How to navigate your first sober Carnival

Maybe you’re sober-curious, or interested in cutting back but don’t know where to start, or what a sober Carnival would look like.

by Maria Murriel
February 17, 2020

People everywhere are increasingly quitting booze, whether it’s an extension of Dry January, concerns about substance abuse or simply health consciousness. New Orleans is no exception — even now during Carnival, sober revelers are embarking on an alcohol-free Mardi Gras journey that can sometimes seem daunting.

If you’re sober-curious, or interested in cutting back but don’t know where to start, or what a sober Carnival would look like, keep reading.

Find sober-friendly spaces

New Orleans is full of bars and sometimes it feels like you’d rather just hang out at the library but that’s doesn’t have the ambiance you’re seeking. Well, it turns out bar owners are aware of and welcoming to patrons who don’t imbibe.

  • We Recommend:
  • NOLA Brewing
  • 12 Mile Limit
  • The Domino

NOLA Brewing just started tapping kegs of a non-alcoholic Hop’d Tea that’s meant precisely for sober clientele. They don’t make zero-proof beer because “the local demand for such a product doesn’t make the economics of producing one very viable,” says Dylan Lintern, brewery president. But the brewery is hoping their tea-like product — they describe it as a flavored seltzer — will land well with customers.

Social group QTs NOLA throws semi-monthly sober hangs for queer people. The Domino recently hosted a sober dance party and added the most popular nonalcoholic drink of the night to the bar’s permanent menu. The parties are quarterly so the next one won’t happen for a few months, but The Domino, and its Mid-City sister bar 12 Mile Limit, carry plenty of nonalcoholic options.

“[Nonalcoholic] beers are excellent bases for riffs on classic beer drinks like shandies and micheladas,” said Domino and 12 Mile Limit bar owner Cole Newton.

Be clear with your friends

The first thing to do after deciding not to drink is to let your social group know you’re not drinking. Set the expectation with them that you won’t be needing a shot or throwing down on the beer budget, but still want to hang out.

Since more and more people are going alcohol-free these days — enough so that Pels games feature ads for Heineken’s 0.0 percent ABV beer — friends would hopefully not be shocked at your decision. As you roll through your sober Carnival season, supportive spaces will be key, so make sure to plan your parade-going with accepting groups as much as possible.

Know your options

You don’t have to miss out on all the alcohol-fueled rituals of Carnival life. Nancy Mae, who marched in Chewbacchus with the Space Vikings, has been alcohol-free for seven months. During this first sober Carnival, she’s noticed she’s often left out of toasts or celebratory rounds of shots.

“I want to be included in that, just let me throw back some juice,” she says. “There are a few people who keep their alcohol-free friends in mind in these social settings, and those people are rad.”

If juice is not your jam, batch yourself a mocktail before leaving home. Grapefruit juice, seltzer and fresh rosemary is a personal favorite.

And if none of that speaks to you, go back to the life source: water. Chugging water along the parade route is not only a clear-minded power move, it’s also the key to clearer skin.

Flex on these cuties

Mardi Gras brings people together. Quite often, it brings them together together — the wanton spirit of Carnival creates a lot of opportunities to hook up. People who drink sometimes use alcohol to facilitate these hookups. But as many know, this can often end in disaster.

“Being sober allows for much better sexual opportunity,” says Xander, who doesn’t drink due to a health issue. “So if that’s a motivator for you … then seek out sexual events or gatherings knowing you’re bringing your A-game to the table.”

No beer goggles equals a greater possibility for a slam dunk.

Maria writes about beer, arts & culture and the occasional nostalgic essay about home. She’s worked in public radio newsrooms, newspapers and alt-weeklies, and is the co-founder of Pizza Shark Productions, a podcast house making media more equitable. She also teaches sometimes. Read more about her work at

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