Where to go for a night on the town—without alcohol
When it comes to nightlife, there’s an assumption among most that a night out might include a drink or two—or three or four.
This assumption is especially true in Reno, which in 2010 beat out Las Vegas and New Orleans for the title of second drunkest city in America, according to Men’s Health Magazine. With no state-mandated last call, laws allowing alcohol to be sold outside of liquor stores and a city culture centered around tourism and entertainment (as well as a thriving brewery sector), alcohol is omnipresent in Reno nightlife.
Even while the Biggest Little City remains especially lush, America’s taste for alcohol overall is declining. In 2018, the International Wine and Spirit Record, a London-based company that measures global alcohol consumption, found that, in total, Americans consumed less alcohol than they had the year before—continuing a three-year trend.
The IWSR blamed a lagging beer market for the slump, but also concluded that factors like the increased cultural emphasis on wellness could be turning people away from the hard stuff. The company also issued a press release at the end of February titled “Legal Cannabis Poses a Long-Term risk to All Beverage Alcohol Categories in the U.S.”
For most of Reno’s night-going public, however, it might be hard to imagine a weekend night out without a drink or two, and many might equate the absence of alcohol with the absence of socialization completely. But for people looking to cut back on their alcohol consumption without being relegated to the house all the time, there are some unique local businesses serving alternatives to both the usual bar setting—and the libations one mind find there.
The Studio Tea Lounge
During the week, The Studio Reno in midtown offers a full schedule of yoga classes, but every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evening it transforms into a late-night tea lounge offering a sober space and laid-back atmosphere.
“We have a lot of people who are, like, sober completely, or either just want to try something new and are weaning themselves off from alcohol but still want to come in and socialize,” said Yesenia Morales, a massage therapist with The Studio who also serves at the tea lounge. “It’s great because people come here as an alternative to drinking out at a bar, and so they come and drink one of our elixirs and have fun and interact and have good conversations with each other.”
Until 1 a.m., the large classroom space is fitted with low tables and cushions for reclining on the floor. Dim lighting, meditative music and psychedelic visuals courtesy of a wall projector create an ambiance decidedly different from the bars open at the same time.
“We want people to be comfortable and relaxed—kind of a homey vibe,” said Morales. “We have people take off their shoes before they enter. We’ve got the yoga swings and nice music and the visuals.”
The elixirs, as they’re called, include a variety of different infusions and supplements, from traditional teas like chamomile and chai, to more exotic offerings like kratom. Made from the dried leaves of a tree native to Thailand, kratom is served as a fine powder and mixed with things like coconut milk or orange juice to cut its characteristic bitterness.
“It’s a nice pain reliever,” Morales said. “It mellows you out, but there’s also strains that energize you.”
“You kind of get, like, a little bit of like an endorphin rush,” said Carson Case, a tea lounge patron. “It’s kind of like after you have a big meal and you end up a food coma … I’d say the ultimate kind of chill.”
While he enjoys kratom, Case also said that, since he is under 21, he appreciates coming to the tea lounge as a place to socialize he wouldn’t otherwise have since he can’t enter a bar legally.
Aside from hot teas, the tea lounge also serves cold, carbonated CBD-infused kombucha—a drink made from fermented tea containing a miniscule percentage of alcohol—from local vendors.
In some Middle Eastern cultures where drinking alcohol may be forbidden as a matter of faith, the smoking of sheesh (flavored and sweetened tobacco leaves) through a water filled pipe called a hookah is considered a social substitute. This is according to Batuhan Zadeh, owner of Hookava hookah lounge on Arlington Avenue, who proudly stated that all of his hookahs are imported directly from Egypt.
If you were in a restaurant, the hookah would be the plate and fork, and the sheesh would be the food,” Zadeh said. “The coconut coals heat up the sheesh, and then the heat transfers through the sheesh, through the pipe, gets filtered through the water and then gets cooled down in the hose and creates the smoke.”
Hookava is open from 3 p.m. to 5 a.m. every day, making it an ideal haunt for night owls. As a lounge, Zadeh said, the environment and culture behind smoking hookah is different than a traditional bar. Instead of milling around a packed bar, constantly running back and forth for drinks, patrons at Hookava are encouraged to pick a flavor of sheesh, which is then prepared by a staff member, and to sit around intimate tables and booths for hours at a time. Individual plastic tips are used for smoking through the shared hose to maintain hygiene, and special add-ons like chilled mouthpieces are also available.
“The details of the lounge are meant for comfort,” Zadeh said. “Not just physical comfort … but mental comfort. We don’t want anything straining.”
Of course, the reality is that smoking from a hookah isn’t necessarily safer when it comes to the health risks associated with tobacco, but anyone over 18 can legally choose to partake. Zadeh said that at least a few of his customers are students and other young people who can’t yet enter the bars, but he gets just as many everyday patrons who come simply because they don’t drink for one reason or another.
West Street Market
West Street Market contains several different bars and restaurants in its communal dining room and stone courtyard, but one local eatery also caters to non-alcohol drinkers looking to share a brew. The Pizza Collective, in addition to handmade, vegan pizza options, serves a specialty drink called kava—which remains available even after the pizza oven is shut off for the night.
“Kava is a drink made from the root of a pepper plant,” said Frieda Dozoretz, who works at the Pizza Collective. “It’s native to the South Pacific, so Fiji, Tonga, Polynesia—anywhere in the South Pacific this plant grows. And, traditionally, humans have used it for thousands of years as a social and ceremonial beverage.”
Made from a fine powder mixed with plain water, kava is served in a large communal bowl and is meant to be shared. While not considered an intoxicant, it produces a mild sedative effect in the drinker and is said to promote a good mood.
“It’s good for anxiety and it promotes socialization,” Dozoretz said. “You don’t get high, you get a little bit of numbness to your mouth and then it just kind of eases things. I’ve been using kava since 2004.”
Drew Roy frequents West Street Market and started drinking kava when he decided to give up alcohol in the interest of losing weight. The numbing effect (a byproduct of the plant’s chemical properties) is apparent, he said, but the overall effect is a pleasant sensation.
“You get really, really relaxed and just—it doesn’t really mess with your, you know, your coordination or anything,” Roy said. “Just that sense of relaxed-ness is crazy.”
Aside from the physiological effects of kava, Roy said that he’s equally interested in the camaradery found in sharing a bowl with others in the market-place setting.
“There’s still that exploration aspect of drinking that people kind of miss,” said Roy. “Like, I would go out and try beers, try wines, you know, so you get to go to different places.”
Roy said he’s had fascinating conversations with total strangers over a bowl of kava, and the fact that it has no calories means it’s conducive to his weight loss goals. While the Pizza Collective will stay open late occasionally if there are enough customers, Roy said he’s more than content to visit during the day when West Street will host live musicians or other events in the common room.
“It’s about coming out to socialize and it does—I mean it really does put you in a mindset where you’re just, like, relaxed, and you’re open,” he said.