Be filled with the spirit — but not the spirits.
A Bedford-Stuyvesant reverend is running an entirely booze-free cocktail lounge, which the barman of the cloth says is just as much an alternative to his church as it is to the common dive bar.
“The lounge is to help people engage and become more social and intimate and build relationships, rather than a lounge that will get people drunk or another church that will separate people based on their spirituality,” said Reverend Robert Watermann of the Antioch Baptist Church, who has been slinging mocktails at neighboring Canticles Sober Lounge since 2008.
Other than the lack of ethanol in the drinks, the dry watering hole is just like a regular bar, Watermann says — the good reverend himself shakes up virgin pina coladas, margaritas, and daiquiris, while patrons enjoy live music and spoken word performances at open mic nights.
And the barstools are open to people of all — or no — faiths, he says.
“I’ve had Jewish people walk in and buy a can of Coke and sit there and listen to the music,” he said. “It’s not just geared towards spirituality.”
Watermann says he created Canticles — another word for “hymns” — after noticing that holy houses in the Borough of Churches were struggling to attract new faces, while the streets were buzzing with activity. He figured the community could use an all-inclusive place to come together outside the shadow of the cross.
“It came to me — why don’t we build a space where people can come and don’t have to fight with religion, but can come together and talk about what they have in common?” he said.
But he also witnessed the toxic affects of alcohol on the neighborhood — two of his loved ones died from liver failure, and he often saw teens boozing on the Antioch steps at night — and didn’t want to add more of the demon drink to the mix.
Watermann has a strong history of trying to exorcise booze from Bedford-Stuyvesant’s streets — the nix-ologist is a member of the local community board, and says he consistently votes down liquor license applications from new businesses, fearing they put profits over public health.
“Small businesses and entrepreneurship is a great thing,” he said. “But what about the people we destroy?”
In the future, Watermann hopes to expand Canticles by serving coffee and pastries, and add a recording booth for artists looking to immortalize their works.
Canticles Sober Lounge (207 Lewis Ave. at Lexington Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant). Open nightly 9 pm–1 am.