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SAVOR Eldridge Williams talks new concepts, Beyonce, making history
by Andrew Davis
2024-03-08

This article shared 9096 times since Fri Mar 8, 2024
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One restaurant would be enough for most people to handle. However, this year Eldridge Williams is opening two new concepts—including one that will be the first Black-owned country-and-western bar in the Midwest.

Williams, an ally of the LGBTQ+ community, is part of a team that is behind The Delta, a Southern-themed spot nestled in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. But he will soon open The Pink Polo Social Club & Bar, a place at 312 W. Chestnut St. that will function like a private social club: and Red River Dicks, opening in the former Sedgwick's Bar & Grill Space at 1935 N. Sedgwick St. The latter—inspired by the travels and stories of prominent 18th-century African American cowboy Nat Love, aka "Red River Dick"—will feature custom wood finishes, Aztec decor, reclaimed wooden tabletops, rich leather, an 18th-century designed bar, and dramatic chandeliers as well as enticing meals and libations.

Williams recently talked with SAVOR with Andrew about the new spots, history and a possible expansion to the city's South Side.

NOTE: This conversation was edited for clarity and length.

SAVOR with Andrew: You have a lot going on. Are you ever concerned that it might be too much?

Eldridge Williams: Yes and no. It's such a fickle industry, and opportunities come and go all the time. I tend to not entertain an idea I'm not passionate about. Did I plan to have these two places open within months of each other? Absolutely not.

Red River Dicks was a project that we committed to doing back in August 2023. That alone is a huge project. I personally think that it is going to be inspiring to people and shake things up—and there's a lot of space. So I never thought, "Let's go and add something else." [Laughs] But The Pink Polo was also conceptualized a long time ago, a couple years ago. Something would trigger me and I'd get inspired. With The Pink Polo, I had this idea—although I didn't have a location—documented it, put up a vision board and archived it. When my business partner, Robert [Johnson], came to me about this potential space in River North, I knew it was worth checking out. When I saw this space, it was, like, "Yo—let's do it."

It's all about timing and I felt this was our time to give Chicagoans something they'll really be able to experience with those two locations.

SAVOR: And is this the same Robert who you had the situation with a couple years ago? [Note: In 2020, Williams accused Johnson of taking approximately $150,000 in PPP loan money. However, that situation was quickly resolved.]

Williams: He's my big brother. He knows there was a misunderstanding between us and I take blame for what I did on my end. The universe works in mysterious ways, and God got us to a point where we have space to rebuild. We're better today than [ever]. He supports my ideas to the fullest.

SAVOR: Let's talk about these concepts. Where did the name come from?

Williams: The name came from a Kanye lyric from the song "Barry Bonds." [Note: Said lyrics are "But I'm doing pretty good as far as geniuses go/And I'm doing pretty hood in my pink polo."] That's where the name came from. Picking that one phrase from that song led to a journey for me that created an actual aesthetic. I find inspiration in the oddest things. When I want to conceptualize a restaurant, I don't look at other restaurants and bars; I find inspiration in something that's totally different. I can translate ideas into something that's tangible and something that people can enjoy.

SAVOR: And The Pink Polo will be different, in terms of atmosphere, during the day and the night, correct?

Williams: Yes. I took two things that I really enjoy—social clubs and cocktail bars—and I'm going to reinterpret them in my own way. During the day, it'll be like a bustling social club—but you won't have to worry about a membership. It'll be a space where collectives, groups and organizations can meet how often they want; you can host a meeting, engagement or some other event. Or you can meet with three people you want to pitch an idea to and grab a coffee or dirty martini.

And it'll be a lively cocktail bar once the sun goes down. But the cocktails will be an all-day situation. I imagine the more responsible people will probably grab a coffee or mocktail during the day. [Both laugh.] My fondest times have been in social spaces on my laptop, taking Zoom calls and networking—and, sometimes, the space you're in can enhance those experiences.

SAVOR: Red River Dicks: I know that the name is meant to be educational, but are you concerned about people taking it the wrong way—especially in this day of slang?

Williams: No, I'm not concerned; if anything, I'm excited for that. First and foremost, it's the nickname of anyone named Richard. [Laughs] However, like with The Delta, I'd like to think that Red River Dicks is a concept that chose me. It's not often that I get that tingly feeling about an idea.

I remember when I got the nerve to say, "Hey—let me [launch] a country bar." I didn't have a story or layout; years ago, I just saw this trajectory that country music was headed in. And country music today is not like it was 10, 15, 20 years ago. In Chicago, there are places that represent country culture but I know that none of them is doing it the way I'm going to do it. I like to move the needle and do things that question the idea of what it's supposed to be.

Again, this industry is tough and I want to do something that's inspiring. I want to tell a story about Black culture in a way that bridges cultures.

Most of America [thinks] of it as something that belongs to white people. But one story that really triggered me is the term "cowboy." In the documentary High on the Hog [How African American Cuisine Transformed America], they talk about the term "cowboy" and how it was used to call out young Black boys in the fields: "Hey boy—go fetch that cow." And some of the most famous cowboys in history were African-American. That's when I discovered Nat Love.

SAVOR: So Beyonce going into country music is just a happy coincidence.

Williams: [Smiles] Oh, yes—a happy coincidence, for sure. I was thinking, "I better hurry up and get this joint going, and maybe my people can reach out to her people." But I do believe this is going to shake things up. Bars and restaurants open every day—but they also close every day. As great as I think my ideas are, I don't want to get comfortable. I don't want to assume that I have all the answers. I like to move the needle; I have to have something that out-of-pocket. More people who look like me can have a country bar, and that shit can be cool.

SAVOR: And please talk about the cuisine that will be there.

Williams: Yes. It will specialize in barbecue—and let me remind the readers that I'm from Memphis, Tennessee, so I know barbecue. And the menu will be inspired by the travels of Red River Dick, and will consist of Tennessee-style, Texas-style and Kansas City-style barbecue. And you'll have your typical protein-and-sides experience so you'll get your brisket, ribs or chicken. But we also want to tap into other inspirations [involving] barbecue, because barbecue doesn't just belong to [the U.S.]. But when I'm done, there'll be a lot of finger-licking'.

SAVOR: You have three concepts…

Williams: Well, technically four. We're also launching a catering group called G.O.O.D. Pineapple Catering Hub. It's an idea that we've been trying to get off the ground for quite some time. These other concepts will be the machine that operates this hub. We're going to work primarily out of the Pink Polo location because there are opportunities for lots of private events.

SAVOR: Okay: There are four concepts, but none is on the South Side. Do you have any plans on expanding there?

Williams: So I have an aspiration for doing something on the South Side, for sure. Believe it or not, before opening The Delta in Wicker Park, my first swing at getting a space was in Hyde Park, but I didn't get that far. So I had to rethink my approach.

I've always had a great network on the North Side. My career has existed there and I've been successful, although it wasn't easy in terms of acquiring the space. I've had conversations with other hospitality leaders who have places on the South Side, and we've talked about working together. I think it's necessary and important to have a business there; it's just a question of the right opportunity.

SAVOR: This interview is taking place at the end of Black History Month. What does Black history mean to you?

Williams: So that's a question that can't be answered in a few seconds, but I'm going to give you an answer.

For me, Black History Month means that we take a moment—several moments—to delight in the people who have paved the way for us to be able to exercise our creativity and do what we may not have been able to do before. There are a lot of Black individuals [who have made accomplishments]—but not all Black heroes are famous; they're not all big-time politicians and musicians. There are a lot of Black heroes who will never be mentioned but we know the sacrifices they made.

And I think we're all in a position to create change and to inspire. And I'm just a small dot on this entire landscape—but there are some people who are looking at me and who are inspired by me. And I never want to take that for granted.

Drop me a line at future3733@yahoo.com and I'll get back to you faster than Kelly Rowland can leave a dressing room.

This item previously appeared in the Substack SAVOR with Andrew (future3733.substack.com ).

Note: No reproduction of this column is permitted under any circumstances without express prior written permission.


This article shared 9096 times since Fri Mar 8, 2024
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