‘There was a lot of shame at the start’: Confessions of a sober bartender

Segat has been sober for two years  (NoMad)
Segat has been sober for two years (NoMad)

Giving up booze, whether it’s for a month, a year or life, is hard at the best of times. Pints after work, Friday nights out and catching up over a glass of wine (or three) are as ingrained in the British psyche as sarcasm, complaining about the weather and judging Americans for how they make tea.

Going sober as a bartender? Well, now you’re playing in the big leagues.

After two years, Davide Segat, bar manager at NoMad London, has learnt to live with his sobriety and the struggles that still come with it. “There was a lot of shame at the beginning,” he tells me, a few days before he’s due to fly off to Australia for a two-week respite. After the busy Christmas period, he needs one. “As a professional, I should be the one that knows the cause, the effects and how to control it. I should be the example of how you maintain alcohol, and I wasn’t able to do that.”

Having worked in bars in London for 20 years, alcohol was, and still is, a big part of Segat’s life, but he’d “always been a big drinker”. Just before the pandemic, his drinking had started to get out of control. A big job that saw him travelling around the world for weeks at a time, from America to Japan and China, ramped up the pressure. “My drinking started to switch [from a profession] into fun, into more of a mood regulator,” he says. “I remember I had this big, high pressure meeting. There was so much to do and I felt stressed and down. I medicated myself with drink.”

Being on the road only emphasised the problem. Industry colleagues would offer to give him a tour of their favourite spots and drinks in new cities, which, in an effort to keep up and keep relevant, turned into consecutive big nights out on the trot. Previously, “I had denied that it really had a dark side, which everyone should be aware of. And I touched that side,” says Segat, originally from Portogruaro near Venice, Italy. He started to miss important deadlines, and spiralled into a pattern of drinking to relieve the stress his drinking was causing, with all the consequences that come with it.

After being made redundant during the pandemic, and subsequently losing a big relationship, he “felt in a very bad place. I was very low, I felt I had nothing. I tried to control [my drinking] in the beginning. I tried to moderate it. But it wasn’t possible.” After attempting to rein it in – taking days off, eschewing spirits or limiting the number of drinks a night – with not much success, Segat decided to give up completely, first for a few weeks, then eight months, and “now I’m two years sober”.

It hasn’t been easy – it never is – but working in an industry entirely dedicated to the stuff, turning down a drink was more of a psychological challenge, he says.

Segat develops NoMad’s non-alcoholic drinks from scratch (NoMad)
Segat develops NoMad’s non-alcoholic drinks from scratch (NoMad)

Most of the pressure came from within. “I thought: how can I do my job if I don’t drink? Or how can I be so close to alcohol if I don’t drink?” The hardest part was dealing with the social stigma that often accompanies the decision to give up drinking – facing questions such as “Why? What happened?” or “Come on, it’s only one glass” and “You don’t have a problem if you don’t wake up and need a drink.” There are, of course, many ways to be dependent on alcohol that don’t involve drinking in the morning.

Most of the time, he realises now, it was all in his head. “I thought everyone would think of me less, or judge me because I’m not drinking,” he says, but “in reality, people are not thinking about it as much as you might imagine”. He would sometimes tell people who wouldn’t let it go that it was just an experiment for a month, or that he was training for a marathon, which would nip any further interrogation in the bud. Sometimes, he’d even make up a funny story, such as “the last time I drank I woke up outside my house naked”. Not to trivialise addiction, it was an easy tactic to deploy against such naysayers, who he says perhaps “felt challenged” because they were “trying to normalise their own drinking”.

In the beginning, “I was very shy about it. It was hard to talk about it. It took me the whole first year [of sobriety] to get over that,” he says. “But now, after two years, I can talk about literally anything. And if it helps just one person, well… it’s definitely worth it.”

There was a lot of shame at the beginning. As a professional, I should be the one that knows the cause, the effects and how to control it. I should be the example of how you maintain alcohol, and I wasn’t able to do that

Davide Segat, bar manager at NoMad

He says surrounding himself with like-minded people who supported rather than cross-examined his decision was an important step in overcoming that fear. Those people are “actually genuinely happy for you. Because if they know you and know that you maybe drink a bit too much, they’ll see what you’re doing and be like: ‘Well done. How can I help?’ Those are the people that you want around you.”

With a lot of baby steps, discipline and patience, Segat slowly began to accept his new reality. The benefits were obvious. “It was clear I was more focused, I was more productive, I was more precise,” he says. He was sleeping better, waking up with a clear head and getting through his to-do lists faster. He started recording how he felt every day – the good and the bad – a mental exercise he recommends for anyone starting out on their sobriety journey.

“I found that little, small, possibly even meaningless, rewards helped massively,” he says, adding that getting an app to track how many days you’ve gone without a drink will help you stay the course. “You’ll be like, ‘oh, it’s a week already’. Then it’s two weeks, that’s only halfway to a month.” A small wins philosophy will keep you motivated. Then there’s the obvious: swapping those activities that normally involve drinking to things like exercise, going for a walk or hobbies. His biggest advice? “Be gentle with yourself.”

It’s fortuitous in a way that Segat’s sobriety has come at a time when drinking less is more widely accepted. New research from Alcohol Change UK, the charity behind Dry January, shows that 30 per cent of men and 26 per cent of women (they do have to put up with men, after all) would like to reduce the amount of alcohol they drink in 2024, with one in six adults planning to be sober for the month.

As a bartender, Segat has noticed that “people find themselves more accepted to come and sit in a cocktail bar and be like, ‘I’m not drinking’. Rather than, ‘I’m not drinking, I shouldn’t go to a bar’. It’s like, no! You can come, it’s fine. The bartender will be sober so we’ll have something to talk about,” he jokes. He’s quick to add that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a drink. “I’m not here to preach. There’s nothing wrong with a glass of champagne for a celebration, wine for your meal, beer on a hot day, a nicely crafted cocktail,” he says. “The problem is when you start to touch the dark side. For me, it went wrong, and I had to find a solution. It can happen and people should be aware. That’s it.”

Segat’s tip for going sober

Keep track

Get an app to keep track of how many days you’ve gone without a drink. Before you know it, you’ll have done a week, then two, that’s halfway to a month, and so on. Focusing on small wins like this can help keep you motivated to achieve your goal.

Take note

Keep a journal of how you’re feeling, on both the good days and the bad. That way, when you’re tempted by a drink, you can look back at how good you’ve felt on your sobriety journey.

Make swaps

Swap activities that normally involve drinking for things like exercise, taking a walk in nature or starting a hobby. You can even get your friends involved. Once you realise you can get joy out of these small things, you won’t feel as motivated to drink.

Get support

Surround yourself with people who understand and support your decision to go sober. Those people will be genuinely happy for you, and will ask you how they can help. If you’re not ready to be totally honest with people, it’s okay to say that you’re training for a marathon or make up a funny story.

For those that are totally sober, sober-curious or just having a dry night, the non-alcoholic options at drinking establishments have come a long way in the past few years. “We’ve evolved massively and the non-alcoholic options are now very solid,” says Segat, but it’s not just about taking the alcohol out of a classic cocktail. “In our bar, the non-alcoholic drinks are developed separately. The same amount of work goes into the drink. It’s not just half-arsed, I’m not just removing the alcohol. The balance is completely wrong and it just doesn’t work.”

At the NoMad, where Segat runs the main restaurant bar as well as the lower ground Side Hustle, he recommends the El Diablito, a “very nice, easy, gingery drink” made with ginger, hibiscus, lime and club soda. “It still looks great and is one of our best sellers.” Or the Peter Piper, which features tropical flavours like pineapple and passion fruit, but mixed with white balsamic vinegar, soda and black pepper. “It looks exactly the same and people wouldn’t know you’re not drinking, if you want to be low key about it.”

Segat is more “pro no alcohol rather than low alcohol”. He’s seen regulars in the bar order a stiff drink such as a martini, and follow it up with a low ABV cocktail, rinse and repeat, to keep themselves on a level. “For me, it’s easier to say no when trying to control it,” he says, “because otherwise it’s very hard to keep track. That’s just my personal choice.”

Segat has even taken to tasting drinks and discreetly spitting them out in the sink behind the bar. Just like a sommelier does before serving wine, “I taste every drink because, you know, we can make a mistake, an ingredient could be off, or we might have missed an ingredient. You don’t realise in high volume environments. You cannot deliver a drink without knowing what’s in the drink.” It’s not something he recommends if you’re struggling or still physically dependent, but “it works for me”.

So giving up alcohol hasn’t affected his ability to serve a decent drink, and, perhaps, given all the benefits that have come with his sobriety, punters might be better off for it.

Non-alcholic cocktail recipes to try this Dry January

Non-alcoholic Manhattan


1 tsp Cold Brew

0.25oz/7.5ml Mulled maple

0.25oz/7.5ml Amaerna cherry juice

0.5oz/15ml Verjus

0.5oz/15ml Three Spirits Nightcap

1oz/30ml Seedlip spice


Stir all ingredients in a Nick and Nora glass. Garnish with a skewered cherry.

Peter Piper


6oz/180ml Spritzes of white balsamic

0.5oz/15ml Lime juice

0.5oz/15ml Passion fruit juice

0.5oz/15ml Black pepper

0.75oz/22.5ml Pineapple juice

1.5oz/75ml Pineapple soda


Place ingredients apart from soda into a shaker with a small amount of crushed ice. Whip shake to combine and then pour into the glass. Add soda and top with crushed ice. Garnish with two pineapple fronds and black pepper.