On the Road

A West Coast quest to find himself led Whiskey Road’s Matt Miller back to Bucktown

Talk about coming full circle: 35-year-old Lincoln Park native Matt Miller—the original owner of the Bucktown bar Darwin’s and the Lake View brunch boîte Orange—ran away from home a couple of years ago to escape the nightlife biz and pursue his dream of becoming a writer. He moved to San Diego, opened a surf shop, and finished a memoir (his agent is shopping it around), only to realize that home really is where the heart is. “Sometimes the place you’re running away from is the same place you’re most comfortable,” he says. For Miller—and for us—that place is now Whiskey Road (1935 N. Damen Ave.), a laid-back new hang in the old Darwin’s space.

The bar’s name has little to do with any so-called concept. “I was sick of these one-name places that were trying to be something,” Miller says. “We just are what we are. We’re not claiming to be the greatest whiskey bar,” he says, although the spot carries about 30 varieties (including Woodford Reserve and Old Grand-Dad; glasses range from $4 to $20). Instead, it’s an unpretentious neighborhood gathering place, where wannabe musicians clamor for a few minutes of glory on the Guitar Hero video game in back. Hand your ID to the bartender and play nice with other patrons while waiting your turn, Miller advises: “We’ve made friends out of strangers.”

Fare is limited (burgers, fried pickles, and pizza forthcoming), but you can usually find Miller taking orders behind the bar. Specials include a nightly mystery beer ($3); identify it and Miller will comp your tab. The chalkboard-covered walls give other starving writers a place to express themselves, and, come spring, an outdoor patio will provide a spot for mini-golf and adult sock-puppet shows. Ah, home, sweet home.

 

Photography: Chris Guillen

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