let the good times roll.

Circa 1946 Our boys were coming home by the boatload. America had won the war, and the mood was ebullient. All those soldiers, nurses and rosie-the-riveters could get back to normal lives: Getting degrees, working jobs, buying homes, and raising kids. The U.S.A.’s ascent to economic greatness had begun. In the years following, cities and towns grew, and the roadway system was expanded. Factories were re-tooled and rebuilt. TV was entering its golden age. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs were taking what they had learned overseas and in the army and applying it to domestic use, coming up with all kinds of new toys, foods, products and appliances. Of course, the mood also changed among American craftspeople and artists.            

With the war over and the economy strong, these creative types experienced a sense of security that had been absent for at least a decade. In the art world, abstract expressionism became a movement, spearheaded by the likes of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. And then there was the music. Enter, Frank Sinatra. Louis Armstrong and Sarah Vaughan. Those were the daring sounds of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Times were good. People–hip people–spent late nights at downtown clubs to hear these bands and others like them. The men dressed up. The women polished themselves. Couples danced. They celebrated. And more often than you might think, they went home together. Among the throngs in Chicago was our own Walter Bade–WWII veteran, snappy dresser, and all-around hip cat.

THAT Kind of Town.

Circa 1953 Boom! Thwack! All around Chicago, the sounds of progress could be heard: Skyscrapers going up. Factories cranking out parts. And trucks making deliveries. Commerce was happening. On weekends, the city was just as alive, with roars from Wrigley Field, throngs of people at the beach, and kids cruising Lincoln Boulevard. It was in these glorious post-war years that our dear friend and protagonist, Walter Bade, was busy raising a family. Weekdays were spent at the Chicago Department of Water, and on weekends Walter, Margaret, and the kids could be found strolling Lincoln Park Zoo, enjoying a casual lunch, or visiting one of Walter’s favorite haunts–the Art Institute of Chicago. Here, he took great pleasure in seeing the Impressionist collection; the photorealism of Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper; and the heartfelt storytelling of Norman Rockwell. After a day of adventure downtown, it was back home for supper. Then, while Margaret put the kids to bed, Walter would retreat to his workshop, where he’d make himself a vodka martini, and play some West Coast jazz. With paint brushes in hand, he’d let loose, creating scenes of whimsy and humor: A dog chasing a mailman. A car splashing water on a well-dressed businessman. Or a blonde beauty kissing a red-faced gent. This was Walter at his very best. To be sure, these Eisenhower years were materially rewarding. But they were also constraining and rigid. Appearances and reality diverged greatly. Some people, including Walter, knew it and art became their outlet. Of course, a stiff drink didn’t hurt either.

Walter was an aspiring artist who painted and drew when he could.  Even though he dreamed to make a living from his art, he unfortunately never did.  He never connected with other artists, never collaborated or learned how he might get his art out to the world.  If only Walter could have accessed a collective of likeminded artists where he could have shared, bounced ideas off of, gotten inspiration from, learned new techniques and tools, elevate his game…who knows what would have happened.

This story became one of the inspirations for The Walter Collective.  By collaborating with distillers and cocktail artists, the collective sum becomes greater than its individual parts.  It promotes an environment to throw ideas around, brainstorm unique grain bills, see what bartenders are creating and what they might want to see as another tool in their arsenal.  There’s also an energy and excitement in a collective effort and a surprising momentum toward action over internal thoughts or just talk.  The collective is an opportunity to be part of an artistic craft spirits community and derive inspiration and collectively create and promote better and more diverse art.

The Walter Collective is named after my grandfather in tribute to his love for creating art. Our products are artfully crafted using premium ingredients in creative and thoughtful ways–like a beautiful painting or the wonderful music Walter admired by musicians such as Sarah Vaughan and Louis Armstrong. Here's to Walter.  –Matt Melaik