Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cocktailing Chicago: The Violet Hour

Just a few El stops away from the Whistler is the Violet Hour, known as THE Chicago cocktail bar. The Whistler and the Violet Hour were my two very favorite bars in Chicago, and Sarah and I hit them up in the same night, which, of course, begs a comparison, The Whistler was delightfully chill, probably the most relaxed atmosphere I've ever found at a dedicated cocktail bar. The whole vibe was very laid-back, very under-the-radar. In the very best way, the Violet Hour is the Whistler's exact opposite; they are both hard to find, both have amazing cocktails, and that's where the similarities end. The Violet Hour is dramatic, from the velvet curtains at the entrance to the Alice-in-wonderland decor to the painstaking presentation of the cocktails. Does it feel like a neighborhood bar? Absolutely not. Does it feel like an experience? Oh, hell yes.

A copy of the Violet Hour's 'House Rules'. Don't ask for a Bud Light.

In keeping with other Chicago cocktail bars, the Violet Hour is a bit..obscure. You'll definitely notice it if you walk by, but you might not know it's a bar. The exterior of the bar is covered with a lovely textured wood paneling (architect Nancy approves), and the lower part is painted with a mural which changes with the seasons. Concealed within the mural is the front door; find the handle, give it a tug, and you will be greeted by the hostess, who will usher you into the depths of the bar.

image: Metromix

Entering the Violet Hour is like passing into another world. Push your way past not one, but two sets of velvet curtains, and you will find yourself in a dimly lit, indigo-hued space that's a bit reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, if Alice's wonderland was a craft bar filled with mixologists ready to satisfy your every boozing whim.

Our bartender was not actually headless.

Sarah and I were seated at the bar, where our bartender, Rob (I'm not quite sure his name was Rob, but we'll go with that), was ready to assist us. You know how older folks are always talking about how air travel used to be so wonderful, back when flight attendants were so gracious and flying on an airplane felt special? (Well, I've actually never had this conversation with an old person, but I've imagined one, based on my readings about the golden age of flight. Yes, I'm a huge nerd.) That's how the service at the Violet Hour compares to the service at any old bar; it's very personal. After we had a chance to look over the menu, Rob asked us what sort of alcohol we liked. Sarah wanted something light and refreshing, so for her he recommended the Juliet & Romeo, a combo of gin, mint, cucumber, and rose water that's one of the bar's most popular drinks. It came in a cocktail glass, with mint leaves and drops of bitters artfully scattered across the surface. At the Violet Hour, no detail goes ignored.

Juliet & Romeo.

I scoured the menu and decided to order a Old One, a combination of pisco, lime, Cocchi Americano (an Italian aperitif that's a cousin to Lillet Blanc), and Peychaud's bitters. My drink was a perfect, delicate mountain of crushed ice, surmounted by just a few drops of bitters. So how did these perfectly presented drinks taste? The Juliet & Romeo was delicious, delicate and subtly floral, and the Old One started out sweet, owing to the pisco, and finished with an elegant, lingering bitterness, like a particularly poignant Russian novel.

The Old One.

The drinks were very good. You can't have a cocktail bar without good drinks. But really, I think what sets the Violet Hour apart is more than just the drinks - it's a feeling. Deep in the dark, past the velvet curtains, sipping your perfectly constructed cocktail in the flickering candlelight, you're far away from the noise of the street, far away from mundane, everyday things. You're a part of the drama, too; you're you, but for a little while, you're starring in a more sophisticated, more glamorous version of your life. I didn't want it to end.

1 comment:

  1. Good choice to sit at the bar! My BF insists on waiting until a seat at the bar opens up!