OPINION - Pubs are grim when you’re not drinking alcohol

Vicky Jessop  (Handout)
Vicky Jessop (Handout)

We’re nearly through — the end is in sight (if you squint). But before we leave the doldrums of January behind, I’ve got a bone to pick with the fine pubs of this city. Where on earth are all the good alcohol-free drinks? There’s so much about, but none of it seems to make it behind the bar.

A heavier-than-planned festive period had me shelving the spirits and throwing out my half-empty bottles from New Year. This month, I joined the ranks of the virtuous sober, but as it turned out I’d badly misjudged one thing— just how hard it is to socialise in London when you’re not drinking.

Going to the pub is practically a modern-day religion if you’re making a living in the capital; after-work drinks are how you bond with your colleagues, catch up with your friends and even (or should that be especially?) date.

Surely doing it dry couldn’t be that hard, I thought. Think again. At my local, the landlord couldn’t help but sneer as he passed over a pint glass of lemonade; at another, my red-faced attempts to ask what alcohol-free drinks they had were met with a brusque “Cola. Beer. Oh, and water”.

Excuse me. Dry January is not a new phenomenon: it’s been going since 2013 and millions of people take part every year. The low and free-alcohol drinks industry is booming like never before. Go to any supermarket and you’ll be able to find entire shelves of alternative spirits, wines and beers. They even have alcohol-free Campari, for heaven’s sake.

So why aren’t pubs cashing in on this? Beyond the dutiful (and frankly, disgusting) Budweiser Zeroes sitting sadly on their shelves under a thin layer of dust, low-alcohol drinks are in short supply at most of the places I’ve been to this month. And that’s bizarre, because this particular industry is worth at least £100 million in the UK alone, which in turn implies people would be interested in buying these options if they were made available.

For people like me — and, indeed, people who are entirely teetotal — socialising becomes a lot harder when going dry means looking wistfully at other people’s glasses of wine while choking down litres of pop. Is it any wonder people give up on Dry January when there aren’t more exciting options available to them? This year, I was one of them: next time around, I’m hoping drinking establishments wise up and expand their options.