Looking for a spot to socialize and hang out in New York City but want to avoid alcohol? Check out Hekate, New York City’s first sober bar—with a bit of a witchy vibe.
When Abby Ehmann opened a bar called Lucky in New York’s East Village seven years ago, she hoped to create a welcoming space. But she was too successful. “It was so good that people were coming every day and enjoying what I was creating. And then they were drinking every day,” she told me on a Wednesday afternoon between refreshing her regulars’ drinks. “I was minting fresh new alcoholics.” And so she wound up opening Hekate, New York’s only permanent sober bar.
A Witchy Bar
Ehmann has been in New York since the 1980s and has a long history of bartending and producing wild events. When she was opening her new sober bar in 2022, she wanted to come up with just the right feel. She chose to name it after a goddess who embodied feminine energy.
“The imagery was amazing. And the fact that her familiars are dogs, not cats,” said Ehmann, who herself is a dog person. “She’s the goddess of the crossroads, and she has these torches. She’s the queen crone witch of the three phases—maiden, mother, and crone. And it all just was intriguing to me.” So she picked Hekate. Although she says that witches insist Hekate chose her.
The bar is gorgeous if you love witchy things. Which I do. Heavy gold-framed mirrors hang on the dark purple wall behind the massive bar, which runs most of the length of the place. Clear glass light fixtures hang from a carved white ceiling. Bottles of non-alcoholic spirits glitter on shelves. Everywhere there’s art, magic books, and mysterious knickknacks.
The Non-Drinking Crowd
Just like New York City, the bar attracts a diverse group of people. Asian businessmen often arrive right after the bar opens, Ehmann said. She suspects they may be avoiding the notorious “Asian flush”—an allergic reaction to alcohol many Asian people experience. Then there are nondrinking Muslims—Hekate is only a few blocks from a mosque.
According to Mistress Nette, a tarot reader and sober bartender who works at Hekate, they get a lot of neighborhood people. The work-from-home crowd needs to get out and see other people but doesn’t want to return to work drunk. Nette is fun and friendly. We discuss musical preferences—she’s a heavy metal fan, complete with a Slayer tattoo on her head—and bond by sharing photos of our black cat soulmates. As a sober person, she loves working in a sober bar. “It doesn’t stink like old alcohol,” she said. Nette grew up in New York and hung out in the East Village in the 1990s as a youth. She appreciates that Ehmann preserved the bar’s character. “It looks like an old-style East Village bar,” she said.
Ehmann’s top two customers helped inspire Hekate. “Customer number one had a stroke, and his doctor said, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t drink so much.’ And customer number two got sober after the pandemic when we were all reevaluating our relationship with alcohol. Because you couldn’t go to your local bar and have a glass of wine, but you could get a whole case delivered to your apartment. And people were doing that. And then they’re like, ‘What the hell, I just drank a whole case of wine!’”
Concerned that her two customers were having problems with alcohol, Ehmann asked herself what she could do to create that same kind of community she had at Lucky, but without the alcohol. As she looked at properties, her ideas kept changing to fit the places. One thing after another fell through. One day she saw a “for rent by owner” sign directly across the street from Lucky. “I called the guy up. He owns the building, and he raised his kids in the building. The rent was scandalously cheap for commercial real estate in New York City.” This is how Ehmann wound up with two bars—one sober, one not—right across the street from each other.
The new space opened in early 2022 serving coffee and herbal elixirs. Ehmann was still so new to the sober bar idea and was discovering all the non-alcoholic drinks being manufactured around the country. Her ideas for the space developed over the first half of 2022, from mostly coffee to more of a sober bar. She held a soft opening for the current bar incarnation in the summer and an official grand opening in September. Just in time for Sober October. “Our business doubled between September and October,” she said. Her big promotion—creating a different drink for every day of the month during October—was exhausting but also brought in many interested customers.
“Then there was Thanksgiving and the holidays, and things were just getting better and better and better,” she said. “And Dry January has been completely bonkers. Everyone in the city was out of some of the products because they didn’t anticipate the demand.” Tons of sober-curious folks poured in to join the sober regulars.
What’s to Drink?
Hekate is well-stocked with an endless combination of N/A spirits and mixers. But there are a few favorites. The Healer is made with lemonade, lavender simple syrup, and Blue Me Away powder by Apothekary. This last ingredient promises an energy boost from blue matcha, butterfly pea flower, ginseng, and algae. “That one everyone loves because it looks good on Instagram.”
The Empress is also popular. It includes Garden 108 by Seedlip. “Which, if you put your nose in it, it smells like lawn shavings, in a way,” Ehmann said. “It’s very earthy. I love it.”
I ordered the Smokey Pineapple Margarita, made with faux tequila. The smoky flavor and bite of jalapeno were a nice contrast to the sweetness of pineapple.
Sober Events at Hekate
Originally Ehmann booked lots of events at Hekate to bring people in. But now the place is so busy she plans more events at Lucky, her regular bar. “Now the only events that I’m booking there are specifically sober events,” she said.
Hekate recently hosted a cheese pairing. Instead of wine, the cheese expert paired cheeses with N/A drinks. An author with a new sobriety-related book did a reading there. Hekate also partners with brands of N/A drinks to co-host events.
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This coming summer, the busy entrepreneur plans to get out of the four blocks she mostly treads to do some popups in the Hamptons. She may also work with a German woman who’s a pretzel and N/A beer aficionado on another project. If the sober movement continues to grow as it has been, Ehmann will have endless opportunities. When looking for sober travel destinations or planning a trip to New York, let Wander With Wonder be your guide.