If asked, Stephanie Rice can name dozens of reasons to host a celebration that doesn’t center alcohol. But rather than hype those reasons — which include inclusivity, staff safety, or even avoiding a hangover — to promote her burgeoning business throwing low or no-alcohol parties in the Bay Area, she’s anticipating a future where there doesn’t need to be a reason at all to go booze-free (or booze-light) for the night. “The movement can be kind of polarizing,” Rice says, referencing a few years-old cultural shift, in which sober or sober-curious lifestyles have become more mainstream. “I think it would be great if there didn’t have to be a clear-cut reason ... or even to not drink for a night,” she says.
Rice launched her San Francisco-based company, Better Bar, earlier this year, offering full-service party planning — including decor, entertainment, and menu — centered around low and no alcohol by volume, or ABV, drinks. She thinks the approach could help usher in that new reality, leveling the playing field at parties, helping remove pressure to imbibe, and creating an atmosphere where no one feels singled out for their beverage of choice.
Beyond those goals, the idea is to build a menu that actually matches the event’s vibe, Rice says. “Do people really need the option of an Old Fashioned at a 2 p.m. company offsite or a baby shower? Probably not.” But wouldn’t a sparkling water infused with CBD and adaptogens be just right for outdoor team-building? And then maybe after the team-building activities, there’s an Old Fashioned option — but its made with half regular whiskey, and half no-proof whiskey, instead of full-proof. “I call it drinking done differently,” Rice says, pointing out that her target clients aren’t necessarily sober, but rather invested in offering options for everyone. That includes option “to feel something, just not necessarily all of it in 30 minutes,” she says. (“You can get lit without the hit” is one of Better Bar’s taglines.)
Better Bar offers a zero ABV menu, what Rice calls the “chill” section; a low alcohol menu known as the the “perfect buzz” option; and because this is California, a THC and CBD-infused menu called “high vibes.” Everything is customizable, from drinks and decor to music and entertainment, with a focus on “mindful” activities like astrology or tarot readings. There’s also an educational element. Rice says the experience tends to open up a new world of beverages for organizers and attendees — from zero-proof options that don’t try to mimic alcohol, like Kin Euphorics; to spirit alternatives meant to replace alcohol, like Ritual Tequila; to CBD-infused drinks, like Recess sparkling water or House of Wise tincture that can be added to no-proof craft cocktails.
Ultimately, Rice sees an even bigger future for Better Bar. “If it was a perfect world and I could flash forward, I would love for Better Bar to be like Soho House — a physical space where people go to get the drinks, the activities, but most importantly, the vibes,” she says. “You’d think that at the parties we throw, the drinks would be the most exciting thing, but it’s actually the ambiance,” Rice says. “When people aren’t occupying a space to get drunk, their demeanor is sort of elevated,” she says. “Topics of conversation are a little more interesting, a little more rewarding. You’re able to hold onto those special moments better. That’s what the movement’s about, to me.”