In 2015, a vacant storefront on Hillsborough Street was filled by Sy Sourisak and his new coffee, wine and beer bar, Liquid State. Liquid State, a staple on Hillsborough since its opening, was centered right off the corner of campus, across the roundabout from the Memorial Belltower and across the road from the Gregg Museum of Art & Design.
Sadly, in an April 23 Instagram post, Sourisak announced Liquid State would close its doors permanently on April 26. As of May 20, the post had 1,214 likes and 272 comments with almost every comment telling Sourisak and Liquid State how much the coffee shop would be missed.
Liquid State was Sourisak’s “love letter to Raleigh.” Sourisak said his entire life and life experiences have led to the founding and operation of Liquid State. Sourisak was introduced to coffee on his grandparents’ banana, pineapple and coffee bean farm in Laos. After moving to the United States, Sourisak went to high school in Raleigh and graduated from NC State in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science in physics. Sourisak met his wife in a coffee shop. Before opening Liquid State, Sourisak worked for two education technology companies which gave him the opportunity to travel all over the country.
“Wherever I went, the place I sought out first and foremost was where the local hangout is that people come together as a community and share drinks,” Sourisak said. “Whether that’s a bar, whether that’s a coffee shop, whatever that was, that was the place I gravitated to.”
According to Sourisak, Liquid State was meant to be this place of community. Jonathan Carter, an NC State alum and former editor-in-chief of Technician, said Sourisak accomplished his goal.
“We’re losing an important third place, those places outside of work or religious gatherings, school, whatever,” Carter said. “It’s the third place that people gather to meet and do whatever, whether it’s hanging out with friends or talking about important events or sitting and having a nice time and a cup of coffee. The more places we lose like that, the more ideas are lost, the more lives impacted may be lost.”
Rachel Palermo, a fourth-year studying political science and former employee of Liquid State, said Sourisak made it clear that Liquid State was intended to be welcoming to everyone.
“Liquid State was a safe place to go and study and hang out and display your art, because Sy was very adamant about being inclusive of everybody,” Palermo said. “Our regular face wasn’t a certain kind of person; it was just anybody that wanted to come was welcome. I think most business owners prioritize profit and customers over employees, but Sy was always looking out for us and trying really hard to make it a good place to work.”
Sourisak said growing up in Raleigh influenced his desire to make Liquid State as open and approachable as possible.
“Growing up in Raleigh, I’m a Laotian man, so I was part of a smaller group of folks, and in my teenage years, it was really awkward for me to blend in,” Sourisak said. “Even when I started NC State, freshman and sophomore year, outside of my little group of friends that lived in Metcalf dorm, it was very hard for me to interact with other folks. Thinking back on the hard times that I had in terms of creating a group that I could easily mingle with, I wanted Liquid State to encourage that interaction, openness and community building.”
The inviting atmosphere gave many NC State organizations and outside groups the ability to develop and flourish in Liquid State. Reborn Clothing Company, founded by NC State alum Emily Neville, held its launch party at Liquid State in 2017.
“It was home to many friendships, relationships and hours of personal reflection and growth,” Neville said. “Liquid State, you will always hold a very special place in my heart. The coffee was great, but the memories are even sweeter.”
Jonathan Carter said Liquid State played a role in his schoolwork, but also his role as editor-in-chief.
“It became my favorite coffee shop, my favorite place on Hillsborough Street and near NC State to go, hang out, do school work,” Carter said. “Once I was working at Technician, I was having meetings, meeting with sources and whatnot. I went all of the time. There was a period somewhere in between my junior and senior year where I went basically every day. I went and just read, studied, did whatever, had meetings and such.”
Saige Martin, an NC State alum and Raleigh city councilman for District D, held meet and greets during his campaigns for city council in Liquid State. NC State-based and other local artists had their art displayed on the walls of Liquid State, and so many used Liquid State as a landmark.
Student Body President Melanie Flowers, a fourth-year studying communications, paid homage to Liquid State in a separate Instagram post saying, “They will certainly be missed.” Sonny Miles, an NC State alum and nationally recognized musician, expressed his sadness about the closing under the farewell post. Mark McLawhorn, an NC State alum and cartoonist for Technician, summed up his feelings with a single frowning emoji commented under the post.
The Gregg Museum of Art & Design commented on Liquid State’s farewell post, “Dearest Liquid State. We have lost a family member. We met, relaxed, escaped, and referred to you over the years. We included you in our local sphere, even marking our location and our bearings with you. You will be deeply missed.”
The future for Liquid State is not entirely bleak. Sourisak said Liquid State is not gone, it is on pause. Sourisak is revamping the store’s website and will continue to sell coffee blends, coffee beans and local art on the website and deliver to those in the Raleigh area and mailing them to those outside of Raleigh.
“I have two boys, and I’m focusing on them,” Sourisak said. “My father, when I was growing up, was in the military, so I didn’t see much of him. I’m glad to be with them in their formative years. Especially right now to be homeschooling them. With that said, hopefully in the next few months here we’ll stabilize in terms of the pandemic, and we’ll be able to rethink and maybe pivot or buy another storefront. That’s still up in the air.”
No matter what has happened, Sourisak said Raleigh will continue to be his home.
“I love Raleigh,” Sourisak said. “NC State has been a big portion of my life. My boys wear NC State T-shirts every day. That’s the university that they want to go to. Raleigh, NC State, this is home.”
Liquid State will continue to serve as an example of the power of being open and inclusive and loving what you do. Sy and Liquid State will be dearly missed.
Liquid State will soon open their online store which can be accessed through their website.