San Francisco’s avenues are famous for long stretches of colorful houses and lack of drinking venues. In all that quiet, Joshua James literally stumbled upon a space to rent. In the next month James, who also owns Ocean Beach Cafe in the Outer Richmond, will open Temperance Bar, an invite-only nonalcoholic bar for food and beverage professionals. The space will house 100 different non-alcoholic spirits, mixers, and drinks.
The idea for Temperance Bar, what James calls a “future speakeasy lounge,” came to James after six months of sobriety, when he realized he could use his 20 years of bartending to create a space for other sober or nonalcoholic-conscious people. After making such an environment at Ocean Beach Cafe, his nonalcoholic community-centered restaurant, he’s looking to do it again.
The bar will be dark and gold and private, but as a longtime bartender, he has a hesitancy to call it a speakeasy. He prefers to call it a lounge and emphasizes it won’t be a public venue – James is keeping the address secret, but says folks can reach out to him for details. “I’ll pick and choose who comes,” James says. “There’ll be a communication process.” The space will feature a futuristic theme with hopes to balance NFT art on the walls with natural-edged wood elements. Down the road James hopes to take payments with blockchain, which he expects will be appealing to the future-facing audience he looks to court.
By the end of March, the space will be presentable enough to host events and non-alcoholic mixology classes and shoot videos, something James (who has a YouTube channel called Josh The Non Alcoholic) plans to continue. The intention behind the invite list is to demonstrate what a nonalcoholic bar program could be like and how entrepreneurs can incorporate it into their businesses, he says. “I was in the craft cocktail business for years. These are my people,” James says. “I want to bring them into this world.”
In January 2021, the YouTube drink reviewer and former bartender opened the doors to Ocean Beach Cafe at 734 La Playa Street. The restaurant is one of only a few brick-and-mortar businesses in the country with the stated goal of serving people who don’t drink alcohol; James says his include Sans Bar in Austin and Awake Sober Bar in Denver. To continue his part in the movement, and generate buzz for the new project, James is also producing “Drinking Less,” a documentary he wants to pitch to Amazon.
Ocean Beach Cafe is only one in a swelling wave of booze-free businesses opening around the Bay Area. Hawkerfare, the longtime Laotian bar and restaurant on Valencia Street, installed a smart vending machine that serves only nonalcoholic drinks; zero-proof bottle shop Faux Real opened recently in Los Altos; and Ben’s Friends, a national support group for people in the hospitality industry struggling with addiction, is launching a new San Francisco chapter at Che Fico on February 20. “Humans haven’t had this as an option and choice in the past,” James says. “What this all means is a shift in culture, namely drinking culture. It’s a different perception to the default.”