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Alchemist

The Violet Hour

327 posts in this topic

Since September 2005 I’ve posted on eGullet about cocktails, restaurant life, my wanderings through Mexico in search of the perfect taco al pastor and michelada, and various uses for Havana Club rum. It’s time to share some very exciting news of my own.

With twenty plus years’ experience in the service industry in Colorado, San Francisco, Chicago and New York, I am opening a cocktail bar in Chicago. The construction and an arduous fifty hour training program are nearing completion and The Violet Hour will have its soft opening on Thursday, June 28 at 9 pm.

As The Violet Hour’s Head Intoxologist, I have put together a diverse cocktail list of the classics with a modern twist, and some creations, which with modestly downcast lash, we must admit are originations of our own. We will boast an eclectic selection of over 150 spirits, with an emphasis on gin, rum, rye and esoteric liqueurs. I’ve spent innumerable hours concocting a variety of house made bitters, including lemon, lime, Hell-Fire, peach, summer. I’m putting the final touches on my fall bitters and about to embark on my winter bitters (does anybody know a good cooper?). Our bartenders will be utilizing 8 different kinds of ice, fruit juices squeezed daily and other weird and wonderful ingredients. And while we make a killer Manhattan, The Violet Hour is also still at its heart a bar, where bon vivants will meet for adore, laughter and witty repartee.

House cocktails include:

Daisy17 (rye, lemon juice, house-made grenadine and bitters, with a flamed orange twist)

Blue Ridge Manhattan (rye, Carpano Antica, Noilly Prat, Peychaud bitters, house-made peach

bitters, rinse of Laphroig)

Summer Sidecar (cognac, lemon juice, Cointreau, house-made limoncello, orange bitters)

Iron Cross (pisco, lemon, egg white, orange flower water, house-made summer bitters)

Spanish Margarita (tequila, lime, orange curaçao, Licor 43, house-made Hell-Fire bitters)

Chapulin (crème de cacao, crème de menthe, pisco, heavy cream)

Executive Chef Justin Large, an eight year veteran of Blackbird and Avec (currently also sous chef at Avec) has constructed a menu featuring elevated bar food like chorizo stuffed croquetas with roasted garlic aioli and a pressed Cuban sandwich of roasted pork, black forest ham, Kosher dill pickles, Gruyere and mustard on Pullman bread. Another outrageous sandwich is a brioche filled with peanut butter, banana and bacon, rolled in panko and deep fried and served with wildflower honey.

We wanted to inform eGulleters first.

The Violet Hour

1520 North Damen

Opening Thursday, June 28, 9pm

Toby Maloney

By the way, “The Violet Hour” is a literary reference to “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot and Bernard DeVoto’s ode to the martini, The Hour.

At the violet hour, when the eyes and back

Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits

Like a taxi throbbing waiting . . . .

At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives

Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea

T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land” (1922)

There is a point where the marriage of gin and vermouth is consummated. It varies a little with the constituents, but for a gin of 95 proof and a harmonious vermouth it may be generalized as about 3.7 to one. And that is not only the proper proportion but the critical one; if you use less gin it is a marriage in name only and the name is not martini. You get a drinkable and even pleasurable result, but not art’s sunburst of imagined delight becoming real. Happily, the upper limit is not so fixed; you may make it four to one or a little more than that, which is a comfort if you cannot do fractions in your head and an assurance when you must use an unfamiliar gin. But not much more. This is the violet hour, the hour of hush and wonder, when the affections glow again and valor is reborn, when the shadows deepen magically along the edge of the forest and we believe that, if we watch carefully, at any moment we may see the unicorn. But it would not be a martini if we should see him.

Bernard DeVoto, The Hour (1949)


Edited by Alchemist (log)

A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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Love the name!

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We will boast an eclectic selection of over 150 spirits, with an emphasis on gin, rum, rye and esoteric liqueurs.  I’ve spent innumerable hours concocting a variety of house made bitters, including lemon, lime, Hell-Fire, peach, summer.  I’m putting the final touches on my fall bitters and about to embark on my winter bitters (does anybody know a good cooper?). 

Sounds wonderful, Toby. We're lucky enough to have a cocktail lounge here in Cleveland that makes cocktails "the old fashioned way", including the use of hand-crafted bitters. I'd love to hear more about the bitters that you've concocted.

Justin's menu sounds good, too. :smile:

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I'd love to hear more about the bitters that you've concocted.

Will do as soon as I can, and will also post photos and vague recipes. Opening a bar is like juggling 14 chainsaws, 3 bowling balls, 17 kittens, 2 bottles of rum on fire, and a tennis ball while running across a marsh seething with piranhas, using only the heads of crocodiles as stepping stones while being chased by an angry mob of vengeful visgoths, tattooed repo men and a couple of IRS agents. Will soon have everything under control.


A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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Cool!

I'm going to start working on convincing my wife to include a Chicago leg in our trip home for the holidays this year.

Best of luck!


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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8 kinds of ice?

Cracked, crushed, shaved.

1" cube, big cube, ball.

My imagination is failing me.

I can't really think of any other useful sizes.

Enlighten me.

Really big block? Ice sculpture? Flavored?


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Congrats on your new venture! I'll make sure to stop in during my trip to Chicago in a few weeks. Wicker Park is my favorite neighborhood.

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8 kinds of ice?

Cracked, crushed, shaved.

1" cube, big cube, ball.

My imagination is failing me.

I can't really think of any other useful sizes.

Enlighten me.

Really big block?  Ice sculpture?  Flavored?

First and foremost, all the water served in liquid, solid or gaseous states will be double filtered. Each Cuno Aqua Pure filter is over a foot long and a foot in diameter and is designed to filter water for an entire household for six months to a year, and we have two on every incoming water line that provides water for consumption. We are eschewing bottled water in solidarity with the venerable Alice Waters.

We have a Kold Draft machine (1), and like automobiles, every Kold Draft machine is different. Ours is a Wednesday afternoon machine named Lucille. The actuator is set hotter than most and it produces gorgeous, clear cubes with fewer flaws than I’ve ever seen before. We change the filter on the Kold Draft every two weeks NOW when we are not open, so when we are cranking I am sure it will be every week. Will have temperature on Kold Draft ice soon.

Then we have chunk ice (2) which is double filtered water put in special hotel pans and then carved by a woodworker into icebergs for anything on the rocks. This ice is at least 2 degrees below 0 F. It sticks to your fingers almost like your tongue to a flagpole in January.

We also have shard ice (3). Shards are 5 1/2 inches long and an inch wide, and slide perfectly into a 12 oz Collins glass. These are used for all of our house cocktails that are served in Collins glasses. I sat and watched the ice melt in one of those for over 3 hours and it was still substantial.

Cracked ice (4) – Kold Draft ice, hand cracked a la minute with nine extra-thick gauge spoons imported from NYC. Used for specific drinks that call for non-uniform shapes and sizes of ice, like the Rio Jockey Club (Champagne opportunity #3, Jigger Beaker and Flask, Charles H. Baker).

We also have block ice (5) approximately 4 inches high and 2.5 feet long, which is used to produce powder ice (6) or hand-hewn chunk ice for a hero cocktail.

We have a “cheater” ice machine (Hoshizaki, a high end Japanese ice machine that is better than most), for crushed ice (7), and chilling beer and wine. This ice will never make it into glass unless it has been mutilated by the CRUSHER.

Any bar can put ice in a glass. Thanks to Ed Hamilton, who brought us two Martiniquean swizzle sticks, we’ll also be able to create ice on the outside of a glass for thermally conducted cocktails (8).


A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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What made you decide on Chicago for your location, Toby? I've read here and elsewhere that Chicago doesn't have much of a serious cocktail culture. Is that incorrect, or do you plan to be the first serious cocktail place in the city?


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
Manager
jzimmerman@eGullet.org
eG Ethics signatory
Author, The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook and All About Cooking for Two

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This sounds great!

Do you have separate areas for groups? Or can some sort of accommodation be made for larger parties, such as a reservation? Just wondering. I have a birthday coming up and this sounds like it would be perfect.


I like cows, too. I hold buns against them. -- Bucky Cat.

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This was in Time Out Chicago.

Love the name . . .

Post-mod speakeasy for rye lovers?

Posted in Clubs, Restaurants and bars by John Dugan on May 8th, 2007

You know a new bar/restaurant project is hush-hush when the club owner uses the terms ‘off-the-record’ in every conversation, and that owner is related to you. My brother-in-law happens to be Terry Alexander, and today I managed to get some hard facts on a new venture out of him. He’s opening a new nightspot in the former Del Toro/mod space at 1520 N Damen Ave on Monday, June 18. The new place is yet to be named, but it’ll be quiet, intimate and focus on high-end cocktails as well as fine finger foods. Toby Maloney, head mixologist, knows Wicker Park well. He worked at the venerable Soul Kitchen during its heyday, as that restaurant’s first oyster shucker, then as a bartender and waiter. Later, he served as a bartender at New York’s Milk and Honey, a tiny, unlisted cocktail lounge, from 2000 to 2006.

Maloney, who works as a professional drink designer, gave us some details on  the yet-to-be-named joint’s specialties. “Our cocktail lists leans toward gin, rye, rum and apple jack. We’re going to have eight types of ice there. We’re going to make all of our own bitters and syrups. Everything we can possibly make, we are going to make ourselves. We are leaning heavily on classics as well as our own riffs on old cocktails.” Alexander says the new spot is inspired by “speakeasies from Prohibition era Chicago, the temporary art galleries that rose up in the East Berlin of the ’90s and turn of the century English salons.” If those aren’t your kind of places, I don’t really want to know you, right? But seriously, come back to the blog soon. I’ll be digging up important details (such as a name) as they emerge.


Edited by daisy17 (log)

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Toby:

Many congrats! Love the name, the concept and the seriousness with which you approach your ice.

A new excuse to get back to Chicago some time in the future.

I wish you every success, but I'm sure you won't need it. You go, buddy! Looking forward to your many future reports.


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Awesome. I'll be in Chicago in August. Definitely stopping by.


I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer...

Homer Simpson

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[...]

Any bar can put ice in a glass.  Thanks to Ed Hamilton, who brought us two Martiniquean swizzle sticks, we’ll also be able to create ice on the outside of a glass for thermally conducted cocktails (8).

Awesome, sir!

Speaking of water and gas, have you located a good source for selzer? Or are you carbonating that in house?

I know a number of restaurants in San Francisco who filter their own water instead of serving bottled have also opted to carbonate it themselves. Anything similar happening in Chicago?


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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What made you decide on Chicago for your location, Toby? I've read here and elsewhere that Chicago doesn't have much of a serious cocktail culture. Is that incorrect, or do you plan to be the first serious cocktail place in the city?

Chicago and I chose eachother. I have alway's loved the city with big shoulders, since landing here penniless on a trip around the world, (It took me 11 months to get from San Francisco to Chicago then another 3 years to make the last leg to S.F.) and getting a cooking job at Blue Mesa (now Boka).

Then for the last 7 years Terry Alaxander wandered into every bar that I worked in, in New York. About a year ago we started talking about working togather on a bar here in Chicago. And now we are two days to opening!


A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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Congratulations on elevating the Chicago cocktail scene. Much success and good wishes from Paulius and everyone at Cleveland's VTR. I cant wait to stop in!

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Excellent, will stop by on Thursday. We used to love Blue Mesa!

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The Violet Hour is getting some awesome mentions already. The space sounds spectacular and the cocktails, well, no surprises there. No question in my mind that the cocktails are stellar.

From Chicago Tribune website

The Violet Hour

What a transformation! We popped our heads into the former Del Toro space this week and were amazed at what's in store for this new cocktail lounge from Terry Alexander. The colorful mosaics have been ripped out and replaced with soft blue walls and white crown molding. Crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and hardwood floors give the space an elegant ballroom feel. We're told the space is a throwback to speakeasys from the Prohibition Era, and bartenders have been working hard to perfect a selection of signature drinks. The Violet Hour is set to open June 28.

From Time Out Chicago Blog

Last night, I interrupted a week of detoxing to hit the unofficial opening of the Violet Hour, the intimate specialty cocktail bar in the former Del Toro space which I blogged about back in May. Though I'd heard a lot about the place from my brother-in-law, I was extraordinarily impressed.

While the name is a bit New Wave to my ears, the nightspot is opting for an elegant and classic atmosphere. Floor-to-ceiling curtains break it up into 'rooms,' and there are tall Alice in Wonderland-style chairs that serve to make each table extra private. The lighting is extremely dim, which suited my ragged-feeling self fine last night. The decor is secondary though, as the cocktails—prepared from recipes that often date back a century—are the reason to visit the Violet Hour. The rye drinks (I sampled a Blue Ridge Manhattan and America's first cocktail the Sazerac) were multi-dimensional and potent. Watching as the concoctions are prepared is quite a good time, too. My Manhattan glass was coated with a tiny bit of Laphroaig from a old-timey dropper to give the drink a smoky overtone.

For now, the bar is not taking reservations, but large parties should call ahead. The laid-back opening style—no press releases or email blasts from these folks—shouldn't put the curious off. The biggest challenge, as the staff told me, is to make an unusual place like this welcoming rather than intimidating. I agree, but I also feel like its the type of place that'll send you to the closet digging for your vintage seersucker suit or flapper-inspired frock. Flip-flops aren't gonna cut it. Violet Hour opens at 8pm tonight, but I wouldn't advise getting there before 9pm.

Toby, how did opening night go?!

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Chicago confidently concedes to be behind the much of the rest of the country when it comes to the cocktail culture which is a shame considering Chicago has many fine restaurants. But great ethnic food from around the world doesn't necessarily translate to good cocktails.

Within a few steps of the bustling corner of North and Damen is a logical location for Violet Hour, it's easy to get to via the Blue Line or several bus lines and there are taxis everywhere, I don't drive when I'm out on the town. Only three days after the softest bar opening Chicago has seen for some time I didn't feel like I was intruding on a last minute staff training. There is still a lot to be done but you'll quickly feel at ease in the subdued light and comfortable bar. The surrounding exude an understated, subtle elegance that transcends almost everything in this space. High ceilings, architectural details on the walls, and tasteful music transport patrons from the hustle of the hyper bar scene around the corner to a quieter time when quality mattered.

The cocktail menu is still emerging to satisfy the midwest taste for things like single-malt scotch, but I wasn't disappointed with the selection or the sincere effort to improve. You'll never find the widest selection of flavored vodka martinis at Violet Hour, but if you're in the mood for classic cocktails served in a comfortable space without an attitude, Violet Hour should be on your list of places to go.

Delicious, reasonably priced appetizers that have been selected to complement the cocktail menu are a welcome addition to an evening of imbibing. Violet Hour isn't Milk & Honey in Chicago, nor is it trying to be, but the bar standard in my favorite summer city has been raised.


Edward Hamilton

Ministry of Rum.com

The Complete Guide to Rum

When I dream up a better job, I'll take it.

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The Violet Hour thanks Ed for that lovely post.

We've only been open 3 days and we know that there's a cornucopia of things that need to be done, such as enlarging our scotch, gin, rum, rye, brandy, cognac, armagnac, eau de vie, grappa, amaro, bitters, aperitif, digestif, vermouth and rum selections. This will come in time, so the staff can absorb all of the information about each spirit. I'm starting to work on our fall cocktail menu and another batch of bitters. (I'm still looking for that cooper.)

The Violet Hour will be constantly striving for perfection in service and the quality of its cocktails and food, so it will be an ever-evolving project. I must thank my staff - they are the most enthusiastic crew I've ever worked with. They went above and beyond by studying hours every night, by taking home jiggers and shakers (and beakers and flasks) and working with them in their spare time. They've dealt with my OCD madness, that there should be 5 cubes, not 7, in a shaker, that 3 drops equal a dash, that everything goes back exactly where it started, etc., etc., etc., . . .

Toby


Edited by Alchemist (log)

A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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A group of 4 of us visited on Saturday night and had a wonderful experience. We enjoyed the hidden door (is there a sign, I swear we didn't see a sign?), which added to the feel of the place. We also noticed the architectural elements described above, and appreciated the mood that was being set. The staff couldn't have been nicer or more enthusiastic about the drinks. Also, they were very good at setting expectations by letting us know how long our drinks would take to make.

We each tried 2 drinks and definitely ended up with our favorites. My husband declared the Blue Ridge Manhattan one of the best he has had. I enjoyed his Iron Cross so much that I almost ordered it as my second drink but instead went with one of the gin selections with the Creme de Muir. Our group also had some of the sparkling cocktails, which were very refreshing. We also got to experience the flaming orange twist on the Daisy Rye, which was a whole lot of fun. We did notice the summer emphasis, and commented that we are looking forward to seeing what can be done for the fall.

In the meantime, we are excited to go back for the summer selections, and hope to sample the food. Thanks for posting here to announce the opening. Our friends were visiting from out of town, so it was nice to take them to a place that is different from past visits, where they could feel like they were there in the beginning, and come back to see how it progresses.


I like cows, too. I hold buns against them. -- Bucky Cat.

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Fantastic write-up on The Violet Hour on the Food & Wine blog. Love that it mentions this thread.

America's Most Exciting New Bar

There's no lack of excellent bars in New York City right now—including the wonderful PDT, whose drinks list was masterminded by Food & Wine spirits consultant Jim Meehan, and Death & Co., whose devotion to bitters was just documented in the New York Times by another F&W cocktail guru, Rob Willey. But the country's most exciting bar right at this moment is the The Violet Hour which just opened in Chicago's Wicker Park. Toby Maloney, the mixologist, is a veteran of Manhattan's Milk & Honey, Pegu Club and Freeman's and, according to some experts, he's as good a bartender as there is anywhere. On a recent eGullet post, Maloney outlined his cocktail menu, which includes a Manhattan mixed with housemade peach bitters and a rinse of Laphroaig (he's reportedly adding eye-droppers of the single malt whisky to a few of his drinks). As if that weren't enough, The Violet Hour's bar-food menu was designed by Justin Large, who cooks at Avec, one of Chicago's best places to eat; I've heard stories about his insanely good deep-fried pickles and croquettes stuffed with chorizo. I wasn't necessarily looking for a new place to drink, but I do hear that Manhattan calling my name.


Edited by daisy17 (log)

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Well the cat is really out of the bag. If you have seen your Time Out Chicago, you will know the flood gates are open. Please eGulleteers, come sit at my bar so it is full of cocktail geeks instead of Goose and sodaers!


A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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We were there for the second time last week. This time we sat at the bar so we could talk with our bartender about the different drinks. The staff is very willing to answer questions and seems excited to be working there and learning about the cocktail culture.

We sampled the food this time, which was all very good. My two favorites were the Cuban sammies, and the peanut butter/bacon/banana sandwich. PB and bacon is a huge favorite of mine, and the banana and honey are a nice addition. We had the chorizo croquettes as well, which were good, but I'll definite pick the PB and bacon over them.

Also, Toby was that you, that had to rush in to help out because of a bartender mishap? Friends of ours went on Friday and noticed his bandaged finger. Hope that is healing quickly for him.


I like cows, too. I hold buns against them. -- Bucky Cat.

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Do you mean that crazed bartener who showed up in a wife beater an slammed things around for about an hour before gracefully changing into a wicked suit to press the flesh and kiss some babes.

Yes that was me. It was my first day off in over three months. The joys of owenership!!!


A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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