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Dry January
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Some pointers on doing Dry January in London, from a seasoned participant

Everything a Londoner should know before jumping on the wagon this January

Rosie Hewitson
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Rosie Hewitson
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January is actually a great month to go sober

People love to sneer at the concept of Dry January. ‘Going sober for January? ‘Why would I want to do that? It’s already the worst month of the year!’ they scoff, as if you haven’t already heard this a thousand times over. If you must – they surmise – go sober for a month, surely there are better ones to pick than the coldest, bleakest month of the year? But that’s where they’re wrong. 

For starters, if you’re anything like me, at this time of year you’ve probably been at least ‘two drinks in’ tipsy for the best part of the last month, what with all the Christmas parties, pub catch-ups and anxiety-fuelled glasses of wine at 5pm on the dot while you watch the latest Downing Street press conference. You really need some time off the sauce. You need it, and actually you welcome it. Secondly, you’re skint. A few weeks of swapping all those London-priced modern IPAs for lime and soda will go a long way in helping your finances recover from the extravagances of December. And finally, all the body positivity in the world probably can’t help you escape the fact that your diet over Crimbo Limbo consisted mostly of brie, and you’re starting to feel like your body isn’t really your own. The likelihood of you sticking to a gym routine is slim, even if they are still open come January, and cutting out those midweek glasses of rioja is a great way of losing that roast potato chunk without actually having to put in any exercising effort whatsoever. 

All of which makes you probably more motivated than you’ll ever be to jump on the wagon for January. 

Nowhere is better than London when it comes to no and low offerings

I’ve been doing Dry January with varying degrees of success since the second year of university which, in hindsight, was a pretty weird thing to do as a 20-year-old, but nevertheless has given me plenty of experience. Every January on the wagon has been easier than the last. It’s not that I’ve developed great reserves of willpower, it’s just that with each passing year the no- and low-alcohol game gets better and better. 

Back in the dark days of 2016, I remember trekking from Seven Sisters to the big Aldi on Tottenham High Road in the pouring rain because it was the only place nearby that stocked Efes non-alcoholic beer, which Google rated pretty highly even though it tasted like weakened malt vinegar. A few years later, living on the other side of the river, my housemates and I would embark on a 30-minute round trip to a little Co-op on Peckham Rye once a week to buy its entire stock of BrewDog Nanny State, the first ‘actually decent’ no or low beer I ever came across. 

Nowadays you can get Seedlip and Nosecco in just about every big supermarket, but London remains unparalleled when it comes to finding them out and about. We’ve got 57 different boozers where you can get a pint of genuinely tasty 0 percent Lucky Saint on draught. We’ve got the Square Root Soda Bar and countless bars with ‘zero-proof’ menus. We’ve got hipster bottle shops that stock Mikkeller alcohol-free sours, multiple varieties of Big Drop and loads of niche German alkoholfrei things that I’ve never heard of. This month we’ve even got an entirely alcohol-free off-licence run by London-based mindful drinking group Club Soda. When it comes to finding something more interesting than a Diet Coke to drink during a period of sobriety, London is truly elite. 

The weekends are illogically, impossibly long

You know that thing that people put forward as an argument for the four-day working week, about how the two-day weekend is too short to have fun, rest and get all those annoying little bits of life admin done? Turns out that’s just because we’re all constantly a teeny bit hungover. During Dry January, the weekends are so long it defies logic. 

Sure, they’re hangover-free for once, but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily getting up and at it any earlier. In fact, you can lie in until 2pm and still have 60 percent more weekend than usual. Maybe it’s something to do with cramming your two days off with as much stuff as possible in an effort to distract yourself from how much you want a pint. Maybe it’s just because the last few hours of Friday and Saturday aren’t a little blurry round the edges. Having this ‘extra’ time will be novel and exciting for a couple of weeks (the house is so tidy! You’re getting so much done!) but by the third Friday it’ll make you inexplicably angry (you can only spend so many Saturday afternoons working your way through an Ottolenghi book before you have to concede that you’re not actually a huge fan of preserved lemons, especially when you can’t complement them with a nice bottle of white wine). 

Either way, you’ll find the time to do all of those things you say you’re going to do at the weekend, like catching the latest Tate Modern retrospective or making it to that quaint little market that’s usually winding down by the time you remember it’s on, and seeing five different foreign-language films and seven Oscar noms at your local indie cinema between now and the end of January. All of which you can afford to do, because you didn’t spend £50 on a single round at some new ‘concept bar’ in Soho on Friday night. 

It’s gonna be way easier if you enlist some pals

This is probably a pretty obvious point, but managing four or five consecutive weekends of sobriety is a hell of a lot easier if you get a few of your friends involved too. For starters, it’s handy to have somebody who’s also so desperate to stave off the boredom that they’ll bite your hand off when you invite them to go bowling or get tickets to a panel discussion between two authors they’ve never read.

And secondly, because when you attempt Dry January this curious thing happens whereby it becomes the only topic you’re capable of discussing for the entire month, even when you can see people checking out, and it helps if you can get those people in on it too so as to avoid alienating everyone you’ve ever met with chat about subtle changes to your sleeping habits. 

February will probably be very, very wet

A pint of unfiltered pilsner. A £13 bottle of Barbera from M&S. A four-pack of Tyskie. A rum and full-fat Coke. An unspeakably expensive 7.4 percent ABV can from the craft beer shop you’re normally too intimidated by to step foot in. A large glass of orange wine. A bottle of Yellow Tail bought from the corner shop at 10pm on a weeknight. A gin from the top shelf, with Fever Tree tonic. A raspberry gose. They’re all for you, mate. You deserve it. But pace yourself, yeah? Your tolerance isn’t what it used to be.

Make sure you check out these places in London to drink when you’re not drinking.

And our pick of the best alcohol free cocktails in London.

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