The Sober Bunch

Life's a Party for New York Nightlife's Sober Hipsters

While she finds the act of people doing cocaine "alien," her partners' partying doesn't bother her. Still, she gets a bit of a ribbing for being the odd one out. "Yeah, we make fun of her sometimes, because she can be a little bit rigid," says Michael T. "But I don't like people that are messy—and I don't consider myself to be messy."

The sober clubbers—no matter how they arrived at living the clean life—have experienced similar awkward situations. When they ask a bartender for water or soda, they get the cold shoulder. They aren't invited to the after-after-parties. But then, the after-after-parties are a drag anyway. Justine D. recalls one event thrown by a member of a prominent local band. "Everyone was a fucking mess, one girl was puking out of a window, there was wall-to-wall people," she says.

But they say they don't feel uncomfortable around people who drink or do drugs—it's the other way around. Lewis once faked doing rounds of grappa to please some buddies of his; Yavari's copped to holding a beer just so she doesn't have to answer questions. "I still have people who still insist on putting their drinks up to my mouth," says Kenny Kenny.

From left, top row: Kenny Kenny, The World FamousBOB*, Michael Cavadias; middle: Justine D., Murray Hill, Steven Lewis; bottom: Princess Superstar, Tommie Sunshine, Larry Tee
photo: Josh Gosfield
From left, top row: Kenny Kenny, The World FamousBOB*, Michael Cavadias; middle: Justine D., Murray Hill, Steven Lewis; bottom: Princess Superstar, Tommie Sunshine, Larry Tee

"I think people feel awkward around us sometimes," says Cohn. "They don't say it, but you can tell. Some people are wasted and they apologize. A lot of people apologize. 'I'm so sorry I'm drunk.' And we're like, 'Good, that's what we're partying for. That's what we want.' It was funny, one of the first places we did our night at turned out to be a really big spot to get drugs at. And we didn't know. We didn't care."

The sober hipsters say they are frequently mistaken for being wasted anyway. Says Lewis, "I'm hyperactive, I'm bug-eyed and sometimes prone to fits." Tee describes himself as "a 33 record spun on 45," and Hill says, "I still am a party animal. There's barely any difference except that I'm healthier and I've lost 35 pounds."

When people learn they don't drink or do drugs, the sober hipsters are asked questions that seem silly: "How do you do it?" "You must be so bored," "Why not?" And dumbest of all: "What do you do for fun?"

"I'm a fuckin' lame knitter," cracks Justine D.

Says Rood, "They think it's like we have an extra head. That they think we can't go anywhere without a drink—that's incredible. That's horrible."

"I probably have a lot more fun than you think," says Yavari. "I'm always having a good time no matter where I am. I'll be at the same places you are. I just won't be having an alcoholic drink. I'll be drinking water. I'll be dancing and meeting people and telling jokes—and remembering it."

Michael Cavadias once starred opposite Robert Downey Jr., one of the most public faces of addiction in recent memory. Since quitting a few years ago, he's bloomed creatively—writing a screenplay, DJ'ing around town, and performing with the Citizens Band. Throughout the conversation at Café Mogador, he's nervous—it's almost like coming out, publicly admitting that he's sober. After a few fits and starts, he eloquently explains why being dry is the biggest high. "Not doing drugs is the most unpredictable and totally psychedelic experience I have ever had. It's an amazing existence," he says and smiles. "Life on its own is really wild."

Not that there aren't moments of regret and pangs of temptation. Tee can still smell coke at the mere mention of it, and Kenny Kenny says that when he catches a whiff of beer from a tap, he has to walk away. But sometimes it's just the feeling of being left behind that hurts most.

"I went to Paris, and I had a boyfriend, I was dressed up, and the waiters were like, 'Oh mademoiselle, Marilyn Monroe!' and they gave me complimentary champagne," recallsBOB*, who with her curled blond hair, heart-shaped lips, and pink sweater set, looks like a bosom buddy of the late actress. "And I bit my lip and started crying. Because it was in Paris, I was with the guy I was in love with. And I couldn't drink the champagne. When I got home I made a list of why I miss champagne."

She ticks off the reasons on her fingers: "It's celebratory. It's bubbly. It's glamorous. I realized these are things that I am to myself if I don't drink it. Those are things I naturally am." She says trium-phantly, "I am pink champagne."

Research assistance: Ryan McWilliams, Karoline Eriksson, Elizabeth Thompson, Giulietta Verdon-Roe, Laura Buckholz, and Max Berry

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