At age 21, Joshua Grigaitis was already running his own bar. Along with his father, he opened Pop’s Blue Moon in St. Louis’ The Hill neighborhood in 1999, and he quickly learned that in order to make it a success, he was going to have to control his drinking. After six years, he started booking concerts and events around the country and then opened the nightclub 2720 on Cherokee Street, which he sold to a friend in 2017. Finally he found himself back behind the bar at Pop’s – ironically, telling customers about his six-month hiatus from drinking alcohol. “I wanted to get it out of my normal routine – my day usually ends up in a bar of some kind, socializing with people who are offering to buy drinks,” says Grigaitis. “It was more of a social experiment for myself than anything. I needed to get into some different circles, [and] it wound up being really awesome for me; it opened up a lot of doors.”
At that time, Grigaitis met the founders of the soon-to-launch WellBeing Brewing Co., and he helped promote the release of their first beer. “Tasting that beer for the first time solidified this whole mindful drinking direction that my brain was going in,” he says. “It actually tasted good – that’s something people are going to be shocked by over the next few years: all these [nonalcoholic] products coming out that are going to satisfy them in ways they didn’t expect to be satisfied.” At Pop’s, Grigaitis is all in: He’s revolutionizing the neighborhood bar scene by hosting “NA Saturdays” each week. Like any other Saturday night at the bar, customers can hang out with friends, listen to live music and enjoy exceptional drinks. All that’s missing is the alcohol, and Grigaitis has learned that, for many, it’s not a big loss.
What’s been the response to “NA Saturdays” at Pop’s Blue Moon? When I started “NA Saturdays” [in November 2018], it got people’s attention. People were like, “Why don’t you do it on a Wednesday? Aren’t Saturdays a big bar drinking night?” And it’s like, yes, but that’s kind of the point. A lot of people want to go out on a Saturday night and have a good time, but that doesn’t mean they have to drink alcohol. I like to joke that I’m taking the word “drinking” back. When somebody says it’s been two or three weeks since they’ve had a drink, it’s like, “Aren’t you dehydrated? Can I get you some water?” I think there’s a really funny joke there and if we talk about it enough, alcohol won’t be so ingrained in the concept of drinking.
What’s your goal with “NA Saturdays?” Now, when you come to Pop’s Blue Moon, if you ask for a beer, the bartender will ask if you’re looking for a beer with alcohol or without. It’s a pretty quick question that we ask, and I think there’s something really awesome there. The more that becomes a common question, the more people are going to feel comfortable ordering one without alcohol. If nothing else, there are four people on average at a table and one of them is driving – that’s 25 percent, and for anyone to ignore that on their bar menu where they’re making all their profit margin is silly. I think people are ready to become more mindful; we just have to give them the opportunity. You’ll hear me take the mindful drinking approach to this whole thing; I don’t push sobriety on people. Personally, I still have a drink [with alcohol] here and there, and I don’t want to misrepresent myself. But I’m really in love with the idea of providing people with options. I know how much it’s changed my lifestyle and made everything so much better, so I know there are a lot of other people out there who will benefit from the same.
What’s next for you? We’re in the process of opening up the storefront next door [to Pop’s]; it’s going to be a mindful drinking club, so to speak – a permanent booze-free space launching [this month]. To start, it will only be open on Saturday evenings, but eventually I want to have happy hour events during the week too – just really nurture the mindful drinking movement. Whether it’s a record spin, live music, tarot reading or a comedy night, we have some fun things planned, and it’s only going to grow. My father and I are both pretty open-minded and I think there’s a possibility that five years down the road, we’ll make the entire space [including Pop’s Blue Moon] booze-free.
Pop's Blue Moon, 5249 Pattison Ave., The Hill, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.776.4200, popsbluemoon.com