- The Washington Times
Monday, March 2, 2020

Bethesda restaurateur Ashish Alfred has not let his sobriety keep him from going out with his friends and having a good time.

But, he says, there’s only so much Red Bull and soda waters with lime he can drink before becoming bored and wanting to leave.

It was his own experience with drug and alcohol addiction — and his business savvy — that inspired him to host monthly dry evenings and brunches at his restaurants, George’s Chophouse in Bethesda and Duck Duck Goose in Baltimore.

“I think that a lot of people, young people especially, are under the misconception that sobriety means boring: If I am going to be sober, that means sitting at home on my hands or in a chapel or in some dark room reading the 12 steps off a wall until my tongue turns blue,” said Mr. Alfred, who has been sober for six years.

“And for me the goal behind Feel Good Fridays and the Sober Sundays we are going to start doing in Baltimore is just to show people this is not a boring lifestyle. I go wherever I want to go, I do whatever I want to do, and I have a lot of fun doing it,” he added.

The Feel Good Fridays are held at The Loft at 4935 — the event space above the Chophouse — and boast a menu of six different, zero-proof cocktails; a good lineup of DJs playing lounge music; intimate lighting; and a safe atmosphere.

“Feel Good Fridays are all about going out like you would on a Friday night, just sans booze,” said Mr. Alfred, 34.

The Loft held its first sober Friday in late February, and about 20 people attended the event. Mr. Alfred said he isn’t worried about attendance figures because he is just getting started and building awareness of the event. The next Feel Good Friday is scheduled for 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on March 20.

Mr. Alfred said Baltimore is home to a huge brunch culture and brunches there can get pretty boozy, pretty fast.

So he wanted to create a similar, inclusive space with a monthly dry brunch for patrons who are avoiding alcohol. The first will be held on March 23 at Duck Duck Goose in Baltimore.

Mr. Alfred said he decided to go into rehab for his heroin, cocaine and alcohol addiction six years ago after he had almost died and his mother offered him an ultimatum — get healthy or never speak to her again.

He took her up on the offer — it was a no-brainer.

“After the first 10 to 15 days of feeling miserable, I felt freer than I ever felt, I felt better than I ever felt, there was just no looking back on it for me,” he said.

The culture of drinking in the restaurant industry is shifting for employees and customers, Mr. Alfred said. His proof: He was invited to cook a six-course, alcohol-free dinner at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City on May 9.

It’s a lot of pressure, he said, because the tickets for the meal are the same price as if they were serving alcohol.

At his restaurants, employees are not allowed to drink before or during work, as was common practice as a part of the drinking culture in the industry.

“Just like if somebody has an aversion to gluten, peanuts, dairy or whatever, you would be a fool of a restaurateur to not have accommodations for them,” Mr. Alfred said. “And I think as the sober trend is growing you’d be somewhat foolish to not have something for clients who want to abstain from alcohol that evening.”

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