a chalkboard drink menu from Pour Souls
A menu at Pour Souls Credit: Felton Kizer

For Tim Williams, the passion for mixology came by way of doing something OK, observing another way to do it, and then executing excellently. Starting as a barback and front door manager at Castaways when he was 21, Williams knew that he wanted to do more than just be in the vicinity of drinks being made. And when he followed that calling and finally became a bartender at the North Avenue beach bar, he realized he had a lot to learn—but a serious drive to do his best. 

“I had one manager who told me the best thing you can do for your margarita is to add a splash of orange juice, and I was like, ‘Sure, whatever,’” Williams recalls. “I had no practical beverage knowledge. I just was like, ‘He clearly knows more than me, so I’m going to do what works.’” 

No matter how busy they would get, Williams always remembered to do that little step. “And that was the first time in my life that I decided, ‘I will go the extra mile, I will do the extra thing.’”

When he wasn’t working, Williams would spend time at Drawing Room on Michigan Avenue and learn from the bartenders on staff about the technical mechanics of mixology and bartending. 

That was almost 15 years ago, and since then he has worked at a number of different Chicago establishments—Blind Barber, Four Corners, and Mr. Brown’s Lounge, to name a few—to build his unique skill set as a mixologist and beverage manager. 

Pour Souls founder Tim Williams. Credit: Felton Kizer

Now a veteran bartender and entrepreneur, Williams is a co-owner of Juice @ 1340 in the West Loop and the owner of Pour Souls Cocktail Counter in Wicker Park. Williams is still driven to deliver quality service in the most efficient way. 

The idea of a “cocktail deli counter” came to Williams during the pandemic. Prior to March 2020, he had gotten into the flow of partnering with liquor brands and operating his business (which shares a name with his establishment) by way of major corporate events. But once the world came to a halt and social distancing became commonplace, Williams was challenged to bet on himself. 

“It was literally ten years of sidelining myself, and then all at once I had nothing to do except focus on Pour Souls. So that’s what I did.”

As a company, Pour Souls quickly transitioned to producing virtual classes and creating cocktail starters. And that’s what really got Williams to think bigger. “The starters were our version of a pandemic hustle, since we weren’t doing anything in person,” he recalls. “I was able to sustain myself with virtual events, cocktail kits, and cocktail mixers. And that’s kind of how we ended up here.”

To most imbibers, batched cocktails might seem like an easy way to entertain the masses, but to Williams, they’re an art form. “Nobody creates cocktail mixers the way bartenders actually build drinks,” he says. “I batch cocktails in a way that makes sense. So the cocktail counter is the end result of obsessively thinking about how to be as efficient as possible.”

When you walk into Pour Souls on West Division, it feels like you’re stepping into a cozy portion of someone’s home: there’s retro furniture, cool light fixtures, and shelves adorned with vintage glasses. But beyond the aesthetics, guests have a selection of seasonal cocktail mixers that they can choose from and can walk out with ice, garnish, and the mixer. You can buy a set of vintage glassware, too. 

“I wanted to give people something that they could be invested in the same way that bars and restaurants do,” Williams says. “That’s what Pour Souls is—the physical embodiment of the services that we offer, as low or as high of an investment as you’d like to make.” By providing guests with a seasonal menu, Williams says the company became more of a complete mobile bartending situation. 

Pour Souls Cocktail Counter
1740 W. Division
Fri 4-7 PM, Sat 12-5 PM

But don’t get it twisted—Pour Souls isn’t just a mobile bartending company. It’s a bar and catering service. The “deli” just so happens to be a place that serves as their office, kitchen, and also as an event space.

“Mobile bartending is a skill set, but it gets tired and played,” Williams says. “The way I see it, Pour Souls, the company, is a bar without walls, and we can be wherever you want to host us.”

Derrick Westbook, sommelier and co-owner of Juice @ 1340, has been business partners with Williams for a little under two years, and he commends the innovation of the cocktail deli counter: “What Tim Williams is doing with Pour Souls can be the future of how we interact with spirits from both a retail and bar standpoint.”

Another thing that Pour Souls has to offer is really cool programming—like its monthly cocktail club speakeasy night happening on May 5. Guests can purchase tickets, BYOB, and enjoy their cocktails (served in vintage glassware, of course) made from other spirits that other guests bring to the function. As the summer commences, Williams says that Pour Souls will be hosting themed cocktail classes, appearing at festivals like Taste of Randolph, and partnering with other local businesses for activations. 

“If you’re heading anywhere, and you are going to bring booze, you need to come by and see us.”