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Alchemist

The Violet Hour

327 posts in this topic

I'd like to know when good times to visit are too. I'll be in Chicago this weekend and would love to stop by for a drink or two, but I'm not really into standing in lines for them, especially since we're pretty cocktail-fluent all on our ownses.

On a beating a dead horse note, I was pretty happy to read about a cocktail devoted bar opening in Chicago, especially since we've moved back to the midwest and are still adjusting. But I was surprised that some people were surprised by the location or needed to defend the superiority of other cocktail-loving places as being more "serious" (Samuel, I'm looking at you!). There may be more serious places to imbibe in the world, and I'm not generally a midwest booster, given my strong west coast leanings, but I've never been more consistently able to drink well-made cocktails without seeking out "serious" places then I have in the midwest. I understand the point that Chicago isn't known for it's artisan crafted Ramos Gin Fizzes or "bar chefs" but I do think being able to get consistently good classic cocktails (as in fresh citrus, a few well used bitters bottles, and an understanding that a martini contains vermouth and gin) at ordinary places has its own charms.

I remember drinking very good Sidecars at Green Dolphin St, aw man, it was about 13 years ago, time flies, having martinis made for me at 3:1 gin:vermouth ratios at Green Mill, drinking perfect Makers Manhattans at Delilah's, etc. etc.. I've never had to tell a bartender what was in a Negroni in any place I've been in the midwest vs. other parts of the country where if they know what it is, they do stupid things like use vodka "because it's better". Chicago has one of this country's best-stocked booze stores (hey, when I travel I like to go to booze shops, so what?), Sam's Wine and Liquors... all that good stuff is getting drunk right there in Cook County!

regards,

trillium

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You've gotten a lot of press this past week, week and a half.

How's business?

Can a girl still get a seat at the bar on a weekday night?

Yes we have gotten some wonderful press as of late. And buisness is good.

Yes a girl can get a seat at the bar during the week. The earlier in the week the better. The crunch time seems to be between 9:30 and midnight. Friday early (8:00) there is a line of people waiting for us to open. We are adding more staff so we can open earlier, five or six, hopefully by the middle of September. Sat. is mellow early, but gets busy at around 10:00, after dinner has been eaten.


A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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I'd like to know when good times to visit are too. I'll be in Chicago this weekend and would love to stop by for a drink or two, but I'm not really into standing in lines for them, especially since we're pretty cocktail-fluent all on our ownses.

On a beating a dead  horse note, I was pretty happy to read about a cocktail devoted bar opening in Chicago, especially since we've moved back to the midwest and are still adjusting. But I was surprised that some people were surprised by the location or needed to defend the superiority of other cocktail-loving places as being more "serious" (Samuel, I'm looking at you!). There may be more serious places to imbibe in the world, and I'm not generally a midwest booster, given my strong west coast leanings, but I've never been more consistently able to drink well-made cocktails without seeking out "serious" places then I have in the midwest. I understand the point that Chicago isn't known for it's artisan crafted Ramos Gin Fizzes or "bar chefs" but I do think being able to get consistently good classic cocktails (as in fresh citrus, a few well used bitters bottles, and an understanding that a martini contains vermouth and gin) at ordinary places has its own charms.

I remember drinking very good Sidecars at Green Dolphin St, aw man, it was about 13 years ago, time flies, having martinis made for me at 3:1 gin:vermouth ratios at Green Mill, drinking perfect Makers Manhattans at Delilah's, etc. etc..  I've never had to tell a bartender what was in a Negroni in any place I've been in the midwest vs. other parts of the country where if they know what it is, they do stupid things like use vodka "because it's better". Chicago has one of this country's best-stocked booze stores (hey, when I travel I like to go to booze shops, so what?), Sam's Wine and Liquors... all that good stuff is getting drunk right there in Cook County!

regards,

trillium

I also hate standing in line to get into a bar. No wait, I Won't stand on line to be looked over and judged by some neo-nazi with a clipboard, really good shoes and a rabid case of meglomania. There is nothing less fun than that. Really nothing, and I'm including leeches on genitelia, hablanero soaked bamboo skewers under the fingernails, and having to watch 24 straight hours of The Simple Life. And if we include waiting on line on a fridged Chicago winter night... well thats worse than a life of only eating at TGIAppChilBennOutbkRedDonalds.

The problem is we can only fit about 100-120 people in the space (which has a legal capacity of 160) because there are only 4 bartenders, and without it feeling cramped, clubby, hot & sticky, loud, and unpleasant. That's if the pacing is right, and there are a few big parties in the back drinking Caraffes. We figure one bartender can handle between 25-30 drinkers. 25 if it is a Mon-Tue and you are making all speciality drinks, 30 on a Fri-Sat when you have 20 people having cocktails 10 people drinking Ketle 1 and sodas. That is critical speed. Bartenders just can't move faster. Which is worse, having to wait 30 min at a bar across the street with a cold beer, or having to wait 15 min in a packed bar trying to get a drink?

We take your cell number and give you a ring AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

I hate the fact that some people think that "The List" is in any way rigged. Steve Rubel had it right, he was all for having a broad spectrum of people, I belive he said of Studio 54 he wanted "the princes and the plumbers". There is nothing more boring than being in a bar with all the same kind of people. Sorry for that rant.

And I will agree with trillium that you can get great drinks here in the mid west. And Sam's F#&king rocks!!!


A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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Just like me to go to Chicago and return home to find this thread the day after. I most certainly would have made it here after the Second City show had I known about it. Oh well...definitely next time.


"A woman once drove me to drink and I never had the decency to thank her" - W.C. Fields

Thanks, The Hopry

http://thehopry.com/

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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.

...by the way Toby...where are we on this follow up? Elaborate sir! Photos, recipes, bitters, and any other insight por favor.


"A woman once drove me to drink and I never had the decency to thank her" - W.C. Fields

Thanks, The Hopry

http://thehopry.com/

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I've been dying to get back to Chicago ever since I learned about this place on Ruhlman's blog.

Won't the door man just let me in if I tell him I'm an egullet member?

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I think I did mention that "egullet" and "The Hold Steady" were passwords as such, but if the bar is full the bar is full. I would imagine that most of us would like to be there when it isn't slamming, and we can talk to the bartender. Go before you go out to eat at Spring and meet the nice doorman and tell him you're coming back...


A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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After about 9 visits I've finally had the entirety of the cocktail menu while there (the brandy category being a surprise standout, given my Kentucky-spawned predilection for rye). I was wondering if there were any off-menu cocktails that you'd recommend? I've had the old fashioned (really excellent), and know of a handful of classic cocktails that don't have variations on the menu, but I was wondering if you had any that you'd recommend as exceptional or exceptionally interesting? Like a Ramos Fizz? A Penicillin? I've only had a chance to sit at the bar once, since I'm usually with a group (of people who I insist must go; all have been pleased).

To clarify, I've got a pretty good grasp of the World of Cocktails and have a pretty good idea of what I like (anything, really, if it's well made). But is there any often-neglected cocktail or Violet Hour Special that's not on the menu?

Also, I look forward to the fall menu...


Edited by millerza (log)

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Yes the fall menu will be out soon so there will be a bunch new things to try. I am also putting togather a Classics Menu. It will be avaliable during the slower times.

I am very impressed you worked your way through the entire menu. And it is always is nice to bring someone into the fold and turn them on to another liquor, and the brandy family is such a nice family.


A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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There's a short piece about Dale DeGroff and the modern cocktail renaissance in the October Gourmet magazine.

The Violet Hour gets a mention, though not much type.


---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Toby, any chance we could get you to post a few paragraphs on how to make our own bitters and what types go well with what cocktails?

Thanks,

Kendall

Moderator's Note: Toby's reply has been moved to the All About Bitters topic. You can find it here.


Edited by TAPrice (log)

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Just wanted to thank you for a great experience. I was in Chicago for business and decided to head to TVH for a round of cocktails, and I was duly impressed. Even though I've dabbled in some home made liquors myself and enjoy a well made cocktail, I was blown away. Really great job and congrats on nearly having a packed house on a Sunday night.

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Question for the esteemed Toby from an upcoming visitor, posting here because it's a topic that may be of broader interest: my wife and I will be spending a long weekend in Chicago next month for our fifth anniversary, and aside from our reservations, the only other major target for us is The Violet Hour.

(I'd actually had the pleasure of having you mix a few rounds at Pegu Club for me on several occasions, so I'm thrilled to see you spreading the cocktailian gospel to Chicago!)

Anyway, as I say, we're planning to sidle up to the bar sometime during our stay, but here's the question: with my wife several months pregnant, what sorts of interesting no- to low-alcohol cocktails might you or your staff pull together for her, given that she does like a well-crafted and well-balanced cocktail? I'm curious not only in this specific case, but more broadly (in which case, maybe this post should be in a new topic) -- is this a question put to bartenders often?

Christopher

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I would have her have a mint/ginger virgin rickey. But all of the bartenders can whip something up for your wife. just explain and then tell them flavors you like.


A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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this should be on the other thread but...I am ready to make a comprehensive line of bittres under The Violet Hour banner, is there a market for it?

In my opinion....yes there is, but I think it would be cool to start selling them there to see how well they do. As delicious as the homemade bitters were, that's not why I came here to post.

I just got back from a weekend in Chicago and the first stop as soon as we checked in to our hotel was The Violet Hour. The wait seemed too long as more people were leaving than being let in, but not knowing how things work for this establishment I could be wrong. My girlfriend and I both had 3 cocktails each, so we were able to work our way through most of the spirits that we like as well as a nice range of flavors and styles. Standouts were the Red Moon Fizz, Chi-Town Flip, Golden Age, and Lady Grey. The additions of the little sidecar extras that come with the drinks in cocktail glasses were added bonuses, but left me wondering how much booze you guys actually pour. The glass looked to me like it fitted 3oz or so, plus an additional 2 in the sidecar. Also, the collins glasses looked a lot bigger than the ones that I work with. Don't get me wrong, extra bang for the buck is always appreciated.

Now, onto the food...f'n amazing! The deviled eggs were ridiculously good and blew away all others that I've had(I'm southern). The PB&J was just so over the top, but so satisfying and also went very well with the Chi-Town flip. Had the waitress not pointed those two out, we would have missed out on two life changing appetizers. Our waitress by the way, couldn't have been more helpful and knowledgable. My only complaint of the service was that we were asked to leave by the doorman at 1:58am. I'm not sure the laws and policies of Chicago bars and restaurants, but I found it kind of rude considering I dropped over $100 in drinks and a little bit of food.

So my three questions for you Alchemist are

1)How do you make your maraschino cherries?

2)Do you give more alcohol than the standard 2 or 3 oz pour?

3)What's up with the last call/get your ass out of here policy?

Again, thanks for the amazing food, drink and service to boot.

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The Violet Hour is mentioned in a food section article in today's Sun-Times. The article isn't anything special but Toby's quoted and there's a nice big photo of one of the VH bartenders on the section's front page.

I found this quote from a bartender at Moto to be rather odd: "Because American bourbon is [often] aged in oak, it has a vanilla-like character," Chizeck added. "So, peaches and strawberries also work well."

I assume the "[often]" was added by the writer or a misguided editor but I don't understand why. It certainly wouldn't have taken much googling to find out that bourbon isn't bourbon if it's not aged in a charred oak barrel. As for "American bourbon", well, I don't always speak so good neither so I shouldn't criticize but I guess I'd expect a bartender at such a fancy-schmancy restaurant to know that he was being redundant.

On a lighter note, the Fall drinks menu at the VH is fantastic. I may have over-indulged somewhat during my last visit a couple weeks ago so I can't offer a lot of detail but the Chi-Town Flip was a stand-out.

Kurt


“I like to keep a bottle of stimulant handy in case I see a snake--which I also keep handy.” ~W.C. Fields

The Handy Snake

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this should be on the other thread but...I am ready to make a comprehensive line of bittres under The Violet Hour banner, is there a market for it?

In my opinion....yes there is, but I think it would be cool to start selling them there to see how well they do. As delicious as the homemade bitters were, that's not why I came here to post.

I just got back from a weekend in Chicago and the first stop as soon as we checked in to our hotel was The Violet Hour. The wait seemed too long as more people were leaving than being let in, but not knowing how things work for this establishment I could be wrong. My girlfriend and I both had 3 cocktails each, so we were able to work our way through most of the spirits that we like as well as a nice range of flavors and styles. Standouts were the Red Moon Fizz, Chi-Town Flip, Golden Age, and Lady Grey. The additions of the little sidecar extras that come with the drinks in cocktail glasses were added bonuses, but left me wondering how much booze you guys actually pour. The glass looked to me like it fitted 3oz or so, plus an additional 2 in the sidecar. Also, the collins glasses looked a lot bigger than the ones that I work with. Don't get me wrong, extra bang for the buck is always appreciated.

Now, onto the food...f'n amazing! The deviled eggs were ridiculously good and blew away all others that I've had(I'm southern). The PB&J was just so over the top, but so satisfying and also went very well with the Chi-Town flip. Had the waitress not pointed those two out, we would have missed out on two life changing appetizers. Our waitress by the way, couldn't have been more helpful and knowledgable. My only complaint of the service was that we were asked to leave by the doorman at 1:58am. I'm not sure the laws and policies of Chicago bars and restaurants, but I found it kind of rude considering I dropped over $100 in drinks and a little bit of food.

So my three questions for you Alchemist are

1)How do you make your maraschino cherries?

2)Do you give more alcohol than the standard 2 or 3 oz pour?

3)What's up with the last call/get your ass out of here policy?

Again, thanks for the amazing food, drink and service to boot.

1. The maraschino cherries are actually a combo of “brandied cherries” and Maraschino cherries. We soaked cherries in a combination of Mathusalem rum, Rirrenhouse rye, citrus zest, and a couple of other things. Let that sit two weeks. Add maraschino. Let macerate until soft.

2. All the cocktails have 2.0 oz Spirit + other liquor. Martinis and Manhattans have 3 oz booze+1.5 oz vermouth.

3. The law as far as I understand it is everyone but employees has to be out by 2:00. We kill the door at 1:20am and last call is 1:40. We really try not to rush people. If we do last call at 1:30People complain that last call is so early, if we do last call at 1:45 people complain that they are asked to gulp down their drinks.

I am very, very sorry that you felt rushed. I know that it can harsh the wonderful mellow you have been cultivating all evening. If you have any suggestions on how not to have that happen I am listening.

Toby


A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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I am very, very sorry that you felt rushed. I know that it can harsh the wonderful mellow you have been cultivating all evening. If you have any suggestions on how not to have that happen I am listening.

Toby

Since I was visiting from NC, I had no idea about the policies and figured that it was a legal issue, but I just had to make sure. My only suggestion would be to explain that when you know people who aren't native to the area or when the doorman is asking them to "find your way to the door" to include that in his suggestion. If I had known ahead of time I would have been a little quicker in my drinking pace. Thanks for the quick reply and explanation, it's great to see owners that really care. I think your bar just might trump your former employers if you ask me. Cheers.

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1. The maraschino cherries are actually a combo of “brandied cherries” and Maraschino cherries.  We soaked cherries in a combination of Mathusalem rum, Rirrenhouse rye, citrus zest, and a couple of other things.  Let that sit two weeks.  Add maraschino. Let macerate until soft.

Just a quick follow-up. When you say "add maraschino," do you mean the liquor or something else? If the liquor, why do you add it two weeks later than the others ingredients?

Thanks.

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I will meet with my doormen in late Oct when I'm back in Chicago and we will try to find the right verbage. Without bordering on logoreah (sp) it is tough to explain the in's and out's of the law to a group of people riding high and wanting to order another round, a sleeping bag and a change of adress form.

I macerated the cherries with booze to give them a deep, rich flavor. If you as the Luxardo maraschino the "funk" (which I love) will be too overpowering. Think like dry rubbing ribs then slathering them with sauce while cooking.


A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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this should be on the other thread but...I am ready to make a comprehensive line of bitters under The Violet Hour banner, is there a market for it?

Actually just popping in from NYC to check out this thread, but my answer would be:

IMHO, maybe.

To raise brand awareness, position for growth (i.e., maybe opening another branch or two, possibly in cities other than Chicago), or simply have the driver for a project that keeps you thinking flexibly and thus at the top of your game as a bar manager/beverage director/mixologist? Sure. As a sui generis money maker? I dunno.

I was just recently speaking with a craft bitters maker who puts together excellent product, which I'm hoping to incorporate in an upcoming venture, but I just don't see the money there. Few bars, and potentially fewer liquor or grocery stores (since bitters are a grocery item in most jurisdictions anyway) will be willing to stock a bitter outside of Angostura or maybe Peychaud's, Regan's, or Fee's (and two out of those three have a major liquor distribution channel). The bars that stock them simply won't use enough of the product to generate substantial revenues (how many bottles of Hermes orange bitters or house-made Abbotts or summer bitters do you go through in a month?), and home users will always be few and far between, even if the cocktail trend assumes Starbucks-level proportions.

In all likelihood, every single good bar in NYC will take your bitters because every. single. bartender. I've ever met at the craft cocktail bars in NYC respects and admires what you do. The same probably would apply in San Fran, Seattle, etc (although I don't really know those environments). Your best bet probably would be to offer them for take-away sale out of those bars in the same way that Regan's, Peychaud's, and pomegranate molasses have been sold out of Pegu to retail customers. (Maybe ask Audrey for input?) But I just don't see any scale (or good margins, relative to labor cost) there. To my mind, it's either a labor of love (which is extra-cool, don't get me wrong!) or a means of promoting your bar and the related concept, which is a real business tool IMHO, and could yield real return on investment.


Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"

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Well, crap. I originally went to this thread just to read it, and to ask two totally different questions of TVH's Alchemist:

1) You mentioned that you're doing some specific cocktails during "slow hours" only? Is there a slow shift at TVH, and is it remotely possible that said shift (or specific time in shift) might occur during a hypothetical visitor's stay from a Friday afternoon to Monday evening? :)

2) Will you be back in Chicago by this weekend, or not quite? Would love to see your mad skilz behind the wood, as I've seen those absurd videos (though sadly missed you through years of visits at Pegu & especially M&H!).


Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"

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