More than just a bar

I set out to create a place where there was music every night, trained staff who know how to handle young customers and a family atmosphere.

Music – sans alcohol – at Sobar’s September 27 opening in Jerusalem (photo credit: Courtesy)
Music – sans alcohol – at Sobar’s September 27 opening in Jerusalem
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For those of us who have teens and young adults who exhibited relatively sound behavior as children we generally expect this trend to continue. The problem often begins when our kids follow the crowd, and in pursuit of pleasing their peers find themselves making choices they otherwise would have not made.
As I have shared in the past, Jerusalem has many hot spots in a very small radius in the center of town.
Bar after bar lures them in with loud music, nargila aroma, young workers on the corners calling them in for happy hour and more. Bars that are caught serving underage kids get fined or shut down for a few days but the financial profit of continuing to serve underage kids is far too appealing to reject.
Of the many bars I am familiar with in the downtown area there are two that stick out as exceptions to the rule. After a conversation with Reuben Beiser, the owner of Mike’s Place Jerusalem, I learned that he trains his staff on how to handle the 18-21 crowd who come from the US. He explains that these kids are not used to bar/restaurant/ music culture like we have in Israel.
They are usually first timers in leaving home and being trusted to study in a foreign country. Mom and dad are sure that Jerusalem is a holy city that protects the kids, unaware of the dangers of the streets of downtown Jerusalem. Beiser prepares the staff with tools to help them decipher when a kid is drinking too much, how to talk them down and how to approach them in a safe way for both the kids and the staff.
Blaze Bar is a rock ’n’ roll bar in downtown Jerusalem with live music every night. Entering the patio of Blaze you see dozens of young adults sitting together waiting for the music to begin. Yehi Zaken, the owner, knows everyone’s name and all are greeted with a hug and a hello. Zaken knows what dangers the kids in Jerusalem are facing and their need for a place safe from those dangers. He is versed in every street drug available and when he warns the kids they listen because they trust Zaken’s knowledge and experience. He will not tolerate disrespectful behavior, and creates a safe surrounding for all of his customers. And of course for the musicians frequenting Blaze it is a stage in a great smoke-free space with great energy and a supportive fun audience.
With both Beiser and Zaken in mind, I set out to create a place where there was music every night, trained staff who know how to handle young customers and a family atmosphere. Enter the Sobar, the name came from combining “sober” with “bar.” Though it seems an oxymoron, a bar can be free of alcohol.
Zaken held my hand from day one of the Sobar. He said it should be smoke-free as well, which was welcome advice. Coming with colored chalk, he wrote on the walls where each area should be. He outlined plans for the kitchen, sound station, performance stage, storage area, electric outlets and furniture, while discussing the acoustic needs and lighting requirements. With seven years of experience running and owning bars, Zaken knew what attracted customers beyond the alcohol.
With his support we have created a welcoming, exciting and functioning space to facilitate as a performance venue, music school, and art studio which will include a healthy kitchen.
The official opening of the Sobar was on September 27. Over 60 of Jerusalem’s arts and culture leaders were in attendance. They crowded into the Sobar living room to hear the young musicians and bands perform who came from all over Jerusalem.
The guests left at around 10 that night but the kids stayed jamming until after midnight.
The next day Haito, the Sobar youth leader, welcomed teens and young adults all day who wanted to check out the center, hang out and play guitar and sing. Barak Kabilio, who is running the Music School at Sobar along with Guy Hugi taught guitar one by one to the students who came to the Sobar for the first time and couldn’t believe what they saw. As Yossi Sharabi, former head of the Jerusalem Community, Youth, Arts and Culture department put it, “This place will attract the kids that no other place run by the city can attract.”
He was partially right: After only being open for a week, Sobar has attracted kids battling addiction in addition to the kids who frequent the Yellow Submarine, community centers and art schools.
One of our visitors at the opening was a 20-year-old newly religious boy. With peyot down to his shoulders, he sat and told his story of addiction to drugs and alcohol, his wake-up call less than a year ago and his newly formed connection to God. At the end of the evening after he had the opportunity to play the drums with one of the bands, he came over to me and said “Some people give to themselves, and some give to others. What all of you have done here shows how giving to others can truly make a huge difference.”
Anyone wanting to check out the Sobar and get a feeling of what an alcohol free bar looks like is invited come on down. We are located on Shoshan Street at the very end. This center will be a bastion of creativity and proof that creativity can trump mood altering chemicals.
The writer is an addiction counselor and the founder of the Sobar alcohol-free live music bar for teens and young adults.,,