A lot has changed since 2013 when Chris Reed opened The Other Side in Crystal Lake, he said.
Reed was just three years in recovery from a heroin addiction that nearly killed him. He opened the non-alcohol bar to serve as a place for those trying to live a healthier lifestyle without substance use where they could maintain supportive, social connections.
“It’s more OK today to say, ‘I don’t drink,’ and to ask for help,” Reed said as he sat in the new location of a larger, brighter The Other Side at 135 Beardsley St., set to have a grand opening Dec. 3. “It’s easier to say, ‘I am dealing with mental health issues.’ The stigma has gone down a lot.”
Though there still is a lot to do in the arena of recovery, places like Reed’s sober bar are a step in the right direction, said supporters, including Laura Crain, program coordinator for McHenry County Substance Abuse Coalition. It also is a good option for those who are not in recovery but just want to be somewhere where alcohol is not present.
“The Other Side will be a great location for people to gather who want to enjoy a social night without alcohol,” Crain said. “It doesn’t have to be for people in recovery. Some people just prefer that atmosphere without alcohol being the focus.”
The Other Side operates as a part of the nonprofit New Directions Addiction Recovery Services, which operates several recovery support programs in McHenry County. Reed is one of the organization’s founders and has served as its board president since it began. While the bar will be open to everyone in the community, all proceeds will go to New Directions and support the organization as a whole.
The first location of The Other Side was behind a small construction business office on Berkshire Drive. It sort of by accident became a place for those in recovery to not be around alcohol or drugs, hang out with friends, hear live bands, play pool and have support group meetings, Reed said at the time.
The city eventually caught wind of the gatherings that began to grow and Reed had to apply for special permits and make building improvements to continue hosting events.
Nick Villicana, Reed’s friend and general manager at the original location, said as a person also is in recovery from a substance use disorder, the sober bar has had a positive impact on his and others’ lives.
“As a young person, it can be quite intimidating to grasp the concept of long-term sobriety and there are many fears that come with that,” he said. “I had thoughts like ‘Who else my age is doing this?’ [I] questioned whether or not I can ever have fun again with like-minded people my age without the use of drugs or alcohol. Using at parties or at a friend’s house was the social norm and it seemed like everyone was doing it,” the 25-year-old Crystal Lake man said.
But, he soon learned there was another way to live life and still have fun.
Villicana, who currently works as an admissions coordinator at the Northern Illinois Recovery Center, recalled meeting Reed and others in the recovery realm and his first step into The Other Side. He said they all were welcoming and he realized he “wasn’t alone.”
“I noticed so many young people socializing, laughing and having fun until the wee hours of the night without drugs or alcohol,” he said.
Reed closed down the original location two years ago and bought the new place in March 2020 with a $400,000 grant from Sage Legacy Fund. He planned on having the new spot up and running within months, but the pandemic stalled that plan. However, he was still able to hold meetings at the new location.
Whereas, Reed said, at the former location and through donations, he basically just offered energy drinks and sodas purchased at big box stores, the new location is the adult version of The Other Side.
“We grew up,” said the 32-year-old Reed.
The new location, which is housed in the original location of the Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Department, will offer freshly prepared menu items for breakfast, lunch and dinner, including avocado toast, croissants, salads and flatbreads under the direction of Chris Jacob, the bar’s general manager.
Jacob, of Crystal Lake, has worked as a professional chef for country clubs for the last 20 years and struggled with substance-use disorder, which connected him with Reed about three years ago in his journey to recovery.
Read said Conscious Cup, which has locations in Crystal Lake, Cary, Palatine and Barrington, is providing the coffees and baked goods.
The bar also will serve unique mocktails created from recipes provided by Julius White, the regional general manager for D.C. Cobbs restaurants and taverns located in McHenry County and East Dundee.
D.C. Cobbs owner Dan Hart said what Reed is doing for the community – those dealing with substance use disorder as well as those who just do not want to be around alcohol – “is fantastic.” He said requests for non-alcoholic drinks are becoming a larger part of his own businesses.
“The idea of drinking non-alcoholic drinks is becoming more of the norm,” Hart said. “More and more people are choosing a sober lifestyle. Taking away the stigma from that and giving people a place who want to stay away from alcohol is fantastic.”
Though there are the basic non-alcohol drinks, such as a virgin margarita, and nonalcoholic wines and beers, Hart and White wanted to create flavorful “mocktails” for Reed’s bar that people would want to return to The Other Side for.
Reed said the most important part in obtaining and maintaining recovery is “establishing healthy connections and community.”
In the years since first opening The Other Side on Berkshire, Reed said he has received phone calls from people in other states who want his advice in opening up a sober bar.
Reed has also gone on to do work in other areas of substance-use disorder in the county, including at New Directions Addiction Recovery Services.
Reed also is co-founder and partner in the Northern Illinois Recovery Center, which operates an outpatient clinic in Crystal Lake. The center recently opened a detox facility in Prairie Grove as well, he said.
With the new venue – where Reed will host special events, provide live music, trivia nights, a place to watch Sunday football and separate space for meetings and support group - he hopes to continue what he started in 2013.
“People will start to realize that maybe it’s not the alcohol, but the community I like here, like any other restaurant,” Reed said.