Andersonville, one of the city’s centers of queer nightlife, will soon welcome a tea bar with roots in suburban Detroit that aims to create a playful and alcohol-free social space. Eli Tea Bar, is a nine-year-old company Elias Majid, a botanist who earned his degree at Loyola University in Chicago before diving into the world of tea.
Majid’s efforts earned him a seat as part of 2017’s Eater Young Gun class. His philosophy is to mix teas from around the world with Midwestern ingredients creating special blends. For example, he concocted a tea using cherries with the Traverse City Cherry Festival in mind. Majid wants to open his cafe in November, thus marking a major expansion for the brand in taking over at 5507 N. Clark Street, a space that housed an outpost of local coffee shop TrueNorth Cafe.
Eli Tea Bar allows Majid to channel his interest in plants and their health benefits into a larger mission of creating an inclusive and comfortable third place for the community to gather. A non-drinker from a Muslim family, Majid says he’s noticed an increased demand for LGBTQ spaces that don’t center around alcohol since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“Sometimes I just want to meet up with friends and we don’t need strobe lights or aggressive marketing from alcohol companies,” he says. “It’s tiresome and people are over it.”
The original cafe opened in 2012 in tony suburb of Birmingham, Michigan, and is popular with customers of all ages, especially for its boba drinks. Birmingham is the Detroit suburb where famed chef Takashi Yagihashi (Slurping Turtle, Takashi) opened a restaurant in 2019.
Chicago’s Tea drinkers will be spoiled for choice at Eli, where offerings will range from traditional brewed blends (black, oolong, green, white, and herbal) to tea lattes like the smokey Lapsang Mocha (lapsang, hot chocolate, brown sugar, cinnamon, milk). Boba fans are also in luck, as staff will also offer milk bubble tea, plus cheese tea and five flavors of draft kombucha sourced from Kombucha Brava in suburban Evanston.
At 2,000 square feet, the forthcoming shop is triple the size of the flagship Detroit-area cafe. The ample wiggle room means that Majid has space to hold events like tea tastings, drag bingo, and open mics, all suited for the nighttime hours (he hopes to close at 11 p.m. or midnight on weekends) that will set him apart from the many coffee shops and cafes in the famously queer-friendly neighborhood. Construction is underway, and workers are installing a small stage in a back room for performances and walk-up window for patrons who prefer limited contact pickup.
A similar approach is also appearing in venues outside the LGBTQ community like the Hi-Lo, a new Humboldt Park bar with a host of alcohol-free and low ABV options, and Golden Dagger, the DePaul-area bar and venue formerly known as Tonic Room that last April reopened with a focus on coffee and booze-free beverages alongside beer and wine.
Majid is also using the Andersonville outpost as a chance to test out a crowdfunding investor campaign seeking to raise $100,000 with a 1.4 percent return for investors. Inspired by successful microbrewery campaigns, he’s hopeful that community funding could prove a viable alternative business model for restaurants and cafes. More information for would-be investors is available online.
Also, of note: This endeavor has nothing to do with an upcoming Wicker Park opening with a similar name called Elitea.
Eli Tea Bar Chicago, 5507 N. Clark Street, Scheduled to open in November.
- Eli Tea Bar Brings Its ‘Sober Bar’ To Andersonville, Offering A Booze-Free Gathering Space For Queer People [Block Club Chicago]
- Elias Majid Is Making Michiganders Care About Tea