New bar offers non-alcoholic alternative in Iowa City

Unimpaired Dry Bar and Eats offers a sober option for those who want to go out without pressure to drink


Dimia Burrell

The inside of the new Unimpaired Dry Bar on Nov. 1, 2021. The bar recently opened in downtown Iowa City on 125 E Burlington St serving non-alcoholic drinks and food. (Dimia Burrell/The Daily Iowan)

Sam Knupp, News Reporter

With the bustling nightlife that exists in Iowa City, Unimpaired Dry Bar and Eats is going in a different direction.

On the menu, customers can find mimosas, sangria, mai tais, daiquiris, mojitos, and martinis — all without alcohol. The bar also offers zero proof beer, whiskey, wine, vodka, and gin, along with energy drink mixers and iced coffee.

Owner Amber Haines said she was inspired to start a dry bar after facing peer pressure to drink when she went out. 

“I thought, why can’t there just be a place where people can go socialize and enjoy these late-night activities without alcohol?” Haines said.

Haines, who is four years sober, has never experienced alcohol addiction, but has witnessed how it has affected people in her family. Her father died at the age of 42 from alcoholism. 

When acquiring the location that would later become her business — Amber’s Mayne Street Grub and Pub in Bluegrass, Iowa — Haines said she made the decision to stop drinking.

“That’s when I really realized my relationship with alcohol and how I wanted things to change before I purchased the bar,” she said. 

Haines said she isn’t the only one at Unimpaired Bar and Eats who has chosen to stop consuming alcohol. She said about half of the staff at the Iowa City location doesn’t drink.

Kennedy Callan, Unimpaired bartender and entertainment director at the Iowa City location, said she is also four years sober.

“A lot of our staff has chosen to take a break or kind of slow things down,” she said. “We have one person on the staff today who is 16 months sober this month, so it’s pretty exciting stuff.”

One of the positive effects the dry bar could have on Iowa City, Haines said, is giving consumers more options to choose from when it comes to participating in nightlife. The bar features live music, offers karaoke every Monday night, and hosts trivia every Thursday night.

“We try every night of the week to have something going on where people can come in and socialize and hang out,” she said.

Dubuque resident Gabe Wigginton, a customer at Unimpaired Bar and Eats, said he liked that the bar offers more inclusivity than most other bars.

“Not everyone in college drinks alcohol, but they might want to be a part of the experience,” he said.

Amanda O’Donnell, general manager of the Iowa City location, said the bar will offer pizza and salad to start, and add more food options over time. 

While business has been good within the first week its location has been open, she said there is still more to do.

“I think a lot of it is just getting the word out about us being open and finding the right platform to advertise [from],” she said, “… But I think it’s spreading now.”