Mingling at a social outing minus the Manhattan or merlot can make a lot of us feel exposed. It’s part of the routine. Drinking alcohol at a show or restaurant can feel as integral to those experiences as the performer or meal themselves. We rely on drinking – or at least we think we rely on drinking – for a boost in social confidence. We think it opens us up and makes us more talkative and outgoing.
Absence of Proof Detroit launched this spring to flip that line of thinking upside down and revise the routine. They are a non-alcoholic take on a night out, looking to provide an alternative for the pockets of metro Detroit that don’t drink. Or, to help provide a change of pace to those that want to drink but want to dial back their relationship with alcohol. Anyone intrigued by the sober curious movement – which hasn’t exactly died down since Dry January like in it has in past years – has a new nightlife option to keep tabs on.
“It’s so unique. There’s so many bars and places where you can get alcohol, but how many places can you hang out in the same environment and drink mocktails?” said 26-year-old Jaclyn Bruzdewicz, one of the 80 to 90 guests at Absence of Proof’s April 29 launch party, as she sipped on Absence of Proof’s “Livernois” mocktail. The Livernois is a Lychee martini with Spiritless Jalisco 55 Tequila.
“I think (alcohol) is a placebo effect,” Bruzdewicz added, on the notion that you have to drink to have fun. “People here have drinks in their hands. They’re not alcoholic, but the vibes are the same here as if it was a regular bar.”
Absence of Proof’s debut pop-up had the atmosphere of a Saturday night house party or DJ showcase at an intimate venue on the downtown Detroit outskirts, only no one was wobbling around disoriented by the end of the night. As a DJ played Detroit Techno, smatterings of groups talked and socialized, waited in line for one of the five mocktails on the menu or sat and played cards and Connect 4. Guests ranged in age and demographic from Gen Z to millennials to older adults.
Absence of Proof Detroit is the event curation company’s third chapter in the country. It started as a New York City pop-up in 2022, based on a blend of entrepreneurial aspirations and personal lifestyle tweaks by founder and CEO Elizabeth Gascoigne.
“My relationship with alcohol began very young, I was a teenage partier. And when I was 19 I said, ‘Enough is enough, this has to go,’” said Gascoigne, a Seattle native, during the April launch party. “I was actually completely sober for three years. And then I moved to New York and thought I could moderate. I started drinking again and it wasn’t destructive, but it also wasn’t beneficial. I didn’t feel like it was adding to my life.”
Gascoigne bringing Absence of Proof to Detroit wasn’t random – the Seattle native grew up spending summers in her family’s hometown of Adrian. As a frequent visitor familiar with Detroit’s cultural boom over the past 10 to 15 years, she got the sense there was an appetite for this alternative.
“I come here every summer, I know people here and I love the city, and it’s my happy place to be honest,” said the 25-year-old Gascoigne.
Tori Guido, a close friend of Gascoigne’s, is the event manager of Absence of Proof Detroit. She drinks alcohol, but she’s in the process of cutting back, a symbolization of sorts for the company’s all-inclusive mission statement. Absence of Proof doesn’t identify as a social network strictly for people in recovery or those who have abstained from alcohol their entire lives (although it’s a tailor-made nightlife option for those folks, too). It’s also for drinkers who want to switch it up and make a habit of going out on a Friday or Saturday night without loading up on beers and mixed drinks.
One of Absence of Proof’s taglines is “a night off of drinking.”
“I still drink, but I’ve become a way more mindful drinker over the last six months or so,” Guido said. “Something I really realized while doing Dry January is there’s still so much opportunity for bars or restaurants to be providing options than aren’t just a diet Coke. It can be frustrating to try and make more mindful decisions about what you’re putting into your body, and you feel like you’re kind of left out of the full experience when you go out.”
Gascoigne added that part of her personal motivation behind growing Absence of Proof is to help buck the decades-old trend of binge drinking at parties when you enter your late teens and early 20s. This cultural staple often leads to a lifestyle of unhealthy drinking habits. Gascoigne believes it doesn’t have to be a prerequisite to college socialization.
“When I was deep in my party days, I think I romanticized alcohol. I thought drinking was so cool and it made me cool,” she said. “So, what we’re trying to do is make a sober curious or intentional drinking lifestyle cool. For me, it’s much more personal than let’s make money. I want to show kids that you don’t have to get messed up to have a good time.”
Absence of Proof Detroit has events lined up in late May and early June. Tickets to their events usually include unlimited non-alcoholic cocktails.
Guido, 28, and Gascoigne’s long-term vision for Absence of Proof Detroit is rooted in its communal nature. It wants to gain momentum and exposure, at eventually be present at Detroit staple events, like the Movement Music Festival. But more than anything, whether you drink a little, a lot or not at all, Absence of Proof wants to help shake the stigma that you have to drink to have a good time.
“The thing for me is that, yes, we’re a non-alcoholic pop-up, but more-so we’re a community,” Gascoigne said. “So, how do we bring similar people together consistently, and help foster a place you go to make new friends. That’s the goal. It’s like, ‘I went to Absence of Proof, yeah I didn’t drink alcohol, but I still made new friends.’ That’s the goal, create long-lasting, authentic friendships and good memories.”
The other operating Absence of Proof chapters are in New York City, Connecticut, Seattle and Los Angeles. A Washington DC chapter will open in June, followed by Boston and Chicago chapters later this summer. On June 5, Absence of Proof Detroit will host “Minus the Proof Monday” at the Standby on Gratiot Avenue. They also have an event lined up at The Schvitz Health Club on Oakland Avenue. Tickets to both events can be purchased at this link.
Photo credit: Kyla Preissner/Be Now Media
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