Lorelei Bandrovschi hasn’t worked in a bar, but the former brand and innovation consultant (her résumé includes clients like MoMA and YouTube) is poised to be a game-changer in the drinks world. Last fall Bandrovschi launched Listen Bar, a pop-up that offers a dynamic bar experience without the booze. The idea sparked after a friend dared Bandrovschi to take a month off drinking, an experience that led her to pay closer attention to the bar world’s attitude towards non-drinkers. She quickly noticed that booze-free options in bars often lack creativity and flavor, and that bartenders sometimes treat non-drinkers differently.
Inspired to create a better booze-free bar experience, Bandrovschi self-funded the first Listen Bar pop-up in Williamsburg last October. The response was so positive that she decided to do it again but for an extended period of time to allow more people to explore, re-visit and share their experiences with others. Currently, the pop-up happens every Monday at VON bar on Bleecker Street, with a new brand throwing a different themed event each time, such as “Self-Care is the new Rock ‘N Roll,” sponsored by CBD makers Plant People.
Bandrovschi focused on a few key elements to make Listen Bar stand out. First, the 100% booze-free menu had to reflect the highest level of creativity possible. “One of my big hangups getting booze-free drinks in bars where that’s not the target market is that you feel like you’ve been placated with a drink that might be decent but typically not good enough to have two,” says Bandrovschi. “I wanted to have drinks that people would get excited about and feel satisfied.”
The final menu came together as a collaborative effort between Bandrovschi, experts in herbalism and nutrition, and some of the industry’s most talented bartenders and proponents of alcohol-free options in bars, including Eamon Rockey, Jack McGarry, Julia Momose, Aaron Polsky, Pam Wiznitzer and Chockie Tom. “They’re total heroes in this world, as far as I’m concerned,” says Bandrovschi of the team. Some drinks like the She Pretty showcase a simple mix of fresh ingredients—strawberry, lemon, rose water and egg white—while more elaborate recipes challenge guests to think further outside the box.
Every bartender at Listen Bar also happens to be a musician, an intentional move for Bandrovschi (and a reference to the bar’s name). “I wanted Listen Bar to be a place where we’re giving musicians a way to showcase their music and influences, and in the process we’re rewriting the typical bar ice breaker,” she says. “Every time you sit down, you can ask your bartender what kind of music they make, what band they’re in or what song is playing. You can also connect with the people next to you over that music.”
The next phase of Listen Bar is a brick-and-mortar concept, which is currently being crowd-funded at IFundWomen.com. “I did the crowd-funding route because I wanted permission from the people who we were building this experience for, so we could execute it in the way that best serves them, as opposed to having pressure from investors to deliver on other people’s measures of success,” Bandrovschi says, adding that she’s confident her vision will resonate with enough supporters to bring the bar to life. “We’re seeing the exponential growth and people being ready to have these conversations, so it’s just a matter of getting that enthusiasm to translate to people raising their hand and saying they’ll back this,” she says. “To be a place that rallies for non-drinkers will contribute to our impact on the industry overall and get people to start places like Listen Bar.”
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