Non-alcoholic bar coming to Iowa City by the summer

Owner Amber Haines says she feels there aren’t enough places for people who don’t want to drink alcohol, and wants to support the sober movement.


Jeff Sigmund

Contractors hang a banner outside of Iowa City’s new “dry bar” on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.

Clinton Garlock, News Reporter

Iowa City will open its first dry bar this summer, creating new opportunities for University of Iowa students to socialize without alcohol.

The Unimpaired Dry Bar, first founded in Davenport, Iowa, will be under the ownership of Amber Haines, who also owns a traditional bar in Bluegrass, Iowa.

The bar will still supply the usual night-life activities such as live music, dining, and dancing, but the mixed drinks will all be 0-proof.

Haines said she doesn’t feel there are enough places for people who don’t want to drink, and that she wants to help spread the sober and “sober-curious” movement.

“You don’t have to be an alcoholic or be in recovery to want to go somewhere where they don’t sell alcohol,” Haines said. “There’s a million reasons why people wouldn’t want to drink but still want to go out.”

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According to the University of Iowa’s Late Night Activities and Assessment Coordinator Mara Cheney, the number of students self-reporting that they do not drink has been steadily rising for ten years.

“The most recent data tells us that roughly 28 percent of students do not drink, and roughly 55 percent of students are interested in going to events without alcohol,” Cheney said.

However, UI graduate student Grayson Snyder, who is studying Occupational and Environmental Health, said he is skeptical that the dry bar will be able to attract enough customers to stay afloat.

He said he anticipates Iowa City’s drinking culture could cause unexpected problems.

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“What’s the call on people showing up drunk? If the freshmen can be there all night, they’re definitely going to show up hammered, or bring their own drinks. That’s what’s going to happen: at 10 p.m., everyone’s going to go to the dry bar,” Snyder said.

Iowa City has an ordinance restricting people under the age of 21 from staying in an establishment that serves alcohol past 10 p.m.

The dry bar in Davenport is open until 11 p.m. on the weekends and 10 p.m. on the weekdays, but it is unclear if the dry bar in Iowa City will follow that same schedule.

However, Haines has experience dealing with drunk customers from her ten years of bartending, and later owning, the Mayne Street Grub N Pub in Bluegrass.

She said she has found that providing non-alcoholic options also lessens the amount people drink in the first place.

“I’ve had so many of my regular customers come to me at Mayne Street and ask ‘can we have half a shot instead?’ It’s not usual they want more,” Haines said.

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Haines said she estimates the average age of the patrons at Unimpaired in Davenport is around 30, but the bar in Iowa City will provide unique opportunities for students, as well.

She said it will give students a chance to socialize and still be able to study when they get home or not have to worry about going to class with a hangover the next day.

Haines said she has already begun making ties to the community by partnering with the UI’s Entrepreneurial Program and committing to a 2 percent donation to the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital on all their pizza sales.

However, she said she does not plan to partner with local Alcoholics Anonymous groups or other substance abuse rehabilitation programs, as the dry bar’s environment could be a trigger for those going through recovery.

Although Snyder said that he couldn’t see himself going to the dry bar, he was curious to see how its opening plays out.

“I wish them luck,” Snyder said.