It’s a blustery Sunday evening in November when I meet Vergie “Gigi” Arandid for drinks. But the weather has no effect on us because we’re clinking glasses in true post-2020 fashion: over Zoom.
People have clinked glasses online countless times since the onset of the pandemic, but what makes our drinks a little different is they contain no booze — the driving force behind Arandid’s forthcoming Binge Bar on H Street. (I’m drinking a Flyer’s CBD ready-to-drink cocktail with oak, vanilla and bitters; the founder of D.C.’s first entirely alcohol-free bar is sipping on a libation she created with AVEC spiced mango and passionfruit.)
The last time I saw her, however, the weather told a completely different story. We basked in the glorious sunshine of an unseasonably warm fall day, tasting 20+ different nonalcoholic beverages ranging from beer, wine and ready-to-drink cocktails at D.C.’s first-ever Mindful Drinking Festival.
Co-organizers Erika Goedrich of Craft Beer Cellar DC (that boasts a wide range of nonalc bevs) and Derek Brown of Columbia Room fame (and now Positive Damage Inc., a wellness company aiming to teach the world how to drink) could see 2022 was the perfect time not just for any day drinking fest, but one with no alcohol.
I launched Booze Free in DC in late 2019 when I first noticed a shift in DMV drinking culture. The shift was glacial, but it was happening nonetheless.
And then 2020 hit.
Since the onset of Covid-19, perhaps as a direct response to a global health pandemic with mental health ramifications, hundreds of nonalcoholic brands have launched into the consumer product space. Take a quick trip to Zero Proof Nation, a resource I created to document the once burgeoning and now skyrocketing nonalcoholic market, and you’ll find more than 100 nonalcoholic bottle shops and retailers that have sprouted up around the world, from New York City to Dubai and everywhere in between. There are close to 40 entirely booze-free bars or pop-up concepts worldwide from Austin to Dublin, catering to those who want a night out sans booze — or are seeking a safe space where they don’t have to answer the ubiquitous question: “Why aren’t you drinking?”
Brown answered this question with his menu at Columbia Room; his partner in life and business, Maria Bastasch, answered with alcohol-optional pop-up concept Disco Mary. Local booze-free brands Mocktail Club, Element Shrub and Pratt Standard (to name a few) answered with their companies; Sam Kasten answered with Umbrella Dry Drinks, the area’s first nonalcoholic bottle shop in Old Town Alexandria. A quick look at my ever-expanding directory of solid zero-proof options at D.C. area bars and restaurants indicates the DMV is listening, learning and answering this question with their growing offerings for patrons.
And now Arandid answers this burning question with Binge Bar.
“Come as you are,” she says. “Heal out loud and suffer even louder because you’ll be surrounded with folks who have done it and [are] doing it in an environment where it’s both fun and safe.”
Upon stepping down the L-shaped staircase into the space, expect art by local and national creatives like Chris Pyrate and Calli Rae. Visitors will also find a bar on the main floor, the anchored home of spirit-free magic and incantations at Binge. A wide list of booze-free cocktails, beer, wine, spirits and ready-to-drink beverages (including locals like Mocktail Club), as well as coffee and tea by another DMV business, Blue’s Coffee & Tea, will be on the menu.
Light and healthy bites, from charcuterie boards and veggie crudités to Filipino-inspired small plates as a nod to Arandid’s roots, will also be available. Karaoke, burlesque, stand-up comedy nights, book readings, singles mixers, mixology classes, cocktail competitions and drag brunches are all on the horizon at Binge Bar. At its core, though, it will always be a warm and inviting environment for people to meet.
But a booze-free bar isn’t for everyone, and Arandid recognizes that. The comment section of a recent Washingtonian article on Binge’s opening was rife with negativity — but also outpouring with support.
“Gaining a preview of the clientele base is essentially my focus — not people pleasing, not perfection, but collaborative efforts from folks in the community and Binge,” Arandid says. “My goal is not to capture everyone’s attention and claim the concept is for everyone.”
She continues, “Whether you’re sober, in recovery, straight edge or sober curious, it’s going back to our primal roots of connecting, listening, loving one another and being scared but intentional about it. Because it can be scary, right? I want [Binge] to cater to one’s personal transformation, however that may look.”
Arandid reflects back to the time she read an article in a Southwest Airlines magazine about a former recovery counselor, Chris Marshall, in Austin, Texas who opened one of the nation’s first booze-free bars.
“The concept for Binge was born as a part of that chain reaction and [will] serve others in its own unique way.”
The chain reaction continues in May 2023, as Binge Bar will be the host venue for the D.C. stop of Sans Bar’s national pop-up tour.
“There will be tears, because what a full circle moment that will be,” Arandid says.
Binge Bar will soft launch mid- to late December 2022. Slated hours of operation are Tuesday through Sunday from 12 p.m. – 12 a.m. Learn more about Arandid @bingeongigi.