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New River West Bar to Feature More Than 200 Bottles of American Whiskey

The 1794 Whiskey Rebellion inspires Rebel & Rye

The facade of a bar with brick.
Rebel & Rye is a new whiskey bar opening by the end of January in River West.
Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago

The owner of Rebel & Rye, a new whiskey bar slated to open by January’s end in River West, wants to overwhelm customers as they walk inside the renovated space. American whiskey, not just bourbon, will be at the forefront and displayed prominently. So far, the bar’s stocked with more than 200 bottles from 28 states, but owner Alex Zupancic wants to eventually increase that number to 400 bottles. Rebel & Rye will also include a whiskey club that offers engraved glasses and personalized bottles.

“I want customers to walk in and say ‘holy crap, look at all those whiskies,’” he said.

While a little awe is fine, Zupancic wants to avoid any pretentiousness associated with whiskey. Inclusivity is what draws drinkers to the spirit, he said. His bar is across the street from one of Chicago’s most infamous late-night haunts, Richard’s Bar. Around the corner stands one of the city’s premier Italian restaurants, Piccolo Sogno. River West is diverse, and Zupancic sees an opportunity to cater to all crowds. Whiskey has the ability to bring together people from different walks of life, he said. A news release trumpets a “sneakers or suits” atmosphere for the bar.

Tim Williams is a Chicago bar veteran who’s worked for Four Corners Tavern Group and created drink menus for Merchant in Logan Square and La Luna in Pilsen. He’s divided Rebel & Rye’s cocktail menu into four sections: classic whiskey, Old Fashioneds, whiskey sours, and whiskey high balls.

Williams wants Rebel & Rye’s cocktail list to provide novices a whiskey introduction. The bottles will come from across the U.S. He mentioned distilleries including Pinhook in Kentucky, Redwood Empire in California, and New England Distilling’s Gunpowder Rye as examples of bottles the bar would carry. Williams wants to eventually build up a library of hard-to-find vintage bottles. The focus is on American producers, so the bar won’t offer Japanese varieties or Scotch.

“If you like Scotch, there are American-produced peated whiskies you can try,” Williams said.

The dark space features a bar in front and another in back. It’s in the former Funky Buddha space and takes up about 1,200 square feet. Zupancic said the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion inspired him, and he can’t wait to open up his new bar to people from all walks of life. He’s looking to open it the last week of January.

Rebel & Rye is from Last Call Tavern Group, the company behind six bars scattered throughout the North Side. That includes Clover, which neighbors the Rebel & Rye space at 726 W. Grand Avenue.

Last Call’s bars — like the Butcher’s Tap, Celtic Crown, and Full Schilling — cater to sports fans with plenty of TVs. Rebel & Rye is a departure from that formula. Zupancic said he’ll hide TVs behind mirrors and only unveil them for select games.

Rebel & Rye, 726 W. Grand Avenue, Scheduled for a January 25 opening.

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