One of the first cocktail bars in Chicago’s Logan Square before the neighborhood became one of the main watering holes in the city, The Whistler is a cultural hub. A gallery & performance space for local artists, musicians, authors and cool people in general, along with a stellar cocktail program, makes this bar the space your more creative and better dressed best friend has been going to without you for years. Time to get a little edified (and buzzed).
OUR ARTICLEBY: Joe Demes Contributing writer
If you’re not careful, you might walk past The Whistler without a second thought, though it’s no fault of the bar since their name’s on the door. The storefront gallery, its ever-changing calling card, hosts a new installation by a local artist every other month, so you’re never sure of what to look for. And despite the deceptiveness of the façade, it’s appropriate for a bar that is not simply a place to grab good cocktails (though there is no shortage of those).
One of the first bars that Paul McGee (Lost Lake, Milk Room, Three Dots and a Dash) worked at in Chicago, the establishment quickly cemented itself after opening in 2008 as something more than the sum of its parts. Besides being a business front of sorts for Whistler Records, which puts out live recordings of certain musicians for free (though some albums are available on vinyl for the nerds), the bar is many other things: a performance space for live music; a host for a number of reading series and book release parties; a regular jam session for any jazz musicians with enough bravery (or shots) in them to get up on stage; and a gallery for local artists. It is nothing if not a killer time here, every night of the week.
While it’s certainly a bar you can go to for the simple pleasure of an alcoholic beverage, what they offer is what makes a good drink spectacular: stellar atmosphere and unexpected entertainment.
Don’t expect some massive, sweeping space though. It’s cozy and comfortable, even with minimal floor space, and the events make up for having to share elbow room and hold conversation with a few random people. (But everyone’s been saying for years how you never get out and talk to anyone; time to saddle up, Pony Boy.) The outdoor patio also opens the space up quite a bit, and still feels inviting even when Chicago’s winters start to get to you and liquor isn’t enough to give you a reason to live, let alone go outside. And if bar-hopping is the name of the game, The Whistler is a perfect starting/mid/endpoint for your night, with a number of other excellent bars in walking distance.
Did we mention they have alcohol? They have alcohol! The Whistler boasts a rotating nine-drink menu with a good selection of bottled and canned beers, plus wine, cider, and snacks. Generally, there’s a turnover of one new drink per week, and with it a new menu design – half the fun of it.
Just like their menu, The Whistler is a well-oiled machine of intricate moving parts. And even if you know what to expect, there’s only so much you can predict accurately before you’re thrown a Malört-soaked curveball. While it’s certainly a bar you can go to for the simple pleasure of an alcoholic beverage, what they offer is what makes a good drink spectacular: stellar atmosphere and unexpected entertainment.
Check their events calendar before you go. Entertainment includes live music, reading series, movie-karaoke mash-ups, record release parties, and more. You’re gonna have a good time, friend-o.
Since the cocktail menu changes regularly, the folks at The Whistler post a photo of it whenever a drink or two is replaced, so you’re never left hanging. Praise the Internet!
If you get lost, look for the storefront gallery. Recent features have included an installation that packed the entire display with styrofoam peanuts, a massive diorama of tons of tiny cheese wedges, and a multimedia piece called “Your Polka Dot Dress Won’t Save You.” (They’re right: it won’t. Nothing will.)
The bar nuts are actually good, unless you have a nut allergy: provençale garlic almonds, chipotle lime peanuts, and coconut curry cashews.