At first glance, Slick’s Alternative Bar in Northeast Minneapolis might not seem much different from other such establishments. Like most bars, it offers music, dancing, and socializing. But there’s an atmosphere—and an absence—at Slick’s that sets it apart and keeps its patrons coming back for more.

Parts of the bar’s decor offer clues that it isn’t the typical watering hole: coffee cups bearing customers’ names are set in rows; paintings done by patrons hang throughout the room; personalized keepsakes from grateful visitors are all proudly displayed. Along the high walls hang more than 150 cowboy hats contributed by customers who took owners Diane and Bob Slick’s invitation to heart when they said, “Hang your hat and call it home.”

But what really sets Slick’s Alternative Bar apart is what is missing: liquor. Slick’s is one of only two “dry bars” in Minnesota, which helps explain why patrons have come from Wisconsin, Iowa, the Dakotas—even England—just for the company. This nonalcoholic bar and the few like it around the country are fast becoming popular gathering places for recovering alcoholics and nonalcoholics alike.

“This place saved my life,” says one regular at Slick’s. “First the [Alcoholics Anonymous] program saved my life from chemicals. Then the Alternative saved my life from being socially isolated. Without it I might have gone back to chemicals just to fill the terrible emptiness I was feeling.”

In fact, many alcoholics “fall off the wagon” when they return to their old haunts and friends, searching for the social life and atmosphere. While the ideal for recovering alcoholics is to break completely from past habits, including a “bar and booze” mentality that sets them up for another drink, many cannot make such ...

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