Where do people go to NOT drink on the weekends?
July 26, 2014 1:02 PM   Subscribe

I have recently decided to stop drinking due to health reasons. I'm 29 and I live in Chicago, so most of the socialization options available to me (or at least the ones I'm aware of) center around drinking – bars and restaurants, etc. What are some things to do on weekend afternoons and nights that will not involve drinking?

I know it's possible to go to a bar and not drink but I don't much enjoy being around drunk people when I'm stone-cold sober. I like bikes, strategy board games, movies, and books. I am regrettably a rather boring person so I don't go out much but my cure has always been to go meet a friend for a drink. I'd like to get involved in some Saturday/Friday night activities so I have something to do on the weekend that isn't booze-focused.

Also as a general question, how can I politely decline when someone offers me a drink or invites me to the bar? Do I just order a lemonade or something? I don't want people to make the assumption that I'm an alcoholic or something. I just need to be booze-free for the near future to help me get in shape.

posted by deathpanels to Human Relations (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Bike along the lakeshore and spend summer days at the beach? No drinking required. Visit a museum or go to a movie with friends? Buy tickets for a play using the money you're no longer spending at the bar? There are a lot of options, though it might take time to change your habits and some of your friends might not want to follow you into your non-alcohol-centered social life, which can hurt.

As far as what to drink when someone presses you to order a beverage, my personal rules of engagement go something like this:
  • The first offer I assume stems from hospitality, generosity, and a desire to make sure that you are having a good time. "What are you having?" "I'd love a Coke with a twist of lime, thanks."
  • The second time someone offers, if they seem not to take the hint, I assume they're either clueless or distracted. "Wouldn't you rather have something stronger?" (in a slightly cooler tone) "No. Thank you, this is exactly what I want."
  • The third time someone raises the same point, they are the ones who have crossed into rudeness, freeing you from the responsibility to offer a perfectly polite reply. Don't go nuclear, but your options are open at this point; you have given them the benefit of the doubt as well as several chances to take a hint and they are not listening to you, which is not your problem. "Seriously man, order a real drink.." "Look, I don't know what your problem is but I will order what I want."

posted by Nerd of the North at 1:23 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Definitely entertainment - theatre, comedy, movies, live music. You're in Chicago; just taking music as an example you have easy access to everything from blues to punk to orchestra to opera. With regard to restaurants, there's no reason you can't go just for the food and drink water or soft drinks. I'll second biking on the lakeshore. For board games, you could join a Meetup group or start your own board game night. Also shopping - books, records, whatever else you're interested in; just going and browsing is a lot of fun and Chicago has a lot of really neat shops. Do you like sports? A Sox game is a great way to spend a summer evening, and I guess there's some other baseball team in Chicago that plays on the North Side too? ;) then in the winter you've got the Blackhawks.

I'll definitely cosign that Chicago is a drinking-heavy city, but I don't think it's impossible to go out and spend time with friends as a non-drinker. I'm in DC now, which is also a drinking city though not to the extent Chicago is, and I have a few close friends who don't drink. We look for options that have good food, too, not just booze, and they will usually just get non-alcoholic drinks when we all go out and end up having a much cheaper tab than anyone else in the group.
posted by capricorn at 1:37 PM on July 26, 2014

Oh, it looks like you were looking for specific things to say? I would go with exactly what you said in the post, "I just need to be booze-free for the near future to help me get in shape." Anyone who presses you further than that is being a jerk.
posted by capricorn at 1:39 PM on July 26, 2014

Do I just order a lemonade or something?

Try bitters and soda.

Yelp has a list of coffee shops with board games.

I'd like to get involved in some Saturday/Friday night activities so I have something to do on the weekend that isn't booze-focused.

Maybe take an arts or crafts course?
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:44 PM on July 26, 2014

how can I politely decline when someone offers me a drink or invites me to the bar? Do I just order a lemonade or something?

There have been several AskMe questions about this.
posted by John Cohen at 1:49 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I usually say that I prefer to stick to the hard stuff - Red Bull. Said with a smile, people just laugh at my little joke & I've never had a problem with push back. Of course it helps that I really like Red Bull with ice & lemon.
posted by cantthinkofagoodname at 1:49 PM on July 26, 2014

Best answer: I'd find activities to do, things like going to the beach, playing tennis, walking in the park, meeting dogs on the street, going to ball games, whatever you enjoy doing. Go see movies, plays, live music. Take a class.

If you want to hang with your friends, have a pizza night out, or at your house. Ditto game night. Host more.

There's a big difference between drinking with friends and drunken slobs. If your friends are drunken slobs, find new friends. If you want to hang out in a brew pub or something, order the soft drink you like and say nothing about it. If asked, just say, "just feel like a root beer tonight." Anyone who presses after that is a boor.

I stopped drinking, it's no biggie.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:20 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

If someone invites you out, go!

People who ask why you're not boozing are usually self conscious about their own drinking. Be calm, cool and confident. If you feel you must give a reason, just shrug and say that not drinking makes you feel better. Don't make a huge deal out of it and others will follow your lead.

I quit drinking over a year ago and have found that when out, if makes people more comfortable with my not drinking booze if I have a mocktail in a fancy glass. Club soda with a splash of cranberry in a wine glass is pretty universal. At brunch go for club soda with a splash of orange juice in a champagne flute is the perfect mimosa substitute.

When people start getting obnoxiously drunk that's the cue to leave. Lol.
posted by floweredfish at 2:25 PM on July 26, 2014

This question comes up a lot so if you do a search (if you haven't already) you'll find some great advice in addition to the great advice you'll get here. I'm just going to address one part of your question:

Also as a general question, how can I politely decline when someone offers me a drink or invites me to the bar?

I almost never drink anymore. There's no reason, really, except that as I got older alcohol became less appealing. So when I'm out and I'm offered alcohol (or it's time for my drink order) I just say Nothing for me, thanks. That is all you need to say. If someone asks why and you feel like indulging them, all you need to tell is "No reason. I'm just not in the mood."

Anyone who does not accept that answer is a jerk. Only jerks are invested in you drinking. You do not need a reason not to drink.

Just be sure that if you do go to a bar and order a non-alcoholic drink or ask for a glass of water you still tip your bartender whatever is customary in your area.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:55 PM on July 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

There have been several AskMe questions about this.

I could summarize one point: having alcohol shoved at you is a kinda silly teen-twenties kids thing. As you approach your thirties, that kind of behavior usually tapers off, maybe with exceptions.
posted by ovvl at 2:59 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

> help me get in shape

That's lucky, as many of the non-drinking things I can think of are sporty or physical: rock climbing, going to the gym, bike somewhere scenic, hot tub / sauna, go camping. Music shows might involve your friend having a drink, but often it's expensive enough or distracting enough that people don't drink much.
posted by slidell at 3:05 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just need to be booze-free for the near future to help me get in shape.

This is a pretty bomb-proof explanation that will shut down most reasonable people. I've never had anyone push back against my version of it -- at most, they give a wry smile and say they should probably do the same, or congratulate me on being health-motivated, or whatever.

Anyone who pushes back can probably be stopped with, "No, seriously -- I'm just not drinking these days." No apologetic tone, no hand-wringing...just a flat statement of fact.

Cool stuff to do can be found on meetup.com. Summertime in the city is an amazing time and place to expand your horizons, try new activities, get strong and healthy and happy. I think once you start opening yourself up to new (non-drinking) experiences, your only "problem" will be choosing from the wide array of options -- an embarrassment of riches, if you will.

Enjoy your new clear-headed way of life. Once you get used to it, you may never want to go back to the old ways. I highly recommend staying the course for a nice long while and watching your world open up.
posted by nacho fries at 3:49 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you need to live in chicago?

Honestly this used to really bother me, too. It's part of the culture there. I recently moved out of chicago to a place where people are more outdoorsy and it's made a HUGE difference. If drinking culture isn't your thing, maybe chicago isn't your city.

Just my .02 but i am really glad I moved. I'm about your age.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 5:09 PM on July 26, 2014

I've been writing an article on non-alcoholic options in Chicago. I've had to go off alcohol a couple of times because of health issues, so I really appreciate them. More and more bars and restaurants have them, so you can go out like normal and not worry about just having to have club soda. I think my favorites so far are the drinks at Dusek's and The Winchester and the non-alcoholic pairings at Senza. But really any good bartender should be able to make a great virgin drink.

I also hang out a ton at coffee shops, particularly ones that are open late like Julius Meinl and Star Lounge. I think Star Lounge is the most social coffee shop I go to. I sit at the bar and find people to talk to.

Weirdly I've met a ton of non-drinkers on Mealshare, which is also a pretty good way to meet people.
posted by melissam at 7:39 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

learn music and play with other musicians. also dancing things like contra, square or tango. Any kind of social dancing is good.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:29 PM on July 26, 2014

Contra dances are all dry events. There's a weekly Monday contra and monthly ones at the the U of C and Fermilab. You can usually find a carpool going out of Chicago to Fermilab.

I think it's not true that all social dancing is dry. Swing and blues are often in bars, sometimes with a drink minimum, although for safety reasons the culture is very much against drinking to actual inebriation and I'm pretty sure nobody would raise an eyebrow if you abstained entirely.

Cycling is usually dry, but not always. In NYC the serious A-ride crowd seems really enthusiastic about their post-ride beer. But certainly the Chicago Cycling Club's "Breakfast Club" series was dry every time I went.

The Wormhole is a coffee shop with board games. I've only gone a couple times myself, and to be honest I've never understood the whole coffee shop thing, but my friends seemed to like it.

I don't know how hard it'd be for you to find a workout buddy, but I've never seen anyone drink alcohol while lifting. And depending on what you mean by "in shape," going to the gym with friends might kill two birds with one stone.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:50 PM on July 26, 2014

It is a bar, but I have never felt out of place not drinking at Guthries Tavern. The focus there is really on board games, and they let people order outside food so that can be a thing to do that is a little different than just going to a restaurant.

Summer is the perfect time in Chicago for interesting and often free concerts and other events. Start here.

You also might enjoy the Critical Mass rides on the last Friday of every month.

Since you mentioned weekend afternoons too, how about volunteering? One Brick is explicitly social and often has weekend opportunities.
posted by futonrevolutionist at 5:11 AM on July 27, 2014

I agree that if you say you're doing this to get into shape then you're unlikely to get much pushback. The other good go-to excuse is being on medication that doesn't interact well with alcohol. (Not that you need an excuse not to be drinking.)

Another option is to cultivate a very specific taste for a nonalcoholic beverage. For example, most people who know me at all know that I LOVE Diet Coke. I really, really do. Now, my reasons for avoiding alcohol are separate from that, but when we do go out and I order a Diet Coke, it's more like, "Litera Scripta Manet does really love her Diet Coke." YMMV, and feel free to pick something fancier than soda. If you go to restaurants or bars you could also try ordering adventurous or original drinks and make this into your "thing."

Oh, and I know you mention being interested in nighttime activities, but I think you'll have better luck if you look for daytime hobbies instead. Now, if you're just looking for alternative ways to hang out with people you already know, you could try inviting a few friends over to your place so you have more control over the setting or maybe look into new restaurants that you can try out so you're meeting up for food rather than drinks. I don't know about specific places in Chicago, but I'm guessing if you focus on smaller, hole-in-the-wall type places or possibly authentic ethnic foods, you're more likely to find places that don't serve alcohol. You can always check on this in advance, too.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:04 AM on July 27, 2014

I'm a non-drinker living in the Chicago area too. (I'm in the western suburbs) It's never been a problem for me. If someone offers to buy me a drink, I'll just say something like "Thanks, I'll have a Diet Coke." I've never had people give me a hard time for not ordering something alcoholic.

I don't know where in the city you live, but you may like the Pick Me Up Cafe on Clark Street (not far from Wrigleyville). Big menu, fun atmosphere, and it's open late. There are all sorts of other fun little shops in that area too.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:35 PM on July 27, 2014

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