A RADICALLY INCLUSIVE SOBER BAR, NON-ALCOHOLIC BOTTLE SHOP & CRAFT COFFEEHOUSE HERE TO CHANGE THE WAY WE RELATE TO EACH OTHER.
BY SHALEEN DESTEFANO
Our dear friends Billy and Christy Wynne have opened their arms, hearts and their doors to the Denver community with Awake. We had the opportunity to sit down with them for a glimpse into this new journey.
C: I had been questioning my relationship with alcohol for many years, trying to ignore my intuition that it really wasn’t serving me in a meaningful way anymore. It was a 32 year roller coaster of drinking that I was finally ready to end. I was in perimenopause and finding I was not tolerating it at all anymore. I was also working with women patients in my medical practice that were struggling in the gray area drinking and I didn’t feel equipped to help them.
I made the choice to quit in 2018 and haven’t looked back. The sober community in Denver has been one of the most surprising benefits. The people I’ve met and the beautiful work they’re doing is mind blowing. They inspire me to be a better human.
B: A key factor for me was the jukai process I was going through, which is essentially a formal affirmation of the Buddhist faith. I was tasked with confronting my relationship with alcohol in an open and honest mindset. Once I did that, there was no mistaking the extraordinarily harmful impact it was having on my life and the people around me. So this time, unlike when I’d experimented with going dry before and it felt like a sacrifice, it felt like I was giving myself a tremendous gift, an opportunity to approach life with renewed clarity and joy.
We were fortunate to come to sobriety while living in Europe, which is ahead of the U.S. in normalizing the lifestyle. Almost all of the major beer brands had nonalcoholic alternatives and Seedlip, the U.K.-based brand that really set the pace for this second wave of alcohol free spirits, was widely known and available. When we returned to the U.S., we saw the initial seeds of this new movement taking hold. I’ll never forget when Heineken 0.0 hit the grocery store shelves in Colorado and would sell out immediately. For a while it was going for $3/can or more on Amazon. That’s when we knew this movement had extraordinary potential and started exploring ways to get more involved.
The community of entrepreneurs in the sober conscious movement is inspiring, creative, generous. I’ve yet to meet a fellow sober bar owner or alcohol free beverage maker that didn’t want to spend an hour with us to share their experience and wisdom. We wouldn’t have been able to launch Awake without them.
You wrote an article for us in Jan 2019 entitled “Women and Alcohol: The Unsexy Truth.” It was widely shared, because it clearly struck a chord with a large audience. What are your thoughts regarding the immense growth in numbers of people choosing a clean and sober lifestyle?
C: Writing that article really solidified my decision to be alcohol free. Once you see the science and become aware, you can’t really unsee it. I couldn’t believe how many women I heard from around the world saying thank you and they had been waiting for that validation. We now know there are no health benefits to drinking and that it’s linked to 7 types of cancer. We’re seeing the numbers of liver disease and binge drinking sky rocket in women. This is an epidemic. Alcohol somehow gets a pass when it’s killing millions of people per year. The ripple effects of alcohol can’t even be quantified. I think people are catching onto this and wanting to choose another way. This pandemic has allowed many of us to take pause and reexamine our coping mechanisms and lifestyles.
You took a very brave and bold step by opening a brick and mortar right in the middle of a pandemic, because you clearly saw the need. Luckily for the sober community of Denver, they now have a home at Awake. Tell us more about what we can expect from this lovely space you’ve created.
B: We want to change the way we relate to one another. Our culture tells us that we need alcohol to socialize and form relationships. What we know, though, is that alcohol inhibits true, meaningful connections between people. We wanted to create a space for people to relate, to relax and to have fun, in the safety and clarity that comes with sobriety. We’re inspired by people who reach out to us who have been alcohol-free for years and feel like they haven’t had a place to go. We’re also excited about people who want to explore sober consciousness or just get a night away from the same old alcohol-based routine.
Expect to feel welcome and safe while having your minds and taste buds stimulated. Our craft coffeehouse and nonalcoholic bottle shop are open every day and our full-service sober bar will be offered 5-8pm Thursday, 5-10pm Friday, 12-10pm Saturday and 12-5pm Sunday.
Aside from housing Colorado’s largest selection of nonalcoholic beer, wine and spirits, you also have positioned yourselves as a resource in the sober community. Can you tell us more about Dance Yourself Clean as well as any advice for someone wanting to dip their toes in the sober pool?
C: I think many people are now ‘sober curious’ or in that gray area drinking spectrum where they are starting to question and be more mindful of the role that alcohol is playing in their lives. Dance Yourself Clean is mostly focused on group coaching now in the radical self care arena. We cover topics such as mindfulness, boundaries, nervous system regulation, hormone balance, etc. My advice for anyone interested is to let them know that you don’t necessarily have to hit a rock bottom or consider yourself an ‘alcoholic’ to question alcohol. There is so much more out there than the traditional modalities of rehab and AA.
Above your wide collection of zero proof beverages, consciously crafted coffee and an amazingly kind staff, you have also found a way to give back to the community. Can you tell us more about your greater purpose?
B: When we decided to do this last summer, we felt it was imperative to pursue it in a socially conscious, anti-oppressive way. If we can’t do that, we believed, it’s better not to do this at all. So while creating a safe, sober conscious community is at our core, so are our contributions to charitable organizations that support people in our community in need, especially those living with mental illness or addiction.
We decided to incorporate as a social benefit corporation or PBC, which requires us to prioritize our mission to the same degree as profits. Our mission is to create space for peace, joy and justice-making in our community. That’s the standard we live by every day and the north star we use to guide our decisions.
How has the Jefferson Park community embraced you?
B: It started right at home with our neighbors in our condo building who were so enthusiastic in visiting us in the early days when we just got started. Other businesses in the area have been supportive in sharing word about us with their customers. Right across the street, the folks at Briar Commons Brewery have been extremely cool to us too, coming over to give us a lot of support the day we opened. We’re looking forward to fanning our relationships out further across the community. I also especially love watching the chain of preschoolers walk by our window every morning. It gives some perspective to what we’re doing.
C: Jefferson Park feels a lot like Wash Park with the focus on families and community. And dogs! It has that lively and vibrant feel. So far we feel very loved by the community.
As previous Wash Park neighbors, you’ve extended your connection with us by offering deliveries to our neighborhood. Would you ever consider opening a second location here?
B: We love Wash Park! What an amazing place. It was hard to leave. If we can make Awake work in northwest Denver then, for sure, we would love to explore opening something up closer to Wash Park, DU and Cherry Creek. We know we’ve got some of our people there. For now, while our craft coffee service is more community-based, we hope that our bar scene will be a destination for anyone in the area who wants to explore sober consciousness in a safe and joyful environment. And, as you noted, we’re very happy to deliver alcohol-free beverages from our bottle shop to your door.
What can we expect from you in the future?
C: We have a lot of plans for events once we can do them safely. Street dance parties, live music, book signings! I’m exploring a possible Awake Podcast (stay tuned!).
B: We don’t have a shortage of ideas for ways we can serve the sober conscious movement and the broader community around us. Right now we’re focusing on the launch of the sober bar and making sure it meets the goals and aspirations we have for everyone who participates. We’re going to listen to our customers and evolve in the direction that inspires them to feel at home here. If we can do that, the future will take care of itself.
We love everything about this and can’t wait to be part of this community! For more information visit awakedenver.com or in person at 2240 N Clay St.