Wine at the airport, cocktails at the movie theater and beer with your yoga. If you're drinking, you can find the hard stuff almost anywhere you go.
But if you're not drinking, the preponderance of alcohol in formerly sober spaces might be overwhelming, even isolating.
"We're inundated with the message that drinking is normal," says Kris Kelly. "But so is not drinking."
Normalizing a nondrinking lifestyle is why Kelly, in partnership with local chefs and Anne Spaeth, founder of the Lynhall in Minneapolis, decided to launch the Sunday Sober Suppers series.
"I love wine dinners, but you get kind of tired of refusing [drinks] with every course," says Kelly, a former restaurant industry professional who has spent the past six years working in the recovery community in Minnesota. "It shouldn't be, 'Why aren't you drinking? Are you on medication? Are you pregnant?' "
On Sept. 22, the Lynhall will host its first alcohol-free dinner, a four-course meal prepared by chef Carrie McCabe-Johnston of Nightingale. Her son Jakob will craft nonalcoholic beverage pairings for each course, using various infusions, juices and zero-proof spirits.
Lest you think a dinner without "adult beverages" will be short on sophistication, here is a glimpse of the very adult menu: mussels and clams in a smoked tomato broth with nonalcoholic Hairless Dog IPA; white beans, chorizo, and celery sofrito; a gem and butter lettuce salad with late-harvest vegetables; and braised beef with charred onions, puréed parsnips, roasted squash with pumpkin seed Romesco and Brussels sprouts with pickled red onions.
"The chefs get it," says Kelly. "This is the same high-end, high quality food you'd get at another chef's dinner. This isn't about paring it down."
The dessert course, pie and ice cream, is a sly homage to Kelly's own journey in sobriety.
"I don't use a 12-step program," she said. "So my recovery is rooted in my family, yoga and baking. I make pies."
There will be no programs or speakers or sermons with the meal. Lynhall's Spaeth said the dinners are about letting open conversation reduce the stigma around going alcohol-free. And if no one winds up talking directly about recovery, that's OK, too.
"It's not going to be treated like a meeting," said McCabe-Johnston. "It's just a thoughtful, coursed-out dinner — with alcohol off the table."
The dinners are a natural extension of the Lynhall's Nourish series, a program launched last year to bring attention and support to food industry professionals struggling with trauma and mental health issues. But Sunday Sober Suppers aren't limited to those in the food industry. Spaeth and Kelly said they welcome all diners, from those in recovery to those who are just "sober-curious."
"Anyone who has thought, 'I don't like how this [substance] makes me feel' should come and be able to see people in recovery," said Kelly. "They can see, 'Your life didn't end, you still have fun. You're a vibrant person. My life isn't going to end if I stop drinking.' "
According to Spaeth, organizers have a lineup of chefs interested in participating in a monthly dinner series, including Ann Ahmed of Lat14, Peter Campbell of Red Wagon Pizza and Carrie Summers and Lisa Carlson of Chef Shack.
"I always tell people to tap into the recovery community," Kelly said. She laughed and added, "We have a lot of disposable income because we don't drink."
The series will take place once a month, "as long as there's interest in it," Spaeth said.
Tickets are $65, with an option to add a donation to the Long Table Fund. Part of the Minneapolis Foundation, the Long Table Fund provides "educational opportunities and increased access to crisis mental health care for members of the restaurant industry."