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Take a break from booze at these cozy Buffalo-area spots

After the hectic holiday season and all the indulging that comes with it, getting back into the routines of everyday life can feel like — dare I say it — almost a relief. Along with the annual attempts at healthier choices and improved habits that come with the new year, many people also take a temporary break from alcohol consumption to help reset their bodies and minds.

According to a recent NPR story, studies have shown that abstaining from alcohol, even for just a month, results in more energy, better sleep and weight loss. Having a clearheaded chance to reexamine your relationship with alcohol and whether it’s a healthy one is a bonus.

However, socializing when sober at traditional weekend gathering places can feel overwhelming, especially considering Buffalo’s endless options when it comes to bars, breweries and other watering holes.

Whether you’re looking for a short-term breather from alcohol, are sober for personal reasons or just want to explore some fun and cozy corners around the area that don’t involve getting a buzz and the hangover that can come with it, check out our suggestions below.

Gather and Game (212 Grant St.)

Feel like bringing some strategy, luck and healthy competition to your evening? Head to the West Side and stop in at Gather and Game. Approaching its one-year anniversary in February, this gaming haven is run by the same folks who head Westside Stories used bookstore (located right across the street).

In addition to selling a variety of board and card games, this shop’s real draw is its gaming space — the “gather” alluded to in its name. For $3 per person on nights and weekends (kids younger than 12 game for free), gamers can take advantage of the game library (170 titles and counting) and play their diversion of choice in a friendly, communal atmosphere.

Whether you’re more a Catan fan, Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast or even a lover of classic offerings like Monopoly or Scrabble, you’re welcome at Gather and Game. The space also offers regular events, including weekly “Learn to Play” sessions of popular games and tournaments. BreadHive Bakery treats are for sale, as are soft drinks, coffee and tea.

The Speak Easy (1194 E. Lovejoy St.)

Maybe you feel like soaking in a traditional bar or restaurant ambiance — just minus the flowing beer, wine and cocktails. If that’s the case, check out the Speak Easy. As its website states, “It’s not a movement. It’s just a thing.”

The Speak Easy offers a sociable atmosphere and a full menu, including gourmet burgers, fried chicken and waffles and vegan tacos and chili. Although you won’t find alcohol in any quantity, the creative mocktail list offers other taste bud-tempting options, including seasonal specials and homemade ginger beer. Its selection of nonalcoholic beers and other options like coffee, soft drinks, kombucha and iced tea varieties is also extensive.

New Lovejoy bar-restaurant Speak Easy pounces on the alcohol-free trend

Come in to watch your favorite team or sporting event, enjoy regular karaoke and live jazz nights, or just enjoy a good meal and an alcohol-free night out on the town.

Dog Ears Bookstore and Cafe (688 Abbott Road)

Books, coffee and yummy café noshes? Sign me up. South Buffalo gem Dog Ears offers all that and more.

The café serves a full menu, including homemade baked goods, salads, panini and all-day breakfast items such as maple-walnut French toast. Top it off with a hot or cold coffee beverage, served in charmingly mismatched mugs.

While you wait for your order, browse the bookstore. From classics to new releases to local authors, Dog Ears offers a little bit of everything, along with a children’s book area in the back. It regularly hosts readings and book signings, so keep an eye out for events.

The best part about Dog Ears? It’s a nonprofit, and proceeds fund the Literacy Arts Center housed in the building’s second floor. The center offers children’s literacy programming that runs year-round. Enjoy a delicious meal or cuppa, buy a new book and support the community in the process — it doesn’t get much more satisfying than that.

Mambrino King (640 Main St., East Aurora)

OK, Mambrino King does serve alcohol, but the overwhelming coziness factor outweighs that detail. A self-proclaimed “wine-coffee-chocolate bar,” Mambrino patrons are just as likely to be sipping on a cup full of hot chai latte, herbal tea or butter beer — a nonalcoholic winter special consisting of steamed milk, house-salted caramel and toffee — as they are a glass of merlot or Riesling.

The décor, dishware and seating arrangements are eclectic and welcoming, including a fireplace in a corner nook just made for catching up with friends over a charcuterie platter or sharing a slice of four-layer chocolate cake with someone special.

Booze is an option on the menu, but it certainly won’t be missed with so many delicious alternatives.

An added bonus is its central location in one of the area's most charming villages. A short walk in either direction will lead you to independent boutiques and shops, Vidlers 5 & 10 variety store and the Aurora Theatre and Popcorn Shop.

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