A Sober Start to the New Year

Looking to take a break from booze? You’re in luck, it’s all the rage.
Illustration by Paddy Mills

Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.

Resolutions regarding alcohol are a common way to begin the New Year. In 2012, the Dry January movement sprang up in Great Britain. The pub-loving populace there were encouraged to remain abstinent for January’s 31 days. By 2014, the British charity Alcohol Change trademarked the name Dry January. This public health initiative was so successful that now more than 4 million people — one in 20 Brits — participate annually, and the movement has gained a worldwide following.

Those considering a Dry January this year will be surprised by the groundswell of sober curious who have gained a foothold in notoriously wet New Orleans. In the summer of 2022, Dr. David Wallace debuted New Orleans’ first sober bar. Dream House Lounge in the Central Business District grew out of Wallace’s interest in transforming self-care into what he calls “soul-care.”

Wallace’s 2022 book, “Awakening Minds: 10 Life Lessons For A Conscious Culture” was inspired by his grandfather, an illiterate sharecropper who regularly gathered friends and neighbors on his porch to talk about their dreams and how they were manifesting them, offering wise advice in return. Wallace sees Dream House Lounge as a modern-day setting for similar conversations, a place that supports good mental and spiritual health and promotes overall well-being.

The French 75s, margaritas and other classic drinks on the menu are all zero proof, something Wallace refers to as “conscious cocktails,” utilizing alcohol-free liquors and wines. Dream House Lounge also offers an oxygen bar. The lounge includes a shop offering wines and packaged drinks that incorporate adaptogens like kava and rishi mushrooms believed to naturally elicit euphoric feelings.

In 2015, registered dietitian Molly Kimball instituted the annual “Alcohol Free For 40” challenge hosted by her Ochsner Eat Fit team. Since 2013, Eat Fit has successfully collaborated with restaurants across Louisiana to offer delicious menu alternatives for those managing health concerns like diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol. Participants in the Alcohol Free For 40 establish before and after metrics utilizing physical markers and lab work. Close-up facial photos also record important details of participant’s eyes and skin. At the conclusion, the test results were clear. Liver enzymes, inflammation and other markers dramatically improved.

Journalist Melanie Warner Spencer participated in that first challenge, blogging about her experience online. “I had more energy. I was sleeping better, my skin improved, but once it was over, I was soon back to my usual shenanigans,” Spencer laughed.

When she took the challenge again in 2020, however, something changed.

“I took a deep dive researching alcohol’s effects on our bodies, minds and spirits. Afterward, I continued to moderate my drinking until July 4,” when I joined the Dry in July cancer fundraiser. I never drank heavily, but once I looked at how I was drinking, how much and my own personal relationship with alcohol, I never picked it up again.”

With Kimball’s blessing, Spencer founded the Drink Fit Club, an online support community dedicated to providing motivation, inspiration and information for those taking booze breaks anytime during the year. The duo most recently collaborated with mixologist Ethan Skaggs on a new book, Craft: The Eat Fit Guide to Zero-Proof Cocktails. From alcohol-free bitters, shrubs and plant-based simple syrups, to bar tools and drinkware, the book covers everything you need to know to craft elegant, thoughtful alcohol-free drinks at home.

The 2023 Alcohol Free For 40 challenge will be bigger than ever this Lent. While over 700 are expected to fully participate, thousands more will take part on their own. Eat Fit maintains dietitians in six regions of Louisiana; New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Monroe, Shreveport and the Northshore, who will be leading in-person events. Ochsner charges a mere $40 for the tests, so what do you have to lose?

Maybe the question really is, what do you have to gain?



Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, “Louisiana Eats!” Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m.