So-bar: Alcohol-free pub offers new twist on traditional night out

Owner Jamie Walker wants to create a place where 'you don't have to drink to have a good time'.

Dry bar: Edinburgh's first 'no alcohol' pub. <strong>Ryan Buchanan Photography</strong>
Dry bar: Edinburgh's first 'no alcohol' pub. Ryan Buchanan Photography

Going to the pub is sown into the fabric of Scottish culture.

From a few quiet pints after (or during) work to the speed drinking test of a rowdy Saturday night, many Scots like nothing more than getting to a fuzzy state of alcoholic impairment.

But now one bar in Edinburgh aims to break the link that binds a trip to the pub with the consuming of alcohol.

Dry Bar in Stockbridge is thought to be the country’s only alcohol-free pub and the man behind this venture into the unknown is confident there is a gap in the market for a booze-free bar.

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“A choice hasn’t really been given in Edinburgh to be able to go to an alcohol-free space,” says owner Jamie Walker.

“We are giving people a place to go to where they don’t feel they have to buy a drink or have some tap water.”

Mr Walker’s journey to opening a dry bar starting at the other end of the trade.

He was once owner of high-end whisky maker Adelphi Distillery but with success came a drinking problem and he ended up in a rehabilitation centre in South Africa.

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After overcoming the addiction he spent a further 12 years in the country and it was there he came up with the idea for a bar catering to those who did not want to drink.

“I thought it would be great to have somewhere to go that wasn’t a pub but had a pub-like environment”, he says.

Mr Walker, 48, has now been dry for 13 years and says that, for the non-drinker, often the alcohol-soaked atmosphere of the pub can become a little tiring.

“After 9.30pm sometime the conversation can become a little familiar,” he says.

“The jokes are less funny when you’re sober. As I don’t drink I’m not that keen on the smell of alcohol any more to be honest and there will be a few people who are like me on that.”

The Dry bar opened last week, and is already getting a wide variety of customers with differing motivations for seeking an environment devoid of the demon drink.

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“Its not a place to flagellate yourself,” he explains.

“We’ve had a couple of people who come in saying ‘it is nice to be here because I’ve been up until five in the morning yesterday and here I don’t have to drink’.”

“We’re putting it out there as a place where you can come and there’s no pressure to drink.

“There’s no alcohol on premises but it is a nice warm place to be, its comfy and there’s lots to see.”

He does not think that dry pubs need to be in competition with the standard drinking establishments and has no problem with people who enjoy them.

With non-alcoholic beers, wines and cocktails on the menu, he is not exclusively trying to offer a health-conscious alternative.

He says: “I’m not taking anything away from people who do drink, I used to be a drinker myself.

“People are grown up enough to make their own choices, I’m just giving them another. I think over the years, and seeing how many specialist shops there are. for instance, people expect to be given a choice.

“A choice hasn’t really been given in Edinburgh to be able to go to an alcohol free space. We we are offering that.”


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