Casper Restauranteur Offers Sober Alternatives to Classic Cocktails
In 2015, Cory Poulos had a decision to make. He could continue down the road he was currently on, or he could take a sharp left and reclaim his life.
When he really started to think about it, the decision was an easy one. The hard part, at least for a time, was taking that very first step.
The truth is, when it comes to recovery, there are a lot more than 12 steps. There's one step forward, two steps back. There's steps to the left, steps to the right, steps over and under. But when Poulos took that first step, he took back his life.
"I quit drinking in 2015," Poulos told K2 Radio News. "Life, like it is for a lot of folks who end up in recovery, became unmanageable. It was really just a crossroads in my life in 2015. I had to make the decision to keep going down the path I was going down, or I could give it up completely and seek treatment."
He gave it all up. And he took it all back.
"After I did that, the business took off and the rest is history," Poulos said. "There was just really no reason or ability to turn back at that point because everything was already in motion. It was just time. There's a laundry list of reasons that I could go through as far as what led to that. But ultimately, it was just time."
It was time. Anybody who's been in recovery knows that no amount of dreaming, wishing, hoping from other people will make somebody else get sober. That part has to come from within. That's what happened with Poulos and, in the eight years since he made that decision, a lot of really great things have happened.
Take, for instance, his catering company. What started out as something he operated outside of his own kitchen eventually turned into a brick and mortar restaurant in Downtown Casper.
The Drinkery opened in November of 2022 and it has already positioned itself as a highlight of Downtown Casper. It features a wide-array of alcoholic beverages - both as a full service bar and as a package liquor boutique. It also offers grab-and-go style food, such as pre-packaged gourmet salads and wraps, flatbread pizzas and pastas, a Build Your Own Charcuterie Board, and more.
But The Drinkery also offers something that no other establishment in Casper has - zero proof alcohol cocktails.
"Through our travels, we've seen a lot of similar things," Poulos said. "Denver has opened their first sober bar recently and I don't think Casper is ready for something like that just yet, but through traveling and seeing some of those things, I've gotten some ideas. I'm always on the lookout and asking restaurants for their mocktail lists and such. And Backwards Distilling Co. has a great variety of mocktails, and we have a few at The Eatery, but there just isn't really a place in town that you can go and fit in."
So, The Drinkery exists to be that place for people who want to go out, who want to fit in, who want to have fun and who want to drink, but without actually consuming alcohol.
And it does so with a variety of zero proof alcohol alternatives, courtesy of a variety of suppliers. The Drinkery has non-alcoholic wine and beer, of course. But it also offers alcohol-free alternatives to whiskey, rum, tequila, and gin.
"Fitting in is kind of a funny term, but when you go out, you don't want to always feel like an outcast," Poulos said. "You get a big plastic cup that might say Pepsi on the side. And it's great to drink water, or soda, or coffee. But sometimes you want something that's a little bit more crafted. And it struck me that nobody else is really doing that here in town, across the board. And so we just started researching that and I think that was a good balance for me. It makes me feel comfortable by offering a more diverse and inclusive environment for people that don't drink."
The Drinkery offers two types of non-alcoholic distilled spirits.
"If you're in recovery, we have a like that does not taste like alcohol," Poulos said. "They're just different, random flavors. But we also have a line that, if you're just not drinking today or if you're at a point in recovery where that's okay and it's not triggering for you, we have other kinds. Across the country, it's definitely a trend right now. And I just felt like it was a really great addition to what we were already doing here and what we plan to do here. We want to make a new hangout spot; a new, inclusive, adult-centered place with crafted drinks. And personally, it transpired because I don't want to be seen as somebody who...I don't like the perception that I'm pushing something on the community that I, myself, don't partake in."
That was a real worry of Poulos'. What would the perception in the community be of a restaurant owner that doesn't drink, opening a bar? More importantly, how would opening a bar impact his own sobriety?
"I certainly had a little bit of a momentary internal struggle as to whether this was the right decision to make in my recovery journey and my sobriety," Poulos said. "The other piece of my business is primarily catering; it's mostly all food-related. And alcohol is a small portion of it. Whereas, moving into this piece - the primary focus is on alcohol. And it's more of a nightlife type thing. So instantly, I had a few concerns, not necessarily for myself, but kind of the perception."
The perception, however, has been a primarily positive one. The public has turned out in droves to visit The Drinkery, both for its cocktails and its mocktails.
"We can't keep the non-alcoholic seltzers off the shelf," Poulos said. "We get them in once a week and by Friday, they're pretty much gone. I think at first, people are surprised to see the variety and the options we have. But I do try, if I'm here, to have a conversation with people. I do try and share just a small piece of my story with them. Like, I've been in those shoes before - where you want something, but it takes somebody creating that space and offering it. Ultimately, it takes somebody who's been there and who understands and who says 'Yeah, we do need this option.'"
That's what Cory Poulos saw, that's what he realized. And that's what he created. He created a place for a subsection of the population that has otherwise been, well, underserved.