are having a big moment in NYC right now, and more and more New Yorkers are seeking experiences that break the mold of happy hour drinks and that first-date dive bar.
For the past few years, Ruby Warrington has aimed to bring a little consciousness to the NYC social scene with her event series, Club SÖDA. Acting as half of the founding team along with her partner Biet Simkin, she developed the concept while working on events like moon circles and yoga classes with The Numinous, her lifestyle publication dedicated to the modern spiritual movement.
Warrington imagined events where attendees could reframe their relationship with alcohol and examine what their social lives could look like without it; where they didn’t have to decide to quit drinking for the rest of their lives, but where they could be sober for a night and explore what it’s like to make an active choice about what substances you consume. “The wellness space was a way for people to meet and socialize and connect outside of work hours [without alcohol],” Warrington says, “but not everybody is into those things; there are people who are consciously choosing to not drink, but not necessarily doing yoga.”
And in a city where drinking alcohol is the expected default in social settings, it can lead to some radical realizations. After all, how often do you actually make the conscious decision to say “yes” to that drink at the party as opposed to just imbibing on expected instinct? “The more social situations where it’s acceptable not to drink, the easier it will be for us to make that choice,” says Warrington, “[and] the clearer you can be about what you’re actually doing here, the more confident you can be in making that choice.”
Warrington calls Club SÖDA events “sober curious,” meaning you don’t have to be living a typical sober lifestyle to join in. She says only 10 to 15 percent of Club SÖDA attendees are actively in recovery; the rest are occasionally sober, strive to drink conscientiously, or are even just sober for the night. “The common denomination is people who are curious about life,” says Warrington. “People who say, ‘I don’t have a Sunday to waste being hungover, I want to be on my game.’”
And although they almost always feature a highly social, “rock and roll style” meditation led by Simkin, Club SÖDA’s events don’t give off the new age-y wellness vibe. Since their launch over two years ago, they’ve hosted a DJ-backed brunch party on the roof of the McCarren Hotel; a Kundalini Disco dance meditation and community dinner; and countless discussions on topics from flirting and self-love to conversation and even drug use.
On September 23, Club SÖDA will host a meditation experience and panel discussion on something many people consider the opposite of sober: using psychedelics. “There’s quite a lot of talk currently in healing circles about the use of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes … and obviously, within the sober recovery community, psychedelics are completely off the table,” says Warrington. “So the debate is, can psychedelics play a role in a sober-curious life?”
Club SÖDA also hosts a free monthly writers’ brunch, which is open to anyone who writes in any context, from professional authors to people who merely journal on occasion. It’s an opportunity to share stories and connect with other New Yorkers in a fun, welcoming environment that happens to not offer any alcohol.
“A lot of the time, when we’re using alcohol and other drugs, we’re just looking for a fast track to an intimate connection with someone,” says Warrington. “[But] ultimately, there is no fast track.
“We need to invest in those connections, [and] the world we live in gives us so many options to make those connections.”
You can pre-order Ruby Warrington’s book, “Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol,” on Amazon.