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Not dry — just not sloshed

BY REGINA ZILBERMINTS | JANUARY 25, 2010 7:30 AM

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Seven UI students sat around a black table in a dark bar. They leaned to hear each other over Rihanna blasting from speakers overhead.

There were no drinks on the table.

Nearby, two others from the same group held half-full cups of beer. The same beers they’d ordered from the bar 45 minutes earlier.

Unlike most alcohol-alternative programs at the UI, the organizers of the SoBar Experience weren’t trying to persuade students to avoid alcohol. Rather, UI junior Greg Pelc, who came up with the idea, said he wanted to promote responsibility and alcohol use in moderation.

“It was about recognizing that you can drink,” he said, “but in a responsible manner so you won’t damage your health or hurt those around you.”

Throughout the night on Jan. 22, around 25 people, most wearing red to support responsible drinking, came to the event.

“Once we got there, we didn’t look out of place; we had a good time,” Pelc said. “We were chatting. We were fitting in and having fun.”

Some attendees had a drink at 3rd Base, 111 E. College St., while others trooped toward the dance floor sober. Around them, women in short tube dresses danced unsteadily. One grabbed three pitchers of beer from the bar, sloshing some over the side as she carried it toward her friends.

Most students there said being at a bar sober — surrounded by clearly intoxicated people — was an odd experience. But any awkwardness quickly dissipated.

“I didn’t feel like I was different from the other people there,” said UI junior Adam Winters, who spent most of the night on the dance floor. “I didn’t feel like I was singled out or like people could even tell the difference.”

Pelc, 21, said he had two drinks on Jan. 22 — over the course of about three hours. No one under the age of 21 purchased alcohol.

“Lots of people make it a completely black and white issue,” UI junior Andrew Weber said. “Like if you go out and drink, you’re irresponsible.”

The 21-year-old, who said he occasionally goes to bars, had one beer during the hour and 15 minutes he spent at 3rd Base.

Students agreed the event showed they can go to bars and enjoy themselves without the dangers of overconsumption.

Weber — a member of the UI Student Government’s Student Health Advisory Committee, which Pelc said acted as a sounding board when he was coming up with the idea — said this event was one of the bolder ideas the committee discussed. But given the night’s success, similar ones could come to the table. Friday night’s event was not UI sponsored.

UI junior Brandon Toth said the event could show students they can go out and socialize like anyone else, even if they choose not to drink.

Pelc said he would likely continue holding these events throughout the semester, though he didn’t have the next date picked out yet. And the students who showed up said they would attend again.


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