Crystal Lake sober bar continues mission, expands offerings with move to new location
A lot has changed since 2013, when Chris Reed opened The Other Side in Crystal Lake.
Reed was just three years into his recovery from a heroin addiction that nearly killed him when he launched the non-alcohol bar. He hoped it would serve as a place where those trying to live a healthier lifestyle could maintain supportive social connections.
Now Reed is preparing for a Dec. 3 grand opening of a larger, brighter The Other Side Cafe & Sober Bar at 135 Beardsley St. in Crystal Lake.
"It's more OK today to say, 'I don't drink,' and to ask for help," Reed said. "It's easier to say, 'I am dealing with mental health issues.' The stigma has gone down a lot."
Though there still is a lot to do in the arena of recovery, places like Reed's sober bar are a step in the right direction, said Laura Crain, program coordinator for McHenry County Substance Abuse Coalition.
It also is a good option for those who are not in recovery but just want to be somewhere where alcohol is not present.
"The Other Side will be a great location for people to gather who want to enjoy a social night without alcohol," Crain said. "It doesn't have to be for people in recovery. Some people just prefer that atmosphere without alcohol being the focus."
The first location of The Other Side was behind a small construction business office on Berkshire Drive. It started as a place for those in recovery to not be around alcohol or drugs, hang out with friends, hear live bands, play pool and have support group meetings, Reed said.
The city eventually caught wind of the gatherings and Reed had to apply for special permits and make building improvements to continue hosting events.
Nick Villicana, Reed's friend and general manager at the original location, said that as a person also is in recovery, the sober bar had a positive impact on his and others' lives.
"As a young person, it can be quite intimidating to grasp the concept of long-term sobriety and there are many fears that come with that," he said.
"I had thoughts like 'Who else my age is doing this?' (I) questioned whether or not I can ever have fun again with like-minded people my age without the use of drugs or alcohol. Using at parties or at a friend's house was the social norm and it seemed like everyone was doing it," the 25-year-old Crystal Lake man added.
Villicana, who now works as an admissions coordinator at the Northern Illinois Recovery Center, and that when he stepped into The Other Side, he realized he "wasn't alone."
"I noticed so many young people socializing, laughing and having fun until the wee hours of the night without drugs or alcohol," he said.
Reed closed the original location two years ago and bought the new place in March 2020 with a $400,000 grant from Sage Legacy Fund. He planned on having the new spot up and running within months, but the pandemic stalled that. However, he was still able to hold meetings at the new location.
While the former location offered mostly energy drinks and sodas purchased at big box stores, the new location will feature freshly prepared menu items for breakfast, lunch and dinner, including avocado toast, croissants, salads and flatbreads under the direction of Chris Jacob, the bar's general manager.
Read said Conscious Cup, which has locations in Crystal Lake, Cary, Palatine and Barrington, is providing the coffees and baked goods. The bar also will serve "mocktails" created from recipes provided by Julius White, the regional general manager for D.C. Cobbs restaurants and taverns located in McHenry County and East Dundee.
"We grew up," the 32-year-old Reed said of the new offerings.
Jacob, of Crystal Lake, has worked as a professional chef for country clubs for the last 20 years. His struggles with substance-use disorder connected him with Reed about three years ago in his journey to recovery.
D.C. Cobbs owner Dan Hart said what Reed is doing for the community -- those dealing with substance use disorder as well as those who just do not want to be around alcohol -- "is fantastic." Nonalcoholic drinks are becoming a larger part of his business as well.
"More and more people are choosing a sober lifestyle," he said. "Taking away the stigma from that and giving people a place who want to stay away from alcohol is fantastic."
Reed said the most important part in obtaining and maintaining recovery is "establishing healthy connections and community." In the years since first opening The Other Side, Reed said he has received phone calls from people in other states who want his advice in opening up a sober bar.
With the new venue -- where he also will host special events, live music, trivia nights, a place to watch Sunday football and space for meetings and support groups -- Reed hopes to continue what he started in 2013.
"People will start to realize that maybe it's not the alcohol, but the community I like here, like any other restaurant," Reed said.