When Portland events organizer Andy McMillan quit drinking, a Portland pie shop became his new watering hole. “I didn’t enjoy drinking, but I enjoyed going out to bars,” McMillan says. “I remember how hard it was for me to do that after I stopped drinking. Basically I just ended up moving into Lauretta Jean’s for two years.” The cafe was open late, it served decaf coffee, and more than anything, it was a social space where the Portlander could spend time with friends that wasn’t centered around alcohol.
McMillan organizes XOXO, an annual experimental festival centered around art, content, and life online. The festival houses a food cart pod for sustenance, including a non-alcoholic bar which serves a number of non-alcoholic shrubs and sodas designed specifically for the festival; last year’s sodas included flavors like pineapple-allspice-ginger, strawberry-basil-citrus, and watermelon-jalapeno-lime. “Seeing people getting excited about the non-alcoholic bar at the festival and working on the drinks for the festival, I started to meet a lot of people who don’t drink for cultural reasons, people who don’t drink for health reasons, because they’re pregnant, because they’re in recovery...” McMillan says. “I was thinking, what would it be like to go to a bar — a bar in every way — except there’s no alcohol?”
In Portland, those sorts of spaces are rarities, especially for those who care about food. Most restaurants have bars in Portland; with the city’s competitive beer, wine, and cocktail scenes, owners know to buff up the booze programs within those bars, save a few non-alcoholic drinks to accommodate the growing sobriety movement.
That’s what inspired him to pursue Suckerpunch, a bar that’s completely free of alcohol — no beer on tap, no lone bottle of gin behind the bar. Instead, the taps would be filled with kombucha and those sodas that started at XOXO, bartenders sliding Steven Smith mocktails across the counter.
To get things started, McMillan will launch a pop-up at Roseline Coffee, the cafe within the Goat Blocks near Kachka. Late this January, the coffee shop will begin hosting McMillan on Friday and Saturday nights, where he’ll serve non-alcoholic sodas, shrubs, and mixed drinks from 6 p.m. until midnight. Later this year, he’ll move into his own space, where he’ll serve similar drinks and offer special non-alcoholic drinks to-go — “German non-alcoholic mate soda things (editor’s note: perhaps this?), thoughtful bottles and cans, all different kinds of stuff,” McMillan says.
It should come as no surprise to XOXO regulars that McMillan wants the bar to be as accessible as possible. As someone with an events background, he’s already envisioning nights set aside for those specific groups, when pregnant people, people in recovery, and other specific populations can have the non-alcoholic bar to themselves. He wants the food menu to include vegan and gluten-free fare, and the aesthetic to feel warm and welcoming without feeling pretentious. “I think about the Savoy Tavern, which has unfortunately closed,” he says. “It was cozy, all the drinks were great, it was a nice neighborhood spot. The plan is not for this to be SO over-the-top that it’s like a tourist attraction... We want it to be very integrated into the city.”
He has yet to land on a permanent location, but he hopes to be open as early as this summer, outside of the Roseline pop-up. Interested parties should sign up for the mailing list on the Suckerpunch website — the first events may be ticketed — and keep an eye on its Instagram and Twitter, where McMillan will post information about pop-ups, opening dates, and more. Stay tuned; this is one to watch.