LOGAN SQUARE — Cristina Torres struggled to find a hangout that didn’t revolve around alcohol after she got sober in 2020.
“In Chicago, there’s not really anything to do after 7 p.m.,” Torres said. “You can go to a bar. You can go to the movies and then go to a bar. You can have dinner and drinks and then go to a bar.”
Torres said she’d sit in bars, “staring at people drinking,” feeling like she didn’t fit in with her friends anymore.
“It was not a good head space,” Torres said.
Now, Torres, 31, is raising money to open Bendición Dry Bar, an alcohol-free bar and community center that eschews the notion you have to drink to have a good time. An online fundraiser for the project had raised $2,500 toward its $15,000 goal as of Friday morning.
“Our main goal is to create a safe and fun environment where people can come together for dance parties, date nights, have community classes, host recovery meetings and create those deeper connections we all need and crave — without the expectation or societal pressure to include alcohol,” Torres wrote in the fundraiser.
“We’re inviting you to try something not often expected of us in bars — to remember the night. To make memories you won’t forget. To be present.”
Torres grew up in Humboldt Park and Archer Heights and currently lives in Logan Square. She does customer service full-time for a composting company, but she has years of experience working for restaurants.
Until 2020, Torres suffered from an alcohol addiction, partying with friends almost every night, she said. She tried to quit drinking several times, but it never stuck, partly because it was all anyone in her friend group wanted to do, she said.
“At the end of the day, I always want back to drinking because it was so lonely not drinking,” she said.
But Torres overcame those challenges and got sober in early 2020, which gave her the clarity and strength to launch Bendición Dry Bar, she said.
Over the past two years, Torres has hosted 10 pop-up events under the Bendición Dry Bar moniker with non-alcoholic drinks and dancing, open mic nights and do-it-yourself crafts. She has a regular event series going with the Logan Square bar The Native. The next one, set for April 30, is centered around board games.
Though Torres doesn’t come from a bar background, she’s been able to build a business around non-alcoholic drinks thanks to the support of people who run non-alcoholic drink brands and others in the industry, she said. She also participated in a six-week course from Sans Bar, an alcohol-free bar in Austin, Texas, that teaches people how to launch non-alcoholic businesses.
“Growing up in Chicago and being in the food industry here, you get this feeling that it’s rude to ask someone how they made something,” Torres said. “What I found in the non-alcoholic space is that it’s totally different. Everyone’s super supportive of each other. Even if you don’t want their product, [brands] want to know what you’re doing.”
Bendición Dry Bar is a true reflection of Torres: what’s she been through, but also where she came from, she said.
Torres named the business after her immigrant grandparents’ sendoff: “bendición,” which means “blessing” in Spanish and is used as an expression in Puerto Rico.
“It’s them sending you away with a blessing, so you’re protected,” Torres said. “Both of my grandparents have passed, and this bar is essentially in their honor.
“… It’s something I never ever in my wildest dreams thought I would do. It’s because of them, it’s because of how they raised us. I wanted a way to honor them.”
The name is also a nod to Torres’ hard-fought sobriety.
“I’m not super religious, but I couldn’t have done it without some kind of higher power,” she said.
Torres said her long-term goal is to open a brick-and-mortar, “a sober place for people to hang out,” hopefully in a neighborhood on the West Side such as Pilsen that is predominately home to people of color, she said. Torres is Mexican and Puerto Rican.
“The rate of people of color who turn to drinking is much higher,” she said. “Ideally, I’d like to be in a neighborhood where this would be really helpful for people.”
Torres has been putting money from the pop-ups toward her brick-and-mortar account, but she said she still needs a lot more funding — and likely an investor — to open a physical location. Realistically, the $15,000 online fundraiser will only get her halfway there, she said.
Torres has big plans for Bendición Dry Bar: She wants the business to double as a community center, mirroring some of the programs she participated in as a kid through After School Matters. She plans to host a steady stream of community-driven events, from art fairs and chef showcases to English classes and tax seminars — “anything that would be helpful to people,” she said.
“Realistically, that part of it is more exciting to me: being able to provide a space for people to get any kind of help they need,” Torres said.
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