What do you like to drink after a shift? “If I’m at home drinking, it’s often a glass of amontillado sherry or a Cocchi Rosa and soda. If I’m going to be at a bar, I’ll go for an easy beer. Honestly, Old Style never disappoints. Truly, I switch up what I drink a lot though.”
What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? “Anything by Devo will do the trick. “Uncontrollable Urge” if I had to pick a specific song.”
After all these years bartending and creating drinks, do you still enjoy going out to bars? “Absolutely! The day I can no longer continue enjoying why I got into this industry, is the day I should leave it.”
Name the first good drink you ever drank and where you had it. “I remember my first Negroni so vividly. I had just turned 21 and a group of friends took me to the Charleston. I never knew bitter could be so deeply enjoyable.”
What book on cocktails or spirits is your go-to resource? “Some books that have been very helpful in my quest for knowledge are Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey by Charles C. Cowdery, Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France by Kermit Lynch, and Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail by Dave Arnold.”
What’s your favorite cocktail and food pairing? “A Bamboo with chicken and dumplings. I made this combo at home a year ago and since then it’s been my standard for what pairings should be. For my Bamboo, I use equal parts of amontillado sherry and Dolin Dry Vermouth, garnished with a single castelvetrano olive.”
What drink are you most proud of creating? “Truly whatever makes a guest happy. Personally, I’m quite obsessed with my Popcorn Sherry cocktail, since it’s a 4 A.M. pipedream come to life, but I understand not everybody is going to go for that. If I can bridge the gap between what someone likes with my cocktailing style and create something that they would want to keep drinking, I’m proud.”
Is there one person (dead or alive) you’d like to make a cocktail for? “I’m a big fan of Melody Ehsani, an L.A.-based designer, so I’d love to make her a drink.”
What’s your favorite shot-and-a-beer combination? “At The Whistler, we recently brought on Odell Brewing’s Wolf Picker, an experimental IPA. That with a shot of Cynar will do the trick for me.”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “My planner. I’m schedule oriented and if I don’t have a place to put down my to-do’s and plan for what’s next, I go crazy.”
Marina Holter is the head bartender at The Whistler in Chicago’s Logan Square.
Interview has been condensed and edited.