Whether watering hole, brewery, wine bar, or fancy cocktail lounge, there are places to drink on nearly every corner in Philadelphia. The city makes it easy to take a seat at the bar, and perhaps even strike up a conversation with the person beside you. But what if you don't want alcohol to play a huge role in your social life?
That's what a reader asked through Curious Philly, our question-and-response forum that allows people to submit questions about their communities.
In Philadelphia, non-drinking activities abound, many of which make it easy to meet others with similar interests. Here are 10 outlets ideal for seeking social, and 100 percent sober, fun.
Whether you prefer basketball or bowling, the Philadelphia Sports League offers a wealth of opportunities to build camaraderie with people you may have never met. Sign up solo and you'll be placed on a team with other free agents for a season of seven to 10 weeks — plenty of time to get to know one another. Interested in meeting people who live close to you? The league offers an option to browse activities by neighborhood, with categories that stretch across the city and out to the Main Line and King of Prussia area. Even if you don't consider yourself particularly athletic, games like cornhole, kickball, and Wiffleball invite all to get involved.
For those seeking to meet other SNL junkies, try Philly Improv Theater, which produces more than 1,000 performances a year. It also offers a full curriculum of classes for those of all skill levels looking to dive into the world of comedy. To get an idea of what the courses entail, enroll in the two-hour introductory workshop. It's free, so the only thing you'll need to drop up front is any fear of making a mistake. The studio strives to create a judgment-free zone to folks let loose in a fun and engaging way. If you're hooked, an array of eight-week courses are available to conquer next. Work your way up from beginner level to the advanced, and you're destined to make many new — and funny — friends along the way. Sketch, acting, and stand-up comedy classes are also available.
Philly's biking scene is one of the most welcoming communities in the city. Nearly every bike shop in the area hosts open group rides, and there are plenty of Facebook groups that curate regularly organized trips. For more casual and shorter excursions, check out Philly Bike Party, CycleScenePHL, and Night Cycle Philadelphia. All three groups post events to their Facebook pages, with themes like Taco Tuesday and activities like post-ride doughnuts and a movie, all of which add a social aspect to riding. For more serious cyclists, the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia hosts multiple daily rides that range anywhere from 15- to 40-plus-miles and that are organized by pace. Routes span the region, allowing you to join at a location convenient to you.
Head to a Daybreaker event, and you'll find a packed house getting wild on the dance floor — no alcohol needed, nor is it permitted. The parties, held in 22 cities across the United States, feature an early-morning, hour-long yoga class followed by a multiple-hour dance session where juice and coffee replace cocktails and beer. With an upbeat and positive crowd, it's easy to show up alone, inviting you to meet other early-risers on the dance floor. Find Daybreaker events once every month or two at various locations, including the Divine Lorraine Hotel and Warehouse on Watts. The next one in Philly is on Oct. 31 at NOTO (1209 Vine St.), featuring fitness from 6 to 7 a.m., dancing from 7 to 9 a.m., and music courtesy of DJ Rich Medina.
Philadelphia is home to more than a dozen concert venues, drawing bands of every genre from around the world. If you're new to the city and want to find other metalheads (try Kung Fu Necktie), jazz aficionados (take a seat at Chris' Jazz Cafe), indie lovers (check out Johnny Brenda's), or T-Swift devotees (Lincoln Financial Field), you can certainly make that happen. Most venues allow you to sign up for email updates that'll keep you in the loop on shows, and newsletters from companies like R5 Productions will allow you to monitor multiple venues at once. Don't overthink hitting up a show alone — most people won't even notice you're there by yourself. And if you do end up striking up a conversation with the person next to you, you're naturally guaranteed to share at least one common interest — the band you're both rocking out to.
Want to tap into your creative side while meeting other art enthusiasts? Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial, a nonprofit in Bella Vista, aims to make art accessible to everyone through a wide range of affordable classes. Choose from Chinese calligraphy, figure drawing, watercolor painting, jewelry making, dark room photography, ceramics sessions, and more. Classes are offered seasonally, and sign-ups are on a first-come, first-served basis. Most book up fast, so don't procrastinate come registration time.
Tucked into East Fairmount Park is one of the oldest disc golf courses in the country. The 27-hole Sedgley Woods winds its way through trees and meadows. Disc golf is essentially a mash-up of Frisbee and golf; instead of balls and clubs, weighted discs are thrown from basket (the "hole") to basket. It's inherently social and welcomes those of all fitness levels. Head to the course on any given weekend, and you'll find plenty of others who will likely welcome you to join in a game. For newbies, the nonprofit Friends of Sedgley Woods hosts beginner's doubles nights on Thursdays two hours before sunset. Show up, and you'll be paired with a pro, with whom you'll take on the course, learning tips along the way.
Like most cities, Philadelphia has an abundance of volunteer opportunities, many of which will introduce you to others with similar do-good goals. Start by narrowing your interests. Whether you're passionate about running (try Back on My Feet), fighting hunger (Philabundance), animals (PAWS), gardening (Greensgrow), healthy food (the Food Trust), or any other number of topics, there's bound to be a nonprofit in the area that could use your help.
During the warm weather season, free yoga classes are offered across Philadelphia every day of the week, often multiple times per day and in multiple locations. Even into fall, places like Race Street Pier continue with daily classes (through Nov. 11). The Philadelphia Museum of Art hosts a weekly Wednesday session year-round. All of the downward dogs and cobra poses are sure to boost your mood. Take that feel-good moment at the end of class and channel it into the confidence needed to say hello to the stranger beside you. He or she likely will welcome having a future yoga participant to chat with at the next class.
Are you a Settlers of Catan champion? A master Scrabble wordsmith? Meetup group Philly Loves Boardgames! (www.meetup.com/PLBgames) will place you at a table with plenty of other gamers ready for a challenge. Each event typically draws at least a dozen players; the group has more than 1,800 members. Game nights are held every Monday at Tavern on Broad, and an array of pop-up events take place intermittently at non-bar-related venues. Join the Meetup online to stay up to date on the calendar of happenings.
What happens when a social engagement pushes you into a bar? Being sober doesn't necessarily mean you need to miss out on your friend's birthday party or your favorite taproom's Taco Tuesday night.
"Have a go-to non-alcoholic drink, and order it as boldly as you would an alcoholic drink," says Beverly Haberle, CEO of the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania Inc., a nonprofit prevention, education, advocacy, intervention, and recovery support organization. "Whether it's tonic with a swig of lime or simply your favorite soda, knowing up front what you're going to order can make the process feel more comfortable."
Haberle says it's also important to map out in advance what you're going to say if you decide to tell others why you're not drinking.
"You don't owe anyone an explanation," she says. "However, if you decide to speak out, or someone asks you why, place yourself in a position where you're not caught off-guard. Not being prepared is generally what makes us uncomfortable, or stumble and become vulnerable, increasing the chances of being persuaded into a drink."
Haberle says most often, abstaining from booze is a bigger concern to the non-drinker than to the pal who's having a beer.
"You'll be surprised how many people will honor your decision, and potentially even be inspired to try it out themselves."