When I opened Spirited Away’s doors for the first time in early November, 2020, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I knew I was drinking a lot of non-alcoholic (NA) craft beers and making a lot of “no and low” cocktails. I also knew I liked to browse quirky little neighborhood retail shops with specific, curated collections. But I really didn’t know if many other New Yorkers did and would. To complicate matters further, I had never operated a brick & mortar store. In the back of my mind that opening day, a concern lingered: maybe there’s a reason no one has opened a booze-free bottle shop in America yet.
There was no fanfare or “grand opening” on Ludlow Street that day. The sign on the door was hand drawn. In Crayola marker. By me. But I knew by the end of the first weekend that I was onto something big. I hadn’t promoted the launch, yet those who visited were more enthusiastic than I ever could have imagined. My customers’ effusive support continues to be a huge motivating factor for me today, with both Spirited Away and Dry Atlas.
In the weeks that followed, I learned that I was far from alone. Others too were looking for new NA options, and many were realizing how much their health, fitness, sleep, mental agility and energy improve the less alcohol they drink. Our role in the sober curious movement also caught the attention of major publications, with the Wall Street Journal, Wirecutter, New York Magazine, New York Times, Punch and the New York Post all covering our little shop on Ludlow Street.
In retrospect, this early momentum shouldn’t have surprised me. The “no and low” movement was already well underway by the time I joined their ranks in 2020. John Wiseman had started brewing his Curious Elixirs in New York in 2016. Ben Branson had invented the distilled NA spirit back in 2017. Julia Bainbridge has been writing excellent pieces on NA for years. In 2019, the movement really gained steam in New York. Ruby Warrington coined the term “sober curious,” John deBary launched his Ludlow and Rivington spirits and Sam Thonis opened New York’s first NA bar, Getaway. Countless others contributed to the early development of this category.
Resigning from my corporate day job to focus full-time on Spirited Away was a hard decision, and one I didn’t take lightly. Ultimately, I was and I am so confident in the future of this industry that I can’t not focus on it full time. There’s so much more that I plan to do to advance NA in New York and beyond, starting with upgrading Spirited Away’s location to its bigger, better, more permanent home at 177 Mott Street and giving brands the opportunity to activate within it through tastings, events and pop-ups.
Thank you for being part of this journey, and for inspiring me to grow and expand Spirited Away and now Dry Atlas. Come say hello next time you’re in Nolita and until then, rate and discover drinks on the world’s most comprehensive non-alcoholic beverage list, Dry Atlas.