The Whistler, one of the leaders in Chicago’s cocktail bar scene, turns 7 this week, an anniversary that coincides with the debut of a new bartender, Luke Andrews. Andrews hails from Plano, Texas and also worked at Vinology and 327 Braun Court in Ann Arbor before landing at the Berkshire Room, where he worked with Ben Schiller. In September, he headed to the Whistler, which he says is “340 feet from my house, according to Google Maps.” Here’s Andrews on his wine background, his cocktail-making style, and why he loves Scotch.
How did you get into bartending? In college, I got more into alcohol than bartending. I was going to school, originally to be a photographer, when I started taking chemistry classes and fell into viniculture. I got a job at a winery in Lubbock, Texas. The exact job title was “cellar rat.” It was super hands-on and I did whatever anybody needed. I worked in the tasting room, and it’s in the middle of nowhere in a field… and I started getting regulars who would show up every week. There was definitely a connection between them and me.
Then I met a guy opening a wine bar. I was in college and it was a way to make some money and meet some people. I love talking about wine, but pouring glasses is repetitive. So I started thinking, "What about cocktails? How do I break into that?" I started reading a lot…. Then moved to Ann Arbor and started working at a wine bar looking to ramp up its cocktail program.
What’s your cocktail-making style? It changes all the time, the same way I think people’s palates change. I also think you pick up style from what’s around you and what you read and the people you watch. I look around and say, “That’s a cool move,” or “That’s a cool thing that guy did with that.” Then I modify and add to it. I like very classic builds.
What are your plans for the Whistler cocktail menu? The way they build their list is the way I have always wanted to build lists. It’s like a mixtape—when you put together a mixtape, you put things on there that people know, like classics or hits, then some weird stuff you’re trying to impress a girl with.
My style is very versatile, mostly because so much is dealer’s choice at the Berkshire Room. To be a bartender, you need to be translating all the time, trying to pick up what people are telling you. I’m excited to bring some of that to the Whistler.
Are there any spirits you gravitate toward? I'm a gin guy through and through. I’ve also always been a Scotch guy over an American whiskey guy. Bourbon is such an interesting spirit, but Scotch is different depending on where it comes from. It reminds me of wine. It’s so versatile in cocktails and, of the spirits, it’s the most elegant.
What’s the most important skill a bartender should have? Memory. The best thing is walking into a bar and getting a nod from the bartender that says, “I remember you.” If you’re able to at least remember somebody’s face, the name will come.
Are there any ingredients you've been into lately? I like switching rye in cocktails out for cognac. If you go back in history, the sazerac was originally made with cognac, so to go back and reverse that is fun. Yeah, there are rye manhattans, but bars should try it with cognac.
Where do you head on your night off? If I’m staying in neighborhood, I go to Webster’s Wine Bar and I drink wine. I normally order cheese and leave wine up to them—I go in there to learn. My favorite bar in the city is called the Pepper Canister. There’s nothing special about it—it’s an Irish pub—but they’re nice, their service attitude is perfect and you can sit around and become part of the bar. They’ll pour you a mean Guinness, and if you hang around long enough, they’ll pour you whiskey.