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Alchemist

The Violet Hour

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i'm tsg20's wife, and i completely agree that it was our best visit so far. the host was really nice and when i explained that we really really wanted to sit at the bar, said she'd keep an eye on things and that we could move over if something opened up. we did manage to order from the menu with a server just before we moved, so we all started with somewhat more "safe" drinks.

i started with a rangoon fizz because i was stuffed-- we ate a late lunch at kuma's and followed that with scooters, so i wanted something to perk me up. the ginger syrup did the trick. for my second drink kyle suggested the juliet et romeo mentioned above, and i really enjoyed it-- i've been making versions of the southside at home and so have been increasingly into gin recently.

when the boys moved to their fancy old fashioneds, i was finishing that drink. i wanted to try something totally different for me, and ended up with a gin old fashioned made with north shore gin. totally amazing! i was scared to try it at first, but the bitters took the edge off and the gin was a really soft lavender smell. i was very happy with that.

we also ordered food around this point-- devil's eggs are a favorite, and the others shared the oysters. still hungry, toby's (my husband, not the alchemist, which actually did end up confusing various people through the night) sister and i shared a sandwich platter and guys got the deep fried PB&B. their eyes lit up when it came out, although i don't know how they had room for that much food. i've been really happy with all the food we've tried, plus it's nice that none of the flavors are so strong that they change your perception of the drink. the only change i would make is to make the fried pickles closer to dill and less bread and butter, for a cleaner flavor, but that's just preference.

by the time we got to our last drinks, we were confident enough in kyle to say "just make me something good" and he took it from there. he made me a 131, which he said is more of a spring drink-- but since it was the warmest day in memory, that seemed appropriate. i can't remember all the elements, but there was sparkling wine and mint, and it was a great way to end the evening.

toby's sister's boyfriend, who has been to a lot of bars in his day, said that it was the best bar experience he'd ever had. can't wait to go back again! this was a fair amount of alcohol for us, and we still managed to get up to watch the river turn green at 10:30 am!

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We're clearly in the habit - last night was our first "late" visit, "late" being 10pm. We put our names down, went away, and had seats at the bar before 10:30. 3 more excellent drinks - a Rangoon Fizz, 20th Century, and a Dos Hermanos - yet another excellent riff on the Old Fashioned, this time with rum and a lot more orange. It was a lot busier than it tends to be earlier in the evening, unsurprisingly, so we didn't have much time chatting to our bartender, but we had no problem getting drinks when we wanted them.

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Spring is upon us, and I am coming to town to do some training and be behind the stick at TVH.

I am not sure what time, but a few hours on Sun, Mon, And Tue to see as many people as possible. There is going to be some heavy experimentation, and some last min. tweaking of the Spring menu. Should be fun.

Hope to see any eGulleters that are bopping around Wicker Park this Week.

Toby

ETA: http://www.timeout.com/newyork/articles/re...pretty-in-drink

This is kinda funny I thought.


Edited by Alchemist (log)

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Spring is upon us, and I am coming to town to do some training and be behind the stick at TVH.

I am not sure what time, but a few hours on Sun, Mon, And Tue to see as many people as possible.  There is going to be some heavy experimentation, and some last min. tweaking of the Spring menu.  Should be fun.

Hope to see any eGulleters that are bopping around Wicker Park this Week.

Toby

ETA: http://www.timeout.com/newyork/articles/re...pretty-in-drink

This is kinda funny I thought.

Sounds great -- I will be in tonight or tomorrow night.

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Following is an excerpt from my blog post at the ulterior epicure (you can see photos on my flickr account.):

Despite, and at the close of, my epic birthday dinner at Avenues, my friends and I decided that the night was still young, and that a visit to The Violet Hour would not be unreasonable. In fact, it was required.

Our cab dropped us off at the Six Corners around about midnight. Scurrying in the cold (one in heels), we proceeded to pass The Violet Hour - three times - back and forth (seeking shelter in between at a nearby 7-11 to regroup and warm up).

Clearly, The Violet Hour isn’t competing for foot traffic with the dozens of other bars and clubs in its neighborhood.

For the unfamiliar, it successfully replicates the speakeasy era; it’s cleverly hidden. There’s no door number. Heck, if it hadn’t been for a stranger who pointed out the *magic* yellow light, I’d dare say that there was no door at all.

The interior is what I would describe as Wedgewood meets The Delano (for those of you who have been to South Beach, you’ll know what I’m talking about). Except, it’s about five shades dimmer, and with an appropriately loud beat (good music, but loud).

There are over-sized chairs (think tall and gothic), austere banquettes and plush Ottomans big enough for six. There’s a fireplace, two bars, and telephone booth-like water closets. The place definitely has character.

The cocktail menu is generally divided by the base alcohol. There’s also a food menu that looked interesting (unfortunately, food was the farthest thing from our minds at this point).

The cocktails (all $11) here are very good. It’s funny how even the most untrained palate (me) can tell good from not-so-good. I can’t say that I liked everything I tasted, but I could tell that all of these cocktails were all very balanced and well-made.

My experience at The Violet Hour further confirmed my earlier discovered aversion to sugary and citrusy drinks.

The “Hush & Wonder,” for example, was too sticky and sweet for me. It’s a rum-based drink with Methusalem, creme de violette (Rothman & Winter, in case anyone is curious), fresh lime, and grapefruit bitters. It had a significant amount of lime with a chasing hint of bitter-citrus from the grapefruit bitters. The latter end of the taste spectrum suited me better.

Same with my friend’s “Winter Sidecar.” We both failed to understand what was so “wintry” about it. I don’t know enough about liquor. The drink involved Landy Cognac, lemon, orange flower water, and Pimento Dram. This refreshing and orange-y drink had well-rounded flavor, but was still a tad sweet for me.

The “Winter Sazerac,” however, was revelatory. It was drier than any cocktail I had tasted thus far. It was stoic and hauntingly good. It had (what I call) a smooth purple bitterness to the end that I liked (maybe, better described as a sweet licorice-y end). The ingredient list read like a witches brew to me: Old Overholt Rye, Herbsainte, brown sugar, coffee syrup, Peychaud’s bitters. Interestingly, the coffee element was discernible, but I wouldn’t have been able to pick that out on my own.

The “Chi-Town Flip” was novel, only because of its silky, egg white-induced texture (Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Dow’s Tawny Port, whole egg, Fee’s Old Fashioned bitters). I was expecting a figgy-cherry flavor from the port, but instead, it tasted more like a malty eggnog. I preferred sipping off the rim which allowed the aroma from the freshly grated nutmeg on top of the foam to enhance the experience. The flavor through the straw fell flat by comparison.

The “Aviation,” was was very clean-tasting, almost breezy and airy. It had a hit of tartness from the lemon, but it is overall a rather dry drink (just a hint of sweetness). The gin was subtle and soft.

The best cocktail, of the evening for me was an “Old Fashioned” made with Jim Bean rye. The afterglow of oaky butteriness was nothing short of phenomenal. And, this, perhaps was the most rewarding discovery of my short cocktailing life, thus far: I like rye whiskey.

Service at The Violet Hour was friendly, and surprisingly efficient. We had tried to grab a seat at one of the two bars, but it was quite crowded and we settled for a lounge spot (I don’t believe that reservation requests are accepted).

I had planned to return to The Violet Hour the following night to conduct more rye whiskey reconnaissance, and hopefully get a little more one-on-one with a bartender. Alas, despite best intentions, I did not. I look forward to returning on my next visit to Chicago later this year.

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Same with my friend’s “Winter Sidecar.” We both failed to understand what was so “wintry” about it. I don’t know enough about liquor. The drink involved Landy Cognac, lemon, orange flower water, and Pimento Dram. This refreshing and orange-y drink had well-rounded flavor, but was still a tad sweet for me.

My guess is that the pimento dram, the brandy, and the citrus are meant to evoke a spicy potpourri on a cold winter's eve.

The best cocktail, of the evening for me was an “Old Fashioned” made with Jim Bean rye. The afterglow of oaky butteriness was nothing short of phenomenal.  And, this, perhaps was the most rewarding discovery of my short cocktailing life, thus far: I like rye whiskey.

Of course you do.

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Same with my friend’s “Winter Sidecar.” We both failed to understand what was so “wintry” about it. I don’t know enough about liquor. The drink involved Landy Cognac, lemon, orange flower water, and Pimento Dram. This refreshing and orange-y drink had well-rounded flavor, but was still a tad sweet for me.

My guess is that the pimento dram, the brandy, and the citrus are meant to evoke a spicy potpourri on a cold winter's eve.

Well, I know brandy. And, I know citrus. But, I don't know pimento dram. I guess it was lost on me.

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Here is a preview of the Spring List at The Violet Hour. We are changing 21 of the drinks. Wow, this was like doing a first list. Luckily I asked the bartenders to each come up with a cocktail, and they delivered some great ones. I thank them, for the list wouldn't be as diverse and strong as it is with out them.

It will go into effect next week.

Toby

The Violet Hour Spring 2008 Cocktail List

GIN

Summer NY Sour

Plymouth, Rosé Wine, Egg White, Orange Flower Water

Juliet & Romeo

Beefeater, Mint, Cucumber, Rose Water

The Palmer D’or

Beefeater, Lemon, Egg White, Orange Pekoe Tea

Americano

Tanqueray, Campari, Sweet Vermouth, Soda, Orange Bitters

RUM

Daisy de Santiago

Flor de Caña, Lime, Yellow Chartreuse, Spring Bitters

Julius Treacle Amour

Pampero Especial, Licor 43, Parfait Amour

WHISKEY

Spring Sazerac

Old Overholdt Rye, Herbsainte, Rothman & Winter Apricot Liqueur,

Peychaud's Bitters

Blinker

Rittenhouse Rye, Grapefruit, Homemade Raspberry Syrup

Fairview Manhattan

Bulleit Bourbon, Pine Liqueur, Laphroig

TEQUILA

Pulque

El Tesoro, Black Agave Nectar, Blood & Chocolate Bitters

Sunburned Dane

Sauza Commeritivo, Cherry Herring, Lime Juice, Orange Bitters

BRANDY

Spring Sidecar

Landy Cognac, Orange Curacao, Lemon, Pineapple, Spring Bitters

Miraflores

Pisco Italia, Grapefruit, Orange Blossom Honey Syrup, Miramar Bitters

WINE & SPARKLING

Spring Sangria

Rose Wine, Strawberry, Tropical Fruit.

Sáo Paulo Jockey Club

Gruet Sparkling, Pineapple, Yellow Chartreuse

CORDIALS

Pimms Cup

Pimms, Orange, Cucumber, Strawberry, Mint

The Riviera

Pineapple Infused Campari, Egg White, Lemon

2 to 2

Lucid Absinthe, Lemon, Aperol

The Art of Choke

Cynar, Appleton Rum, Lime, Green Chartreuse, Mint

VODKA

Part & Parcel

Luksowa, Grapefruit, St. Germaine Elderflower Liqueur


Edited by Alchemist (log)

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So the menu will be ready to go on Monday april 7th. Due to some problems sourcing some components for the cocktails we had to push it back a week.

Toby

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I wanted to switch the Laphroig out with Qi Liqueur, and I was checking if I was ever going to get Rittenhouse in again, or if I was going to go with Wild Turkey.

Toby

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Congratulations to Toby for winning Time Out New York's Iron Mixologist last night!! It was quite creative; a spicy shot followed by a sweet one....what was that you made, Toby? Nice work!

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I'm bringing in a group on Monday before we go to Iron and Wine.

I've never been more excited to go to a bar.

Quick question: I just made some blackberry and raspberry-infused vodka. Any suggestions on an awesome cocktail I could make at home?

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Wow, never been so excited? That is some major expectations to live up to. I hope it lives up.

No one had posted about the new spring drinks, and I would love to get some feed back.

Try the Riveria.

Toby

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If you'd like feedback on the new menu, here're a few thoughts:

- Good to see the Miraflores finally put its hand into the cotillion. I'd tried a few of Michael's variations over the past few months and was pleased to see the menu version nail it.

- Good to see the "Cordial" family of drinks have a few more interesting selections, namely the Art of Choke and Riviera. 2 to 2 also looks good.

- Of all the new ones that I tried, all were delicious. So I really don't have any constructive criticism. I guess one thing might be that most of the new ones I tried didn't have that much "bite," and were all on the sweeter side. That may have been a matter of what i happened to order. The cocktails were appropriately sweet, but I'd be interested to see more manhattan, gin old-fashioned, negroni-type drinks that don't have as much going on in the way of citrus and sugary elements. I realize this is likely because it's a spring menu, and a spring menu should be light and fruity and refreshing, but I think drinks like the gin old-fashioned might still qualify. This isn't at all a criticism, and is me digging deep to find anything to improve on with the new menu.

I've only come in groups the last few times i was in there, so I haven't had a chance to talk to any of the bartenders about new items. For instance, what's the deal with the "blood & chocolate bitters"? Is that a brazilian death metal band or a blood orange and chocolate bitter mix? For some reason I didn't take enough notice of the Pulque when i was in there, so I didn't order one to get an idea of what's in it. Speaking of which, what's your opinion of mezcal's use in cocktails? I feel like it adds a nice smokiness when used sparingly (similar to laphroaig's use), but don't know that i've ever seen it make an appearance at the VH. Do you even have any in the bar, or is it generally considered a bad idea?

That's all I can think of. Keep up the good work.


Edited by millerza (log)

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Just got back from a fantastic time at TVH. We started out at a table, and we had a total Debbie Downer friend with us. He had his beer and left, so we moved to the bar. From the menu we tried:

Spring Sazerac

Fairview Manhattan (interesting bite from the Laphroaig)

Hush & Wonder (really good, with vanilla undertones from the rum)

Spanish Margarita (great combination of the "hell-fire bitters" and tequila)

Dark & Stormy (way, way better than ginger beer and rum)

Michael took great care of us. He made Keith a drink using amaro, chartreuse, Punt e Mes, and house-made bitters, and we finished off with a couple of old-fashioned type drinks (one with rye, one with gin). All of these were extremely tasty.

Unfortunately, we have to go back to Boston tomorrow, or we'd spend more time at TVH. Just another reason to get back to Chicago very soon :biggrin:

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Wow, never been so excited?  That is some major expectations to live up to.  I hope it lives up.

No one had posted about the new spring drinks, and I would love to get some feed back.

Try the Riveria.

Toby

My expectations were definitely met and then some.

Even though there wasn't anybody in the place at 6:00 on a Monday, my girlfriend and I still really enjoyed the atmosphere.

As a poster before me said, I liked everything I had and don't have much constructive criticism. It was just a treat to be able to sample such serious cocktails.

We had the Riveria, Pulque, Americano, and Spring Sidecar.

After tasting the Riviera, I plan on making my own pineapple-infused Campari.

The Pulque was such an intense, smoky cocktail. It was a little much for my girlfriend but I loved it.

The Spring Sidecar was fruity and delicious. Very spring-y.

The deviled eggs with brown butter and candied pork belly were awesome. Possibly the best deviled egg I've ever had.

Thanks again to Toby for turning me onto the lemon/egg white/simple syrup combo. My raspberry/blackberry cocktails were a hit at the seder I attended on Saturday. Between the drinks and my matzoh ball soup, I think they'll probably invite a goy every year from now on.

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Does one need reservations for a Saturday evening, say around 6PM?

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saturday nights are the toughest, but at 6pm you probably have a good shot. i don't think they take reservations unless it's for a larger party. if you aren't with too many people the experience is much better if you can sit at the bar (not that it will be bad if you don't). i've also heard that if you mention you are coming in from out of town and/or an egullet regular that helps, but i haven't tried that personally. i was there (from out of town) a few weeks ago and got there at 10:15 on a saturday and put my name down, ate elsewhere, came back 2 hours later and walked right in. i really like going on sundays, though- the crowd is much more mellow and you can chat up the bartenders much much more. if saturday is your only option i still highly recommend going if you haven't been there yet.

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Had yet another fantastic experience last night! The spring menu is great, and many cocktails were had. The Riviera blows me away; so soft, subtle, spring-y! NY Sour was really yummy, the Pulque w/ Blood Orange & Chocolate bitters.....yay, Kirk!! Of course the Juliet and Romeo is always a favorite. Dark & Stormy, Hush and Wonder, Sazerac, and finally a Chartreuse cocktail not on the menu. Michael was a rock star and took superb care of us. Woo-Hoo!

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I had cocktails with friends this past Saturday night prior to dining at Alinea. The space is superb and the cocktails truly amazing. The attention to detail is extraordinary and really shows up in the quality of the outstanding cocktails. I can truly say that I have never had better or a better experience at a cocktail lounge. We sat at the bar with Michael. More details, including a few photos to come.

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Fortunately for us, I was forewarned thanks to this topic about the potential difficulties in identifying The Violet Hour, as it has a rather non-pre-possessing entry.

gallery_8158_5964_104727.jpg

Even after making one's way through the door, it is not immediately obvious that this would in fact be the right place, a fine approach to keeping random visitors out. Make no mistake, this cocktail bar is quite serious about cocktails and the dilettante need not open the door, although I suspect that the staff would still be welcoming even if they did.

Arriving early, we were led to seats at the bar in front of Michael, a master if ever there was one. Michael proceeded to educate us, entertain us and ultimately provided us with some of the absolute finest cocktails I have ever been fortunate enough to imbibe!

Since we would be dining shortly thereafter at Alinea, we didn't want to go overboard and resisted the temptation to order food at TVH. We could not, of course resist the cocktails, which is why I made a point of going there.

gallery_8158_5964_36882.jpg

I mentioned that Michael educated us. He covered a number of cocktilian topics including the origins of bitters as well as the qualities of various tequilas, the compositions of various rye whiskeys, bourbons and other spirits as well as qualities of specific piscos such as the one above, one of his favorites. Having been to Peru and having fostered a fondness for pisco sours along with a number of variations on that theme this was of particular interest to my wife and myself. He provided us with the opportunity to sample the pisco straight - very nice. Michael also assumed the role of department store perfume salesperson as he rubbed various bitters on his hands for us to smell the wonderful aromatics. I think one may be able to make a fortune selling those scents that way!

Amongst the four of us we each had a different drink to start. My friend Tom had Sazerac with a few variations from the menu version. His wife, Amy had a Miraflores incorporating the pisco with grapefruit, egg white, orange blossom honey syrup and Miramar Bitters. My wife had an off-menu rye-based drink, the Harlan County, while I was seduced by the Riviera, an amazing concoction of pineapple infused campari, egg white and lemon with a mint leaf floating on top.

gallery_8158_5964_63775.jpg

The Harlan County

gallery_8158_5964_74041.jpg

Michael doing his thing

gallery_8158_5964_46177.jpg

The Riviera

After our first round, we were primed to continue for awhile, but time was getting perilously close to the time we would need to leave for Alinea. After discussing so many different drinks and wanting to try them all we settled on getting another cocktail per couple and tasting each. Given that it was Kentucky Derby day and given that Michael claimed to make a particularly great one and we had learned not to doubt his skills, a Mint julep was necessarily on of the choices. The other was the intriguingly named The Art of Choke. Once again, both were outstanding, with exquisite attention paid to every little detail such as the qualities of each ingredient including the ice. The balance of each of the cocktails we had was impeccable. I do not like overtly sweet things. Michael's drinks had sweetness, but that sweetness was perfectly counters with appropriate degrees of acidity, bitterness and alcohol.

gallery_8158_5964_45271.jpg

The Art of Choke

gallery_8158_5964_64134.jpg

Mint Julep

The Violet Hour is now firmly ensconced for me as a must visit location whenever I should find myself in Chicago.

My very good friend, Tom was kind enough to pick up the tab in honor of my birthday. We grabbed a cab to head off to Alinea, quite happy and looking forward to that next culinary adventure in fine spirits.


Edited by docsconz (log)

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Congratulations to Toby and The Violet Hour for making Esquire's list of Best Bars! (June edition) We were in again last night and Toby and Michael were mixing up the magic...yummy!! :wub:

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