Guest Post: Greetings from Booze Island

This is the first in an occasional series of guest blog posts focused on the out-of-town drinking adventures of one Matthew Hansen, who also happens to be my husband. Enjoy.

The Whistler,  2421 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, 773-227-3530

If you someday find yourself in Chicago, and are looking to have a quasi-religious experience, here is my advice to you.

Sidle up to the bar at a out-of-the-way joint called The Whistler. Point a crooked finger in the direction of the bottles of Del Maguey mezcal that line a corner of the back wall.
Say the following sentence: “Make me something boozy.”

What follows will make you worship both mezcal, tequila’s smokin’ sexy cousin, and The Whistler, a tiny place that features some seriously high-end drinks while avoiding most of the pretensions of the modern craft cocktail bar.

I came to the The Whistler on the advice of Clark, the friendly and fantastic bartender at Omaha’s Boiler Room. Most craft cocktail bars I’ve been to around the region — Violet Hour, in Chicago, and Manifesto, in Kansas City, to name two — attract 30-somethings like yours truly who love Wilco and drive Jettas, pulling them in like so many cardigan-wearin’ bees to honey. They are quiet places, nice places, with fancy chairs and rules against cell phones and yeah, a dash of snobbery with that egg white. I’m not apologizing for this, by the way. I’ll gladly pay $11 a drink for the privilege to sip great cocktails twice a year at such places.

But the Whistler don’t really play it like that. First off, wear a t-shirt. Secondly, talk as loud as you want. YELL! Whistler don’t care. A t-shirt is good because you are going to get a little sweaty in here, especially if you feel the need to start shimmy-shaking to the DJ dropping noize bombs over there in the corner. Yelling helps to be heard over same said noize bombs. (I’ll admit it…I wanted them to turn down the music. I’m old.)

The good news for my subspecies is that on many nights, the Whistler features jazz. And the straight-up fantastic news is that you’ll think the drinks are ludicrous even if the last hiphop you listened to was Ludacris.

My posse of four drank a Brooklyn, pictured above, the bar’s badass twist on a Manhattan, some sort of drink with sherry in it, and a couple of Painkillers, a rumy, coconuty, citrusy kind of thing that came in a tiki-themed glass.

But the true revelation came when my friend Ben and I wandered off the drink menu and put ourselves in the magical hands of the nice young bearded man behind the bar. (By the way, the Whistler featured four bartenders the night we went, for about 40 people. They were getting drinks out fast.)

Look at that ice! It’s like they chipped that thing off a glacier. The Arctic is melting because The Whistler is stealing all its ice caps.

And oh my gosh, people, this thing tastes like Paradise. I don’t even really know what all was in it. The bartender tried to lean over and yell the ingredients at me, but all I could hear was cocchi americano, an apertif wine that pops up in a lot of good cocktails, and grapefruit bitters. And of course, the headliner was the Del Magquey mezcal, a  booze bottled in different small Mexican villages. It tastes to me like a cross between tequila and scotch mixed with the smoke from a magical Mexican dragon.

If you have never tried mezcal before, please find a good bartender and have him or her make you a drink with this Del Maguey delight. Bring some crackers, even, and pretend it’s your first booze communion.

In the meantime, check out The Whistler. It’s equal parts dive bar and holy place.

Matthew’s Super-Scientific Bar Rating (on a scale of 1-10)

Booze: 8
Didn’t really dig the sherry thing, but liked everything else.
Bartenders: 9
Friendly, fairly fast and they won’t give you the stink eye when you say, “Make me something with mezcal.”
Bar atmosphere: 8
Spartan, laid-back and comfortable, if a little cramped.
Grumpy old-man intangibles: 4
I mean, seriously, could you turn down the music please? The bass is shaking my glacier ice. Also, the back patio looks like you need some sort of secret hipster handshake to use it.
Prices: Between $6-12 for a drink on the drink menu. Good selection of moderately priced beer as well.

Overall: 29 of 40.

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