Alcohol-free bar owner says his Blackness led him to create space for healing

As the pandemic continues, research shows binge drinkers increased alcohol consumption by nearly twenty percent during the shutdowns.

April marks alcohol awareness month and many may be looking to drink less or not at all. A study published in the American Psychological Association says nearly 1 in 4 people reported drinking more alcohol to help cope with stress. 

The stress of not fitting in was a big reason why Chris Marshall, the owner of Sans Bar turned to alcohol. He serves up zero-proof cocktails at one of the only alcohol-free bars in the South.


"Right now, I'm just kind of cleaning up, a big part of what we're doing now is everything is outside due to COVID, we want to welcome our guests back, but we also want to keep things safe," Marshall says. He’s ready to get back to work, like most business owners, but his incentive is more than just finances. 

These days he works on staying innovative with his zero-poof cocktails and keeping his skills fresh.

He shows us a bar full of tequila, the catch is it's a nonalcoholic drink.

"That's the best part is like, over the last year or so, there's been a boom in our non-alcoholic beverages," Marshal says, showing off the unique alcohol-free liquor. "That’s the fun of like coming in here and just playing around and once were able to get full service back, I look forward to getting these drinks and getting these zero-proof cocktails to outside customers so they can try, you know, a gin and tonic, alcohol-free gin and tonic."

This year, Marshall marks 14 years sober. 

"I haven't always been sober, I started drinking when I was 16 and I felt really disconnected," Marshall says. "I grew up outside of Houston in Sugar Land, Texas and I just felt really disconnected from the people around me. I didn't have the kind of money that they had, I didn't and you know, obviously didn't look like some of the people. I was usually one of a handful of minority students in my class and I always felt different and when I found alcohol, initially it was this thing that made me feel like I belonged." 

Marshall says alcohol was a way to run from the discomfort he felt of showing up as a young Black man. He says he used it to numb the feelings, eventually losing sight under the influence. 


"I became debilitated and so at 23 I went to treatment and I got better," Marshall says today after 14 years of sobriety. 

Eventually, Marshall ended up in Austin and worked as a counselor at Austin's Integral Care, helping support others through mental illness and substance abuse. 

"I mean there are very few adult social experiences that aren't centered around alcohol, so I saw people struggling in that way and I knew that no one should ever have to feel that sense of being alone and feel the essence of not being connected and that's why I started Sans Bar," Marshall remembers.  

Now, he spends his time at the East Austin spot, pouring hope like an antidote to loneliness, creating a healing space like the one he needed decades ago. 

"That's the beauty of these drinks. I can play around with these things all day long and I'm not going to wake up hungover. I can go home and drive!" Marshall says chuckling. "I can continue to innovate and have a good time behind the bar creating great drinks because I know that I'm serving completely alcohol free things."

It's a place Marshall says is free of expectations to come as you are.

"The thing is, it's so hard to be who you are in a world that tells you how to be, you know? One of my favorite quotes is, 'Remember who you were before the world told you were somebody else' and that's all I'm trying to get back to, ‘Who was I before the world told me that I was not good enough? Who was I before the world told me that my blackness and my boyness and my mental health was not good enough or insufficient? Who was I before the world told me I was not enough?’" Marshall says. "Whoever that boy was, I want to honor and celebrate that boy, I want to celebrate that kid. I want that kid to have a space where they feel safe that's what the space is all about."

You can learn more about Sans Bar on social media and their website