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Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and bacon and cook, stirring frequently, until onion has softened and just starting to brown around edges, about 8 - 10 minutes. Add in the flour and garlic and cook 1 1/2 minutes. While whisking, slowly pour in 5 cups water or broth.
Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, then stir in corn kernels and potatoes. Add in thyme and bay leaf and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a light boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
Remove bay leave then transfer 2 1/2 cups of the chowder to a blender and blend until smooth. Stir the mixture back into the pot then stir in half and half and honey. Sprinkle each serving with chives and optional cheddar.