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New Bar and Music Venue Will Resurrect a Long-Dormant Pilsen Tavern

The Giant Penny Whistle will have bands, booze, and brews starting next month

General manager Brad Hoffman will build drinks and pour beers at the Giant Penny Whistle.
The Giant Penny Whistle [Official Photo]

A new bar and music venue five years in the making is coming to Pilsen next month. The Giant Penny Whistle, a bar inspired by classic neighborhood dives, is slated to open at 1854 S. Blue Island Avenue in the first week of August. Owners Kacy and Bobby Middleton, who also own Wayward Machine Co., brought local bar design expert Kevin Heisner of Heisler Hospitality (Lone Wolf, Sportsman’s Club, Bad Hunter) on board as a designer and general contractor to make Giant Penny Whistle a reality.

The Middletons were awestruck when they first explored the long-empty space. The nearly 5,000 square-foot bar and venue needed a lot of care, and the husband and wife team set to work installing an oak parquet floor and refurbishing the pressed-tin ceiling. Divided into two sections by arched doorways, the space includes a bar area with two communal tables that seat 12, booths that seat four to six, and 14 bar stools. The venue section features a 100-year-old retrofitted bar and custom stage tucked into a corner with a curved, scalloped apron that juts out into the crowd. “It has an unassuming façade, but every person we’ve given a tour opens the door and goes ‘Oh shit, it’s big!’” Kacy said. “The gut reaction is awe.”

She also put a great deal of effort into the bar and venue’s restroom, which is decorated with a total of 10,600 vintage 35 mm slides. A friend in Bridgeport gave Kacy a small collection of slides, and she began a “mad hunt” for the tiny images that now cover every inch of the bathroom. “It looks like stained glass from afar, but when you get close you see people’s lives, little snapshots of history,” she said. Heisner and the Middletons hope to cultivate a familiar, friendly atmosphere utterly lacking in pretension, they said, and plan to start booking bands in the months following the opening.

Beer is the star at the Giant Penny Whistle, with eight taps highlighting local, national, and international brews. The two “anchor taps” are Pilsner Urquell, the world’s first pale lager born in the Czech city of Pilsen, and Pacifico, which owners say is a replica of the Czech original that’s produced in Mexico. The latter is a nod to the history of the neighborhood and its significant Mexican-American population. Chicago-area offerings will include Whiner Beer and Off Color Brewing, as well as Indiana-based Three Floyds. Owners and general manager Brad Hoffman want to keep cocktail offerings limited with four seasonal rotating drinks, as well as draft cocktails and booze-free options. The bar and venue will not offer food.

Stay tuned for more on the Giant Penny Whistle’s opening in August.