Owner Billy Hines is hoping he doesn’t offend anyone with the church-themed Thirsty Soul, his upcoming cocktail bar and all-day bruncherie heading to West Passyunk Avenue in South Philly. The bar is really committing to the concept, with pews, a confessional, a stained-glass bar top, and a throne/“pope chair” complete with wings and a lit-up halo. Lest anyone forget they’re not actually in a place of worship, there are alcoholic punch bowls made for up to six sinners to share, and a menu of Philly-fied Southern comfort foods. Hines and co-owners Tim Lidiak (head of the local community development corporation) and Adrienne Salvatore-Markey (the building’s owner) are shooting for a mid-June opening.
“So far no one has been offended. Everyone seems pretty cool with it,” Hines says of Thirsty Soul’s theme. “I hope it doesn’t offend anybody. There are a lot of Catholic Church elements to it, but we’ll have things from other religions — it’s a nondenominational cocktail bar.”
The Thirsty Soul (1551 W. Passyunk Ave) is billed as a cocktail bar, and Hines’ background is behind the stick, but there’s a full kitchen and plans to put out a lot more than pub snacks. Barbara Romeo, previously at South Philly’s Grubhouse, is signed on as chef. (Grubhouse is now closed, but will reopen at the Bourse food hall in Old City.) Romeo will be cooking what Hines describes as “Southern brunch food all day long.”
“I never do brunch because as a bartender I work the weekends, and I don’t want to get up for it. At Thirsty Soul, you can get brunch at 10 p.m.,” say Hines, a Philly native who’s spend years both as a bartender and a consultant for bars here and in Orlando and Las Vegas. He lives about five blocks from Thirsty Soul.
The menu includes Southern classics, with an emphasis on New Orleans cuisine. Look for fried chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy, catfish beignets, jambalaya mac and cheese, a flat bread muffaletta, barbecue shrimp and grits, and a Philly version of a po’boy dubbed a yo’boy.
Thirsty Soul will also serve more breakfast-y fare, like an eggs Benedict — a skillet of cornbread with pulled pork and hollandaise sauce — and pretzel-covered French toast. Burgers and salads, along with a handful of vegan items, round out the offerings.
To drink, customers can go with a classic from the “Old Testament” section of the cocktail list, like a Singapore Sling or Hemingway Daiquiri, or try something more modern from the “New Testament” selection. Hines says he’ll be incorporating some unusual ingredients, but he prefers a drink that tastes like what it is. “The goal is balanced cocktails — they’re all designed for speed, efficiency, and balance — but I find that the spirits tend to get lost in a lot of cocktails when you have five or six ingredients,” he says. “If I have a gin drink, I want to taste the gin.”
Alcoholic punch bowls, designed to serve up to six, complete the “this place is ready for Instagram” undercurrent that runs through a themed restaurant.
The main room at Thirsty Soul is where diners will find the church décor. Walk through a curtain behind the priest’s side of the confession booth and you’ll land in a “bordello chic” lounge, Hines says — a hidden space adorned in red velvet, with a small stage where the bar can host live music or DJs.
The main room seats about 50, with space for another 35 to 40 in the lounge. Outside, Thirsty Soul has access to 26 feet of sidewalk, so there’s plenty of room for outdoor tables (those likely won’t be added until later in the summer, at the earliest).
Hines used to work at Sancho Pistola’s in Fishtown, which is from the same crew that owns Pistola’s Del Sur, the Mexican bar at the southern end of the popular East Passyunk Avenue restaurant strip. Pistola’s Del Sur is only a few blocks from Thirsty Soul, but until now the restaurant row hasn’t crossed Broad Street to continue onto West Passyunk Avenue.
“There isn’t a lot on West Passyunk. When my wife and I want to get something to eat, we look around, and we’re like, ‘where?’” Hines says. “Hopefully Thirsty Soul fills a void in this neighborhood, and attracts other people to start building here.”