If you follow this feature, you may have noticed we have a type. Are you guessing redheads or blondes? No, we have a type when it comes to bars: Intimate, candlelit and infused with pre-WWII Jazz Era sophistication.
And if you’re in Chicago (a city of fine drinks and the birthplace of Playboy), meet us at the Violet Hour, one of our all-time top lounges. The experience begins with actually finding the Violet Hour: It's located on North Damen Avenue in Wicker Park and housed in a nondescript building with no signage or windows. Your clue: A graffiti mural on the wall, a mural that changes with the seasons—look closely into the wall art and you’ll see the door and handle…or just look for the line of people waiting to get in.
THE VIOLET HOUR
Once inside, the hostess will take you through a series of velvet floor-to-ceiling curtains, giving your eyes time to adjust to the extremely low light (candles are the main light source), and then, suddenly, you’re down the rabbit hole. The marble and mirror bar, the high-backed leather seats arranged around the flickering pools of light, the low murmur of engaged voices, the fireplace, the faint music and the chandeliers, it all combines for a striking impression. Though often compared to a speakeasy, we'd say the décor is more Victorian than Prohibition; It's as if you wandered into a writer’s salon of the 1890s.
One of the first things you will see will be a sign with the house rules, the first of which is “No cell phone use inside the lounge.” The hardest thing we’ve ever had to do was not check our cell phone for a period of a few hours, but this rule makes the ambiance. The other rules worth pointing out are “No O-Bombs. No Jager-Bombs. No bombs of any kind,” and “No Budweiser. No light beer. No Grey Goose. No Cosmopolitans.” And these sacred alcohol commandments bring us to the best part of the show: the cocktails.
NO LIGHT BEER - NO GREY GOOSE - NO COSMOPOLITANS
Arranged on the menu by spirit (gin, rum, whiskey, tequila, brandy, potable bitters and vodka) the drinks strike the perfect balance between original concoctions and house spins on classics. The infusions and syrups are made in house, of course, and are expertly combined with a winning selection of the finest liquors to create multi-toned cocktails. The “Juliet and Romeo” is the crowd favorite and often found on lists of the best cocktails in the country. Composed of Beefeater gin, mint, cucumber and rose water, it’s perfection in a glass. The “Sycamore Sling” with Buffalo Trace bourbon, lemon, Poire Williams pear brandy, Blis maple syrup and Douglas Fir eau de vie will open you up to a new world of what a bourbon-based drink can be. The cocktails will set you back $12 each, and each is well worth shilling out for. Note: The Violet Hour does shake their drink menu up, and it may change periodically.
The food is a gourmet take on bar fare with upscale takes on everything from beef jerky to that pride of Chicago, the hot dog (theirs consists of Toulouse sausage, Boursin cheese and onion jam on a brioche bun).
The Violet Room does not take reservations, but if there’s a wait you can leave your name and cell number with the hostess and split until something opens up. Whether you’re a Chi-Town resident or just visiting, get to the Violet Room for the full experience of the cocktail renaissance; maybe you’ll find us perched at the bar enjoying their spin on an Old Fashioned.