How To Survive Christmas In London If You Don't Drink Alcohol

By Elf Lyons Last edited 10 months ago

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How To Survive Christmas In London If You Don't Drink Alcohol
Swerve the post work Christmas party shame by having an alcohol-free festive season.
This doesn't have to be you. Image: Shutterstock

“Are you mormon?”
“Wait. So that story about setting the guy on fire, you did that sober?”
“Ah, now you have said it, I was gonna say, you do look like an addict.”
“That’s weird.”
“Wait. So that story about the heist, you did that sober too?”
“I can’t trust people who don’t drink.”
“Is it a religious thing? You don’t like religions.” (Same guy who said I looked like an addict)

These are but a small handful of statements many have said within moments of me mentioning “I don’t drink”.

"It can make you feel like you’re a bit of a social letdown."

Just because you don't drink alcohol, doesn't mean you have to act like a nun
Just because you don't drink, doesn't mean you have to act like a nun. Image: Shutterstock

The judgement you can get for stating sobriety can be bizarre. More often than not it is an insight into the askers' insecurities re: their own drinking. Yet it can still make you feel like you’re a bit of a social letdown.

Despite the growing popularity in loving your liver — a quarter of 16-24 year-olds in the UK don't drink at all — it doesn’t stop the judgement that not drinking is a sign of being ANTI-FUN, anti-love, anti-hedonism and anti-interesting.

Although there are more sober people being brought up (I would assume they were conceived on purpose rather than, say, in a broom cupboard at your office party), it is still not always easy to hold your own and avoid the looks of “Well, we know ELF won’t be fun with the staff game of Spin the Bottle”. Even though, I will be. And I will win Spin the Bottle (“That’s not how it works Elf”. “It is when I play it”. See? Hedonism. TICK.)

Old Street during the Christmas period. Or possibly a Mad Max film - unsure.
Old Street during the Christmas period. Or possibly a Mad Max film - unsure.

Christmas in London as a non-drinker can be gruelling. Old Street resembles a sequence out of Mad Max: Fury Road. Tube stations pulsate 'til the early hours with the drunken dregs in beer-stained Christmas jumpers. Everything seems marketed at getting you and your friends as smashed as possible in order to spend maximum £££ in fancy bars and niche-themed restaurants, which don’t pay their workers properly.

Here’s my advice on fun activities to get you seasonal and Christmassy, without the resulting hangover. You can show people that just because you don't like getting black out drunk and drunkenly snogging Karen from HR, it does not make you a Scrooge. But that also, just because you DON’T DRINK doesn’t mean you CAN’T seduce Karen from HR with your knowledge of cool events in the city. Because there is more to Karen, and she’s loved you SINCE THE BEGINNING. Just be confident.

Avoiding alcohol at Christmas doesn't make you a Scrooge. Period.
Just because you don't like drunkenly snog Karen from HR does not make you a Scrooge.

Don’t believe me? I stopped drinking because alcohol led me to nudity and having intimate relationships with past members of staff from my siblings' old schools. However, since then, sobriety has proven to me that the latter STILL happens. See! It has NO impact on how FUN you are! Believe in yourself!

Here are my tips:

1. Afternoon tea

Christmas ideas for people who don't drink alcohol: afternoon tea at The Ritz
Afternoon tea at the Ritz: for the same money you'd end up spending on two naff cocktails, a round for your mates and a terrible kebab in Soho.

Nothing says I AM FUN like sandwiches, jam and a tray that has a code on how to eat from it. Someone who appreciates a good carb is the ultimate Christmas party beast. If you want to be fancy with all that money you’ve saved from no booze, The Ritz has a nice combination of old aristocrats and hookers to people-watch. That, and parents pressuring their children that they are the better parent since the divorce because “Daddy would never let you eat a full gluten scone”. All for £60 — that’s the same price you would end up spending on two naff cocktails, a round for your mates and a terrible kebab in Soho. But you will end up spending longer at The Ritz and the Instagram pics will be better.

If you want to be edgy and imagine yourself as a Skins character grown-up and working in the tech industry, Sketch is an ideal place to ogle large groups of hipsters who take photos of everything and don't talk. The decor is incredible. At £85 it is one of the priciest Christmas afternoon teas, but the toilets will give you a seasonal feeling. And you don't need to drink to enjoy sitting on a festive loo, do you?

For old school Agatha Christie vibes, Tea House Theatre in Vauxhall is the place to go. Affordable? Hells yeah. Charismatic? Indeed. Plus, made of tea cosies, old wooden grandmother furniture and decked to the nines with homely Christmas decorations. AND THERE ARE CATS! With only tea on the drinks menu (sorry coffee freaks) this is a warm and un-intimidating place to socialise without any pressure to booze.

Also, on the weekend, you're a one-minute stroll across the grass from the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Walk over to catch the Sunday Social aka ‘the friendliest cabaret in town’ at 4pm.

2. See a bloody show

Enjoy a sober Christmas in London and spend your hard earned cash on a comedy show instead
Plenty of great fun to be had at Soho Theatre, including sometimes, er, Elf Lyons. Image: Mathew Highton

Culture! Who needs to be smashed for that?! If you want comedy — despite the fact the bar often resembles a student union — Soho Theatre has kind staff and a good developing choice of non-alcoholic bevvies. With performances usually kicking off from 4pm onwards and lasting way up until midnight, you have extensive choice and can even double up with back to back shows. A more dynamic way of celebrating the season with friends and more original than the traditional panto.

The Snowman ballet is an annual Christmas tradition, and is perfect for booze-free Londoners
The Snowman has graced Peacock Theatre at Christmas for yonks.

However, if you don't like to laugh... see a ballet. Go on. Take Karen! Try The Snowman at Peacock Theatre. One: it is not as long as normal grown up ballet and has none of the pomp. Two: It is still proper ballet, but arguably harder because everyone is dressed up as a snowman. Three: it is full of children and WHO WANTS TO BE THE BOOZER IN FRONT OF THE BABIES? Spend your saved alco-cash on ice-cream at the interval.

Or, if theatres make you come out in dry sweats, go to the cinema to watch ballet instead (the ROH do live showings at most cinemas now). Who can get away with saying “Mate, I'm going to the bar. Do you want anything?” when the FILM IS ON!?! AN IDIOT. THAT IS WHO.

3. Get into coffee

Bar Italia serves great coffee long after it stops serving alcohol.

Although my mother disagrees, nothing says ‘Christmas’ like reading Kafka on your own listening to Pulp at Bar Italia. Embody your inner Timothée Chalamet (in every role we know he will end up getting cast in for the rest of his life) by going to one of the most famous coffee bars in the city.

Bar Italia stops serving alcohol at 11pm but continues making coffee until after 2am on the weekends. A great post show, post dinner meeting spot, you can eat cake, drink coffee, listen to Sky News in the background, eavesdrop on the first dates, and yet still feel totally part of Soho's seasonal splendour.

4. Alcohol-free restaurants

There are more alcohol-free restaurants than you think in London. Drink, Shop & Do, has top mocktails.
Drink*, Shop & Do... (*not booze)

There are more clean eating and alcohol free restaurants and bars in London than ever before. All it takes is a little digging and you will find one. More often than not, it'll be in east London. Redemption in Shoreditch has risen in reputation, adding further branches in Notting Hill and Covent Garden in recent years.

The Book Club, also in Shoreditch has a handy 'Lo and No' menu with cocktails made from limited or no booze whatsoever, alcohol-free beers can often be found at Brewdog branches, while Bar Three in Spitalfields divides its cocktail menu according to free, light, medium or full quantities of alcohol.

Also worth checking out is Drink, Shop & Do —  not quite alcohol-free, but still a kooky place with great mocktails and binge food. December typically sees all sorts of Christmas themed workshops, like card making and learning the Jingle Bell Rock dance from Mean Girls. Obviously.

5. Change the time

Brunches are often boozy, but as a daytime activity it's easy to stay alcohol free with soft drinks, tea, coffee or mocktails instead
Go to a drag brunch. The prosecco is optional

Why do all exciting events have to start in the evening, when it is dark and cold? If you still haven’t organised your work do yet, or are in charge of your uni society's Christmas meet up, think outside the box. Do a Big Christmas Brunch. Coffee, tea, virgin marys — everyone is catered for, and again, like afternoon tea, THERE ARE CARBS.

Loads of fun brunches are held all over the city. Dim sum brunches. Drag queen brunches. Hip hop brunches. Check out the monthly Club Puppicana for a dog friendly brunch. Just beware the bottomless brunch — the bottomless usually refers to booze rather than bacon, unfortunately.

6. Remember the birth of Christ

This guy. Image: Shutterstock

Find a friend who has a child, and ask to go to their kid's nativity play. End of. You don’t need alcohol for this. Who needs alcohol to watch children re-enact an age old story involving a housing crisis and an unwanted pregnancy? And if you do it is probably a sign you are not ready to be legally responsible for a minor.

7. Move to a different country for the month

Riyadh's nice this time of year. Image: Shutterstock

A place where alcohol is technically banned like Saudi Arabia, or Sudan. Due to the human rights laws you will have other things to focus on rather than “I am dying for a vodka tonic”. PERSPECTIVE.

8. If none of the above works and you are genuinely struggling, go here:

Tea, biscuits, lovely smiling faces and kindness. Remember, you were fun when you were eight, and you are fun now. You don’t need booze to have a great time and show yourself and others that you are a grade 1 heavyweight legend. Do things this Christmas that make you feel silly.

Last Updated 17 December 2019