On July 4, 2020, I took my last sips of champagne for what I thought would be a month. I decided to do a mostly-Dry July, take a break from booze for the rest of the month and raise money for a good cause. One month turned into three, then six and now I’m a mere two days away from a year alcohol free. There’s no dramatic story here, other than I feel better when I don’t drink. So, I decided to roll my year into another Dry July and just keep going. Which has prompted me to ask myself: Is a booze-free bon vivant an oxymoron?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: Of course not!

If I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that I can have a lot of fun without alcohol. More fun, in fact. Life can still be chic, sophisticated and lush without a glass of champagne glued to your lips. I know you are screaming at the screen right now and what you are yelling is: LIES! How do I know this? Because that was me before this experiment.

Do I leave happy hour, night’s out at the bar and parties earlier? Most of the time, yes. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. It means I’ve had my fill for the evening and am going to get to bed at a decent hour so I can feel great and have more fun the next day. It means the only thing I’m missing is the sloppy part of the night (no judgement) and nothing noteworthy usually happens by that time, so no harm, no foul.

The energy, emotional equilibrium, clarity, presence and, frankly, great skin, are all worth it for me and continue to be my incentive for remaining alcohol free for at least a little while longer, if not for good. I’m pretty sure I want it to be for good, but I don’t like declaring absolutes and want to be realistic and flexible in my thinking, as a rule.

Meanwhile, how does a bon vivant do the work of bon vivanting — especially in New Orleans — without delicious cocktails, tasty craft beers and decadent, festive champagne?

Well, first and foremost, there are myriad alcohol free replacements for all of the above (many are available locally at Total Wine & More in Metairie, including Ritual Zero Proof, Spiritless and Lyre’s alcohol free spirits; Athletic, Bravus and other NA craft beers, as well as all of the major beer brands’ NA beers; and St. Regis white, red, rosé and sparkling, as well as Freixenet Alcohol Free sparkling white and rosé.) Additionally, many bars and restaurants are adding mocktail/zero proof drinks to their menus and have NA beers on hand. Plus, you can ask for NA options. Most bartenders love the opportunity to show off their skills and make something special for you. There really is a lot more out there these days for teetotalers, the sober curious and those who just aren’t drinking today, this week or this month for any or no reason.

As all of us who live here know, New Orleans is about so much more than drinking. Rest assured that City Park, Audubon and all of our beautiful green spaces are just as fun and gorgeous sans booze. Art abounds in this city and our museums, galleries, public art and colorful street art is just as inspiring and cool without the free wine at opening receptions. This is coming from a gal who sometimes would attend art openings specifically for the free wine. (#SorryNotSorry) Music is just a soul-satisfying without the sometimes exorbitantly-priced drinks, and second-lines and otherwise dancing in the streets with abandon is indeed possible without an adult beverage in hand. That goes for parades, too. Travel is frankly glorious without post-day drinks lethargy and next day hangovers, and I’m not alone in this sober travel thing. The New York Times reports that “In a June poll of more than 23,000 people by Branded Research, 29 percent of respondents said they planned to take an alcohol-free trip after the pandemic.” I’m telling you all of this because I used to think alcohol made all of these things better, but I’ve learned that I enjoy them more without it, because I’m more present and, if we are being honest here, I remember it all much more clearly. Boozy times are hazy times, am I right?

Going alcohol free isn’t for everyone. But if you are thinking about taking a booze break, join me for Dry July (or semi-Dry July) and check into it for yourself. Believe me, there is no better place to be a booze-free bon vivant and have fun without alcohol than New Orleans.