Chelsey Noack and Mary Jackson met as hard-drinking, fast-talking bartenders. But by the time they reconnected in 2020, Noack had gotten sober. Tired of partying and inspired by Noack, Jackson did the same.
Working together, the pair would joke about a spot called Sober Sallys — "a fantasy utopia restaurant," as Jackson put it, where the clientele was considerate and the drinks were booze-free.
"Like, 'This wouldn't happen at Sober Sallys, that wouldn't happen at Sober Sallys,' " Noack said. "People say their dreams come true — our jokes come true."
Last year, the pair launched the very real Sober Sallys, a mobile mocktail bar.
Their stand pops up at art shows, weddings and other events that would typically be booze-focused, offering an array of nonalcoholic cocktails with color and complexity. It might be the Twin Cities' first mocktail bar, but it's part of a wave of nonalcoholic options.
"We want people to have the beauty of a cocktail, just without the booze," said Noack, who lives in St. Paul. "We want to bring awareness to people in their teens, 20s and 30s — to let them know that it's OK to not drink.
"To make people feel strong and empowered in sobriety."
Noack, 26, and Jackson, 30, came to their sobriety via distinct routes. Noack started drinking at 16 to cope with her parents' divorce. She got her first DUI when she was 20 and her second when she was 23.
"I went to jail, I was on house arrest, I had to blow into a breathalyzer three times a day. 8 a.m., 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. on the dot," she said. So at first, she was forced to be sober. But quickly, her sobriety became something bigger: "My sobriety is for me, but it's also for a lot of people."
Jackson had just moved back from Colorado, where she drank and partied heavily, when she reconnected with Noack. She was struck by how much her friend had changed; a violent energy had given way to a calm demeanor.
It helped Jackson examine her own drinking. (In addition to alcohol, she used "any kind of white powder.") "I looked at myself in the mirror one day and said, 'Knock it off.' "
When Jackson quit, her mental health "did a complete 180," she said. "I have way less anxiety. I don't know what it is about booze — people drink to ease their anxiety, but it really kicks it into high gear for me."
Jackson is the duo's creative director. Some recipes rely on shrubs for tartness, herbs for depth. For now, they're eschewing rum and whiskey simulations, because they can trigger a craving for alcohol.
"We try to try to create things that are light and fresh and have complex flavors," she said.
Grabbing drinks, people will often share their stories and sober anniversaries, Noack said.
"It's so incredibly rewarding to be able to do something we believe so hard in. To help people, to touch people," she said. "Omigod, it's just euphoric. It's the best feeling in the entire world."
In September, when Sober Sallys had just launched, artist Constance Klippen invited the duo to serve mocktails at an art show she was organizing. "I'm sober, too," Klippen said, "and I have just found alcohol takes away from the connection you can have with the artists."
But she was upfront with them: She had never hosted a mocktail bar before, so she wasn't sure how well it would do.
The whole night, Klippen said, the line wrapped around the corner for their stand.
"They're making drinks, ultimately, but it's more than that," she said. "For them, it's about showing people that there's another way. They're sharing recovery — and that's the way they're doing it, with these beautiful drinks."