There’s a whole new tasty game in town when it comes to Quad Cities bars.
Pour Bros. Taproom, at 1209 4th Ave., Moline, opened recently next to The Element Hotel and just a block away from the TaxSlayer Center, with a soft opening New Year’s Eve, and full opening Jan. 4. Co-owner Rob Mathisen said their first location opened in 2016 in Peoria Heights, Ill., then in Champaign in 2018. (In honor of the trio of bars along I-74, he’s already got “Pour on 74” T-shirts, and other merchandise for sale.)
Pour Bros. — with partners Nathan Monroe and Jason Fowler — was the first self-serve bar to open in Illinois, and there are about 200 such bars across the country, the co-owner said Thursday.
Patrons use a debit card or credit card to get a Pour Bros. card, that uses RFID technology to scan at each self-serve tap, and customers can pour whatever amount they want, within a 1/10 of an ounce. Each of 28 taps is topped with a small tablet that shows what the drink is, where it’s from, its price per ounce (generally 38 cents to 80 cents), alcoholic content, and if you tap the screen, you can get more detailed information.
“You can sample one ounce at a time,” Mathisen said, noting your card is charged for whatever you drink. “If you sampled everything, you’d drink 28 ounces of beer.”
Actually, of the 28 rotating taps, four on the left are wines. The taps range from mead and hard cider, to seltzer, and dark, amber, ale, traditional, fruit and sour style beers. If you get a full pint from the taps, prices average $6 to $9 a glass.
As soon as one keg is emptied, they put on a different beer in a similar style, averaging 1,000 varieties of beer on the pour walls annually, Mathisen said. “It’s a constant rotation of beer,” he said, adding they always feature about eight Illinois and Iowa beers at a time, including from the QC. Currently, there are taps from Bettendorf’s Crawford Brew Works, and Moline’s Bent River.
The dazzlingly varied current lineup features:
- Blueberry Lemony Winks wheat beer (Hills Brewing)
- Hickster cream ale (Scorched Earth Brewing)
- Ruthie pale lager (Exile Brewing)
- Blood Orange hard seltzer (Mighty Swell Spiked Seltzer)
- Hawaii Five Ale fruit beer (DESTIHL Brewery)
- Strawberry Cheesecake mead (Unpossible Mead)
- Jingle Java holiday stout (Bent River)
The Pour Bros. system will shut off the card at 60 ounces, and staff can shut it off earlier if they see a patron is over-consuming, Mathisen said. A new card must be obtained at each visit.
“We always have someone here working the wall,” Mathisen said. “They’re taught, don’t let it get out of hand. We take a lot of effort so that doesn’t happen. We understand that it’s a privilege to offer this, so we gotta be real careful.”
“People that drink this beer and spend this money, they’re not usually driving the race car,” he said. “They’re sampling, they’re enjoying. Very rarely do we get a problem – the problem arises when they’re coming from other places.”
Why choose Moline to open?
The Peoria area (formerly a whiskey capital) has very few craft breweries, compared to about 15 in the QC area, he said. Pour Bros. doesn’t make its own beer, but likes to highlight local, regional and national craft brews, Mathisen said, adding he hopes to feature local wines as well.
Pour Bros. in Peoria Heights has done very well, which includes an outdoor music series on warm weather Saturdays, which average 800 in attendance, he said. “It’s a huge concert and huge party, and in Champaign, we’re close to the university, a mile from campus downtown. We’ve got 30,000 cars a day past our front door, so it does really well.”
In Moline, he’s impressed with the downtown bar and restaurant scene. Pour Bros. hopes to have acoustic music inside, and in the summer, have live music on the lawn outside by the train tracks. Mathisen dreams of the day (as many people in the QC) that passenger rail finally gets here, with the station next door.
The 38-year-old Peoria native had never worked in bars before, but had a sales background.
Mathisen chose to expand in Moline because he loves towns with history and especially, industrial history, as the longtime home to John Deere.
“That was a big thing for me, and when you look at downtown Moline, it has a lot of assets,” he said of the larger QC metro area. “Here, you’ve got the TaxSlayer Center; we’re hooked onto the hotel. There’s a lot going on. We found this older industrial building. We wanted that; we wanted good bones. We didn’t want some strip mall somewhere. Moline’s looking like a good spot for us.”
The 1920s building is owned by the Element Moline (which opened the 95-room hotel in March 2018), Mathisen said. Pour Bros. took about five months to totally renovate the vacant 4,500-square-foot space, at a cost of $850,000. He credited Davenport-based Bush Construction for the excellent work, including installing new plumbing and electrical.
On one wall, the new business had Peoria artist Devin McGlone paint a big Pour Bros. logo (including the 309 and 217 area codes).
“I just love working with artisans that care about what they do, as opposed to run-of-the-mill crap,” Mathisen said, noting he had woodworkers handcraft walls around the taps. McGlone did a lot of painting at their Champaign bar.
No food available yet
The bar has a staff of seven, and they hope to open limited food service just outside their doors down the hall, across from the Urban Farmhouse store.
Pour Bros. owns their own restaurant at the Peoria location, Slow Hand Craft BBQ, on the second level of that New Orleans-style building (with patios), which opened in 2018.
“I’m not ready to move that yet, because it’s a hard process – we smoke everything outside daily,” Mathisen said of barbecuing. “If our partnership doesn’t work out with the other one, maybe we’ll put our barbecue shop down here.”
At Pour Bros., they offer domestic and craft beer in cans, as well as a full line of spirits for cocktails.
Since Mathisen is a history buff, he installed a huge black-and-white mural near the entrance of an old-time photo of downtown Moline with John Deere’s factory and headquarters, and Moline Plow Company. The Deere buildings were on the current site of the TaxSlayer Center.
The hotel owner, Amin Group (which also owns the nearby Radisson on John Deere Commons), “really took care of us,” he said of launching the bar. “They wanted a concept and we did it.”
Serving during COVID is tricky
Opening during COVID has been a challenge for the bar, especially with the current Omicron surge in cases.
“It’s been really difficult at the other locations,” Mathisen said. “I think we’re hitting this market at the right time. As the virus lessens its strain, the variants are becoming less powerful – I think we’re at the right time to get over it, with this launch in the new market. Bottom line, I hope we’re at the tail end.
“Is it tough? Yes,” he added. “Twenty percent of people who normally would come in here, won’t come in here because they’re not going anywhere. There’s 20 percent gone right away off the top. We just have to do our job in keeping people safe, keeping people distanced, just cleaning the place well. We’re really anal about that.”
“We’ve been known as guys in the market who go the extra step,” Mathisen said. in Pour Bros., which eventually hopes to have about 10 locations in Illinois altogether.
“This location is killing our Peoria and Champaign stores already,” he said. “It’s dry January, it’s COVID. This store is really holding its own, in the face of the worst weather. It’s doing good. We’re the closest bar to the TaxSlayer, so we’re going to push that.”
“We felt like with 10,000 people leaving the TaxSlayer, we give a nice advantage for people to get a drink quickly, and sample,” Mathisen said. “It’s a great concept. I like history – it’s kind of like the Henry Ford of beer. You can try a lot of different ones at once. It’s the assembly line concept.”
Sally May, director of sales for The Element Moline, said the hotel is ecstatic to have the new business next door.
“We can’t say enough good things. We’ve been waiting two years for them to be here,” she said Thursday. “We’re just really excited to have them there. It’s a huge addition…They’re delightful to work with, and they’re so unique for the Quad Cities.”
May held her birthday party at Pour Bros. last Friday night, with 35 people.
“They all loved it,” she said. “They have wine on the wall. I don’t drink beer, and I had never had mead. I tried it and it was fantastic. They have hard cider. It’s fun. It’s like going to a wine tasting. The people behind the bar were fabulous.”
Their hours are Tuesday-Thursday 3 p.m.-12 a.m., Friday and Saturday noon-1 a.m., and Sundays noon to 10 p.m.
“We’re laid back, we’re good people, and we have a great environment,” Mathisen said. “Number two, we have a lot of space, so you can spread out here and enjoy a brew. We set up our bar as kind of a beer hall atmosphere, so you can have groups come in.”
The bar also has some retro board games and other, like Skee ball and bubble hockey, and tabletop bags.
“It’s an experience; we’re not just a bar,” he said. “We’re extremely happy to be here. We’ve had great support from The Element Hotel, the Amin Group, the city of Moline.”
For more information, visit the Pour Bros. website.