Known as The Sober X Bartender, thanks to her tasty non-alcoholic libations, the Seattle native makes it cool to not drink booze
By William WagnerJanuary 26, 2021
Julia Ghaith didn’t script it this way, but she nevertheless is something of a poster child for the sober curious movement. It’s heady stuff for a person who merely wanted to stop drinking.
I would never say everyone should be sober—that’s not how I feel at all. But I just feel like [drinking is] so normalized in our society, and the act of not drinking is so stigmatized. I don’t think it deserves that stigma.”—Julia Ghaith, The Sober X Bartender
Since taking her last drink in 2019 at age 27, Ghaith has developed an alter ego (The Sober X Bartender) and an entrepreneurial spirit that lend a certain hipness to her sobriety. She’s turned the stigma surrounding alcohol use disorder (AUD) on its head.
“I would never say everyone should be sober—that’s not how I feel at all,” says the Seattle resident. “But I just feel like [drinking is] so normalized in our society, and the act of not drinking is so stigmatized. I don’t think it deserves that stigma. There was a moment [after stopping drinking] when I was like, How did I not ever realize this was an option for me? How did I not realize I could have the life I have now?”
The life Ghaith has now is constrained only by the number of hours in the day. Her vigor and creativity are evident in the array of non-alcoholic cocktails she’s been inventing under her Sober X Bartender persona. She’s in the process of writing a recipe book, but in the meantime, you can find the secrets behind her works of liquid art on Instagram.
Ghaith’s far-flung and always-humming online recovery support network also includes a website (complete with a blog about her sober journey), a Facebook group devoted to exploring the world of non-alcoholic mixology, an Insta community and numerous other connections that provide context, reassurance and meaning. For good measure, Ghaith and her husband own a hookah lounge. Did we mention that she needs more hours in the day?
Frankly, her post-drinking life is a lot more exciting than her drinking life was. Ghaith wasn’t what you’d call a slash-and-burn drinker, which at least might have made for some good stories. “It wasn’t even like I ended up in the hospital or got a DUI,” she says. “It was just a hangover. I was like, For me, this moment is enough. It wasn’t a huge moment, but I realized it didn’t have to be some major event that was life-shattering.”
The Sober Curious Movement
What does it mean to be sober curious? NPR describes the movement this way: “[It] has spread across the U.S., with people challenging each other to see what life is like without alcohol and share in that experience.” In her groundbreaking 2018 book Sober Curious, Ruby Warrington calls it “the next logical step in the wellness revolution.”
Either description fits Ghaith, who is healthier than ever both physically and mentally. Since shedding alcohol from her life, she feels fully free.
“I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I’d say, ‘I’ll do it later. I’ll do it once I have this or once I have that,’” she says. “I always just put it off. It was actually the month I got sober that I started pushing myself to really achieve things. There are just so many things I wouldn’t have had the willpower to accomplish had it not been for getting sober and finding this life.”
Enter The Sober X Bartender
During Ghaith’s drinking years, she was a bartender, which makes sense. But she wasn’t drawn to the trade by the alcohol in the drinks. The allure was creating the drinks.
Says Ghaith, “My favorite part about being a bartender wasn’t being around alcohol and the environment. It was crafting something.”
And when she put the alcohol part behind her, The Sober X Bartender appeared like some kind of superhero out of a comic book: fighting for wellness, peace of mind and the sober curious way. Mixing drinks gives Ghaith strength; it’s her superpower. Though it might seem counterintuitive, she’s never tempted to pour a spot of booze into her concoctions.
“This is how I’m creative,” Ghaith says. “Not having an outlet that was similar to an alcoholic drink would be more triggering. I’d be more inclined to go have a drink. Psychologists say that the most important thing when you’re trying to quit something is to replace it with something else. It was something to do in place of what I did before that brought me joy and fulfillment.
I’m interested in potentially opening my own sober bar or starting my own products line. I do plan on working at events with non-alcoholic cocktails. Really, do we need to drink a lot of alcohol at work events? That never goes well.”—Julia Ghaith
“I’m just working on creating unique, fun, fresh cocktails that don’t have alcohol, and basically trying to come up with something for everyone. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for everything that’s coming out in the marketplace. I’m doing a lot of my at-home creations [by experimenting] with different craft syrups and shrubs. It’s been a process of deep-diving into product knowledge and understanding the industry as it stands.”
What’s on the Horizon
Besides her recipe book, Ghaith isn’t sure exactly where her talent for making non-alcoholic drinks will take her. For now, she’s waylaid by the COVID-19 pandemic, but she knows her craft will be a big part of her future career…and her future sobriety.
“I’ve got a lot of different directions I can see myself wanting to go,” she says. “I’m interested in potentially opening my own sober bar or starting my own products line. I do plan on working at events with non-alcoholic cocktails. Really, do we need to drink a lot of alcohol at work events? That never goes well.
I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. …I always just put it off. It was actually the month I got sober that I started pushing myself to really achieve things. There are just so many things I wouldn’t have had the willpower to accomplish had it not been for getting sober and finding this life.”—Julia Ghaith
“I feel like the need for making these high-quality non-alcoholic drinks is going to become more and more present. We’re realizing this is an option, and should have been an option all along—honestly.”
So, if you’re having a bad day, just picture The Sober X Bartender mixing a non-alcoholic drink, her face bright with pride and purpose as she looks upon her latest wellness creation. We predict you’ll feel at least a bit better.