To experience The Violet Hour, Chicago’s award-winning, landmark cocktail bar in Wicker Park, you must first find the door, camouflaged as it is by the frequently changing artists’ murals that completely cover the building’s exterior.
Once inside, the next visual challenge will be following your host to a table. Stay close behind because it may take several minutes before your eyes adjust to the sensual murk of this lovely candlelit room. Colors and shapes soon emerge to reveal what feels like the updated drawing room of a 19th-century palazzo fitted out with high-style furnishings and bathed in soothing shades of gray, ivory and French blue. The mood is intimate, subtly enhanced by smooth indie jazz and pop tunes that seem to drift in from another room.
Here, the cocktail menu changes seasonally, with fresh takes on pre-Prohibition classics delightfully devised by head mixologist Toby Maloney, formerly of Milk & Honey and Pegu Club. The Backup Plan cocktail features Campari, lemon, Hayman’s Royal Dock Gin, Lazzaroni Amaretto, Grenadine and grapefruit bitters. A few classics like The Violet Hour Old Fashioned cocktail (House Buffalo Bourbon, Demerara with Angostura bitters) are always available. A separate Happy Hour menu offers the legendary Corpse Reviver – this one made with Beefeater Gin, lemon, Curacao Cocchi Americano and Herbsaint — along with a tantalizing list of small-batch Absinthe drip cocktails. The appetizer menu crafts its own intrigues with Manchego Stuffed Dates, Truffled Chickpeas and “Fried Elvis” bites of bacon PBJ sandwich, deep-dried and served drizzled with honey.
The servers are friendly and attentive, highly knowledgeable and nattily dressed. It may go without saying that cellphone yakking, ballcaps, Budweiser, and Jager Bombs (in fact, bombs of any type) are all verboten here, as are reservations, so there may be a line outside, but it’s definitely worth the wait.
The “violet hour” is taken from the T.S. Eliot’s evocation of the happy time right after the sun sets, in The Waste Land: “At the violet hour, when the eyes and back turn upward from the desk…” – in other words, cocktail time!
Check out some of the amazing street murals that have camouflaged The Violet Hour’s entrance over the past few years. Video courtesy of the Chicago Tribune:
1520 North Damen Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622