Chicago’s deli scene is about to get a new entry, and it has nothing to do with sliced meats and cheese. In early March, veteran Chicago bartender Tim Williams will officially unveil Pour Souls, a new type of beverage store with cocktail classes and a private event space.
But that’s not what will make the venue unique.
“I don’t know of any place where you can walk up to a deli counter and you can say, ‘I’m having 20 people over. I think we should get a quart of fresh margarita and a quart of fresh Paloma mix,’” Williams says. “You’ll walk in and order it off the street like you were ordering potato salad or a half a pound of turkey. You just come in and tell us what you need by size.”
Pour Souls, 1740 W Division Street in Wicker Park, is Williams’ first brick-and-mortar location. Since 2011, Williams has used the same name to operate a cocktail-education venture while working for the now-defunct Japonais. Williams noticed that Chicago’s dining public didn’t have a solid grasp on cocktail principles and felt the restaurant was taking advantage of that lack of knowledge.
“I felt like what we were doing was super dishonest,” Williams says. “Like they weren’t changing the menu at all. They weren’t doing anything innovative. They were at the forefront of nothing except price hikes.”
Before 2011, Williams noticed a large disparity between the wealth of information Chicagoans had about food versus the lack of information the city’s dining public had about cocktails. Williams saw that Japonais’ guests had a thirst to learn about what makes a great drink and about beverage culture in general. But they didn’t know who or what to ask. Williams created Pour Souls to arm people with the information they needed to be educated drinkers.
The business has never before had a physical location, and instead hosted classes at restaurants, bars, and in people’s homes. Since Pour Souls doesn’t have its own liquor license, the business only supplies and sells mixers along with the expertise to produce excellent results. Williams has hosted events at spaces with their own liquor licenses (like bars and restaurants) or at private spaces (like residences). The bars, restaurants, and class attendees are instead responsible for supplying their own alcohol.
Williams will continue to use that model and stock Pour Souls with cocktail ingredients including Topo Chico, spicy ginger beer, and pre-made cocktail mixes — but no alcohol. Pour Souls will make cocktail mixes in approximately three-gallon batches. Williams then plans to bottle, cap, and label at least some of the mixes on-site while leaving a significant portion of it to be custom portioned at the cocktail deli counter, per each customer’s needs.
The other side of Pour Soul’s new venture will be its private event space. The space itself will use Pour Souls BYOB business model. Since Pour Souls does not sell alcohol, the guests will bring their own alcohol to use in the cocktail mixes, and the events are exclusive to the groups that have reserved the space.
Although guests are still able to rent the space for private cocktail classes, Williams also envisions using the space for private parties. This concept is meant to be like renting out your own cocktail bar. Guests who rent the space for parties will let Pour Souls know what kind of drinks they’ll want for the evening, like mezcal-based or rum-based cocktails. Although all alcohol entering the space will be BYOB, Pour Souls is able to purchase alcohol through Juice, Pour Souls’ sister store, on behalf of its customers and have it delivered for their event. All alcohol purchased on behalf of Pour Souls’ guests must leave the premises at the conclusion of the event.
“We’d have everything delivered to Pour Souls for you, and everything would just be there when you walk in,” Williams said. “You’ll have a bartender making cocktails for you, so you don’t have to worry.”
Pour Souls, 1740 W. Division Street, officially opening Friday, March 3, on Fridays and Saturdays; the space will be open the rest of the week by reservation only.