It started eight months ago: Lynn Amromin, the manager of the Bloom Bar rock bar in Tel Aviv asked the new owners, who had just taken over, to support her new initiative to give free non-alcoholic drinks to to designated drivers.
Amromin, a veteran Tel Aviv bartender herself, was motivated by the death in a traffic accident of a patron she had personally served regularly in other bars around the city - after he had been out having a good time in another bar.
The practice of giving out the free soft drinks existed even before, but it was unofficial and not always followed. Since Amromin approached the new Bloom Bar owners, it became official: Designated drivers at the intimate music venue, located at the corner of King George and Sheinkin streets, are now entitled to free non-alcoholic drinks all evening long, including juices, soft drinks and hot drinks too.
Yonatan Sorochkin, better known as Blondie, is one of the new owners of Bloom Bar. He said groups of friends come to the bar, often from far away from Tel Aviv. "They have a long drive awaiting them and the designated drivers are disappointed, all the rest [of their friends] have alcohol and girls, and either they cut it short. or they create an unconscious atmosphere that is less fun - or they give in and drink," he said.
The free non-alcoholic drinks reward them, he explained. "They are doing a difficult job and saving lives," said Sorochkin, who also says the bar does have a business interest too: Many groups choose Bloom Bar because of the tempting offer.
Surprisingly - or not - Amromin says the designated drivers do not abuse the offer. "I need to tell them it's free all night," she said.
There are ways to identify the driver, she says. "There may not be a sign, but the staff knows how to tell them. The waitresses are supposed to ask and offer. Sometimes they also see keys on the table, and then we will take an interest and offer. If that doesn't work, then I train the waitresses to give water to the drinkers," said Amromin.
One of the designated drivers sitting in the bar this week was Eli Talmor, 24, from Oranit, who was there with two friends. He is a long-time customer, but only this week discovered the free drink offer. "It's great," he said, but added that in any case - even without the free offer - he makes sure not to drink and drive.
But it seems that the small bar's initiative has become more than just a part of the fight against traffic accidents. It is also part of the battle against the bad reputation of Israeli bars due to drunkenness and all it leads to: violence and traffic accidents. It seems part of neighborhood bars' attempts to broadcast a more positive and friendly image. "The mega-bars have given us a bad reputation. Every time there is a stabbing, accident, drunkenness - it hurts us," says Giora Leibovitz, another owner of Bloom Bar. "We, the neighborhood bars, try to take as good care as possible of our clients, and in this initiative we are trying to do something good and improve our reputation."
It seems the practice is slowly trickling into other bars in the city. For example Rock, a small pub on Allenby Street where they also started giving out free non-alcoholic rinks a few weeks ago - despite the bar's very limited seating. "Awareness has increased greatly over the past three years and people come and tell us that," said Ben Grubard, the bar's manager. He noted that when he was younger he almost never saw people identifying themselves as designated drivers. In general, said Grubard, they discover the designated driver during the first interaction: "When I ask 'What are you drinking?' then they answer 'I can't drink, I'm the designated driver.'"
He sees the it as a package deal good for both sides: The customers get free drinks and the bar keeps its regular clientele.
But other bars say the offer is nothing new. The owners of Sublime, a larger bar than the others, say they have been offering free non-alcoholic drinks for three years - since the bar opened.
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