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March 22, 2013 • 05:53:06 p.m.

Recovering addict to open non-alcoholic bar in CL

By JAMI KUNZER – jkunzer@shawmedia.com

Recovering heroin addict and sober for three and a half years, Chris Reed is opening a non-alcoholic club, The Other Side in Crystal Lake. The Other Side is scheduled to open the first week of April. (Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com)

Three framed photographs of friends who’ve died from drug overdoses hang on the wall at what soon will become The Other Side. 

There are so many more, say those behind the club being created in a former industrial space in Crystal Lake.

“It’s not like it’s happening in Chicago or somewhere else,” said 27-year-old Steve Saley of Crystal Lake, himself a recovering drug addict. “This is happening here.”

He’s been near death, knows how those in the photographs struggled. 

Because of this and so many other reasons, he and other recovering drug and alcohol addicts in their 20s have come together to open a place for people like them to basically have fun. 

As they put it: “To celebrate life sober.”

It’ll be like a bar, but one without alcohol. In other words, a sober bar.

Set to open in mid-April, The Other Side at 93 E. Berkshire Drive, Unit G, will include pool and ping-pong tables, darts, a large-screen television and a lounge area. A stage and bar area will provide room for live music, karaoke, open mic nights, comedy nights and dances.

Since word of The Other Side has spread, those involved have received daily phone calls, encouragement and donations from throughout the community. 

There’s really nothing like it in this area, or perhaps anywhere else, they say. Unlike other nonalcoholic clubs, it’s geared toward adults, not teens. 

“We’ve got more support than we know what to do with,” said Chris Reed, who originally had used the warehouse space for the small construction company he created after recovering from heroin addiction. 

“It’s really, really over the top. It’s just taken off. . . ,” he said.

“It’s been overwhelming to see the attention it’s gotten. We didn’t think it was that original, but it really has never been done before.”

At age 22 and a father to 2-year-old Carter, of whom he’s quick to show pictures, Reed has been sober three and a half years. 

He and his friends would gather in the warehouse space to hang out, play cards. They didn’t feel comfortable for the most part going to bars. 

“We were all sick of going bowling, and there’s not really anything else to do,” he said.

They added the pool and ping-pong tables, a couch and eventually some music. Before they knew it, they were hosting more than 200 people listening to Saley’s heavy metal band, Red Violent.

The city of Crystal Lake took notice and told the group they’d need a zoning variance to keep the events going. The friends gathered letters of support, did the paperwork and their request was approved by the City Council in January.

Since, they’ve been working on the needed improvemenst and safety modifications to officially open the club.

“The night we open, there’s going to be a line to get in the door,” Reed said on a recent weekend as he and his friends gathered to work on the space, then filled with construction dust and equipment.

Along with providing entertainment and uniting the pockets of sober people throughout the community, those involved say they hope The Other Side will help fight the stigma of sobriety.

It’s not boring, they say. Gathering without alcohol can be just as or more fun than doing so with alcohol.

“This place has gotten crazier than anything I’ve ever seen at a bar,” Reed said.

Though they plan to charge a cover at first, the goal eventually is to make the bar free. 

It’s not a community center, they stressed. 

“We’re still doing basket weaving on Tuesdays,” Reed joked sarcastically. 

The group has been getting together weeknights and weekends to add walls, an extra bathroom, heating and air conditioning units, a bar, a small stage and other improvements. Much of the materials for the renovations have been donated, including some multi-colored, disco-like lights Reed eagerly showed off.

It hasn’t been easy trying to get everything done, while still working full-time, he said.

“Just to flick these lights on and see how cool it looks, to get these phone calls every day and see how excited they are for this, it’s so worth it,” he said.

Reed has become president of a New Directions Addiction Recovery Services board. The friends created the nonprofit group to serve as an umbrella over The Other Side, and hopefully, other services in the future. 

Their ultimate goal is to create a half-way house for recovering addicts in this area, where they say services are limited. 

The effort kind of happened backwards, with the nonprofit forming after the idea for the club took off. But it had to happen that way, say those involved, because they never would have dreamt their effort would be so popular.

“This is a place where we can build a network and outreach, make connections,” he said looking around the unfinished club. “It’s not easy to go to somebody and say, ‘Help me build a half-way house.’”

Reed is quick to point out that the non-profit and the club are both a joint effort, with nine people serving on the New Directions board. Along with Reed and Staley, they include Reed’s 19-year-old brother Adam, Evan McLean, Aaron Cutler, Mike Ledvora, Joe Bongiovanni and Cassandra Wingert.

“All of us at one point were pretty low,” said 26-year-old McLean. “To have something this large in our lives allowing us to give back. . . “

“Five years ago, I was ready to die,” Staley added. “We’re blessed, lucky to be able to do this.”

Having formed a Wake The Nation Movement in Cook County to raise awareness of heroin addiction after the death of her boyfriend, Wingert sought out the group when she heard about The Other Side. 

Others have asked to help as well, with people showing up daily to do whatever work needs to be done.

“It’s much bigger than all of us, I believe,” Reed said, adding that he and his friends aren’t to be praised.

“There are lot of people out there hurting and stuggling that are capable of doing great things if they can get over that hurdle,” he said.

He knows because he’s been there, before eventually reachingThe Other Side.

“This has been the best experience of my life,” he said.



WHEN: set to open in mid-April

WHERE: 93 E. Berkshire Drive, Unit G, Crystal Lake

INFO: For information or to donate to The Other Side and New Directions Addiction Recovery Services, the non-profit group formed to support it, and other efforts to help those with addiction in McHenry County and elsewhere, visit www.the-other-side.org.

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