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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Friday, August 12

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Event Thu Sep 24 2015

The Whistler Celebrates 7 Years Tonight

whistler anniversary party.png
If The Whistler owners Billy Helmkamp and Rob Brenner had set out to open one of the best cocktail bars in America, an accolade among others awarded to them by GQ, they likely wouldn't have achieved it; the world doesn't seem to align that way. If fact, The Whistler was never actually intended to be a bar when Brenner first purchased it in 2008 and called upon Helmkamp to join him. The two had previously met at NYU and had collaborated in the Chicago artists collective scene, hosting live underground events in various warehouses across the city.

After tossing around several ideas, they eventually landed on a music venue on the first floor. This led to the idea of beer. "We thought, if we're going to have a music venue then it would be awesome to sell beer," says Helmkamp. Easy enough, but neither had experience in the bar business. What they did have were industry relationships with OG's at places like Empty Bottle and The Hideout who helped answer any questions their "How to Start a Bar" Amazon-bought books couldn't.

With every intention of running the bar program themselves, a serendipitous chain of events that would introduce them to industry vet Paul McGee would take The Whistler in a direction Helmkamp and Brenner likely never imagined. "We had never been to Violet Hour and didn't know there was even a cocktail scene to be a part of," says Helmkamp. "McGee had just landed in Chicago off of being Wolfgang Puck's right-hand man in Las Vegas. "I've always been a big proponent of surrounding yourself with people who know more than you. I think McGee thought doing something on the mom-pop scale was very attractive." The three collaborated on the vision with McGee becoming the face while Helmkamp and Brenner took the much-preferred backstage. "When we opened we were getting so many press inquiries. If Paul wasn't around, we may not have done all the media we did."

You can say their naiveté and serendipitous luck proved to pay off. The Whistler arguably helped regenerate the craft cocktails scene in Chicago and has become a destination music venue. Tonight, they will be celebrating seven years with a special anniversary bash from 6pm to 2am at the Whistler. (Details below!)

What's Next

You may know them for cocktails, but an in-house record label has always been a part of the concept from inception. Now they are looking to expand the label this year by putting out compilations recorded in front of a live audience from some of their month-long residencies. "It's another way to get the music out there," says Helmkamp. "The typical Chicago record label deal is 50/50, but we're approaching it more to promote what's going on. After we can break even, all profits will go towards the band."


Thursday, Sept. 24, 6pm - 2am
2421 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Festivities include:

  • "Greatist Hits" cocktail menu: The Whistler bartenders will serve a "Greatist Hits" cocktail menu, including crowd favorites such as the Delhi Cooler, Dopesmoker, The Wildcat and Milk Maid.

  • 7-Inch vinyl record giveaway of past releases from the in-house record label

  • Guest DJ/bartender throwback: Past and present Whistler bartenders take over the performance stage as DJs from open to close including Danny Shapiro (2009-2011, now co-owner of Scofflaw), Charles Simpson (2012-2015, now at Expatriate in Portland OR), Vittorio Iasalvatore (2009-2011, now at I Monelli Trattoria), plus co-owners Rob Brenner and Billy Helmkamp.

  • Free pork and slaw dinner for local Chicago artists.

Happy Birthday Whistler!

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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