Sober groups help recovering addicts meet up to ‘have a blast in sobriety’

Sober events can range from "bars" to networking and ball games to pilates classes and more. Photo Credit: The Wellness Council

From a Sober Lounge to a sober bar, New York City groups Loosid and BIGVISION are aiming to provide a safe space for those in recovery.

Sober events can range from "bars" to networking and ball games to pilates classes and more.
Sober events can range from "bars" to networking and ball games to pilates classes and more. Photo Credit: Celia Catalina / Belcampo

MJ Gottlieb was newly sober and kept finding himself at the same diners and coffee shops.

“I kept saying if this is all there is … I’m gonna continue to use,” he told amNewYork.

Fast-forward about a decade and Gottlieb is co-founder and CEO of Loosid, a phone app that provides support and connects recovering addicts with each other, both online and in the city. From travel, dating, parties and other events, Loosid helps provide a safe space where alcohol and drugs aren’t part of the scene.

In March, Loosid teamed up with Madison Square Garden to provide the first Sober Lounge at a recent Miami Heat-Knicks game. Instead of being surrounded by beer, sober adults sipped on mocktails and enjoyed food and giveaways as they watched the game.

“We want to show people you can have a blast in sobriety, and the ballgame was a great way to do it,” Gottlieb said, adding that he’s working with other venues, too. “It could be a mother who wants to bring their child to a sober section of a game so they can enjoy it without people flinging beer in each other’s faces.” 

Loosid's Sober Lounge gathering at Madison Square Garden
Loosid’s Sober Lounge gathering at Madison Square Garden Photo Credit: Max Guliani

Similarly, BIGVISION, which organizes sober events for young adults in recovery, is bringing a sober bar from Austin, Texas, dubbed Sans Bar, to New York City for a one-day pop-up on Saturday based on the original. DJ June will spin tunes at the “bar,” where handcrafted zero-proof mocktails will be offered. 

Don’t misunderstand — the mocktails aren’t just juice with club soda. They’re nonalcoholic, distilled spirits concocted with herbs and more, according to Annie O’Donoghue, a representative for BIGVISION.

Some might question why the word “bar” is used for a sober event, but “bar” is meant to imply a night out, she said.

“When we phrase it like that, it’s a night out, a time when you can get dressed up for a night out on the town,” she said. “Our culture and society is so centered around alcohol. We are a country that drinks but it’s just a standard that’s starting to get mixed up.

“People are starting to see that they can have just as much, if not more, fun without alcohol,” she continued. “It doesn’t mean they have to be boxed in.”

Those in recovery from addiction need a sense of belonging because it can be a very lonely road for them, O’Donoghue said. 

The mocktails at BIGVISION events are meant to be fun and create a "going out" vibe, O'Donoghue says.
The mocktails at BIGVISION events are meant to be fun and create a "going out" vibe, O’Donoghue says. Photo Credit: The Wellness Council

“Sometimes when life gets turned upside down because you have to change your friends and where you go without substances, you need a sense of belonging — it is pivotal in people’s lives,” she said.

BIGVISION was founded when New Yorker Eve Goldberg lost her 23-year-old son Isaac to an overdose. She wanted to honor him by providing a community for people aged 18-35 who are in recovery, O’Donoghue said.

“Isaac struggled with what to do for fun as a young person — New York City has millions of bars but you can’t go there, but your peers — that’s what they do for fun,” she said. 

Gottlieb also said it was so important for him to have a community and a space where he didn’t have to explain his choices.

“There’s a saying, ‘Those amongst us, no explanation necessary; those not among us no explanation is possible,’ ” he said. “Especially for people coming into sobriety for the first time, it is important to have people around you to provide a safe place.”

Gottlieb said that people don’t really understand how important it is to have a completely sober event, whether it’s for networking, dating or just hanging out. 

Being able to have fun and not have to explain your background offers a safe space for those in recovery, even if they're swinging on a rope like this BIGVISION event.
Being able to have fun and not have to explain your background offers a safe space for those in recovery, even if they’re swinging on a rope like this BIGVISION event. Photo Credit: BIGVISION

“For me, being seven years sober, I can sit down with a girl who is having a glass of wine and it doesn’t trigger me, but on Bumble, women can be like ‘Oh my god, how can you have any fun?'” he said. “Eight out of 10 women, when you tell them you’re sober, will say ‘This guy is gonna be a stiff.’ “

Loosid’s and BIGVISION’s events allow people to meet each other without that expectation, whether it’s a Pilates class, a cooking class or on the app’s dating portal.

There are other New York-centric groups like Sober NYC on meetup.com and Club SODA (Sober or Debated Abstinence) NYC that hold their own events, talks, parties and workshops.

“I don’t believe in competition — anyone who is contributing to the sober lifestyle, we just welcome with open arms as long as their intentions are genuine,” Gottlieb said. “We want to show that you can have a blast without having to get blasted.”

Shaye Weaver