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The Violet Hour


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What a GREAT place! Loved it--even if you guys were out of Old Raj. But Kyle, the very talented and knowledgeable bartender, made a lovely martini of Junipero. We then tried an experiment with American-made jenever which was interesting but Kyle wasn't totally happy with the experiment so he left me with the Junipero, which I thought very fine.

I learned a lot, too. Before last night, I didn't know that Vermouth was a wine that should only last 3 or so days in the refrigerator. I had been making the mistake of buying a large bottle of Noilly Prat....next time I'll put it in a 375ml bottle or smaller so as not to oxidize it. Also fun talking about shaking versus stirring (now I know why I had always preferred a martini be stirred and never shaken--but just thought it was a personal preference).

For me, I enjoy olives in the martini but understand its not considered 'pure.' Would you guys ever consider carrying olives? (There are some great ones, by the way, that to me, add to the martini experience. My friends at Tabla in NYC--who serve Old Raj, always stirred--buy olives from The Pickle Guy and they are impressive).

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Went there tonight. They did have Old Raj gin (yea!). However, they have a ways to go....

They weren't too busy; most people were sitting by the bar; few people were at tables.

My partner ordered caipirnhas; loved them.

I ordered Old Raj martini's--two of them. Disappointing.

The first one--was served in an ice cold glass, as would be proper, but the remaining liquid was to be poured in a room temperature mini-carafe (not cold). I asked that it be poured in another ice cold glass and the mixologist gladly and politely complied.

The problem with the martini was that the taste of vermouth was prominent. This was true of the first martini, and the second. For the second, I asked that it be served "very, very dry." It still tasted predominantly of the Noilly-Prat vermouth.

We asked the mixologist what ratio he used for gin to vermouth: he replied "two to one." (The last weekend when we were there, the mixologist said "three to one" meaning three parts gin to one part vermouth).

The vermouth was prominent; could not taste the Old Raj gin in either of my drinks.

My suggestion would be to get the proper ratio of Old Raj to vermouth down; then serve the remainder that doesn't fir in the first glass (as Pegu Club, for instance) in a carafe over ice to keep it cold. Never should it be put in a room temperature carafe.

To me, its still a work in progress.

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Wow, what a major change in tone from post to post! Was this due to bartender variation, a Sunday night or something else?

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I'm sure there's some variation from bartender to bartender, that's probably true anywhere, and I can't vouch for the depth of talent at the bar, but I just have to say that I had three spectacular drinks on Sunday, stirred-up by Henry.

It was pretty slow when I first got there, which allowed for some chat about the drinks and description of my preferences, which always helps. Perhaps thanks to that initial contact, the quality of the drinks didn't go down as the place got busier, and I got three beverages that were not only delicious and interesting, but that pushed my personal buttons really well.

I started with the Autumn Old Fashioned

(Powers Irish, House Made Falernum, Luxardo Bitters)

gallery_23992_6253_35018.jpg

The Falernum and bitters gave this a great spicy, smoky, complex edge. I really like how it changed as it slowly diluted. And it was slow, that's an awesome ice cube...

Moved on to the Woolworth’s Manhattan

(Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth, Root Beer Bitters)

gallery_23992_6253_125952.jpg

I was worried at first that this would be overwhelmed by the Root Beer element, it's pretty aggressive on the nose, but it was all balanced out very nicely on the palate. It's more bitter than the average Manhattan, but that's a good thing in my book...

And for my third drink, I asked Henry to just make whatever he felt like, no restrictions. He was still debating about a name for this one, I think it was at least temporarily "The Barracuda"

gallery_23992_6253_24150.jpg

There was some strawberry, some tequila, bitters, chile... so it was sweet, but also had quite a bite to it. I really liked it a lot, it was refreshing but not too fruity.

Overall, I had a great time at the Violet Hour. I thought the drinks were excellent, the vibe was welcoming, the music was good, and I had a great time chatting with, and getting some good dining advice from, a couple sitting next to me at the bar.

Much credit to Henry: he made some great drinks, and more impressively, was able to target my taste pretty accurately, which certainly made the evening more enjoyable.

I'm plotting another visit to Chicago for a couple of reasons, and wanting to return to the Violet Hour is one of them...

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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I think its bartender variation. One week prior to my ill-fated 'vermouth martini' evening, I had outstanding martinis (made by, as I recall, Kyle (?)). But he told us he was going to Publican except for 2 days per week, and I have a feeling some new talent was recruited for Violet Hour.

Sounds like Henry was the right choice. The person who took care of us (I didn't get his name) was really behind the curve. He confided he wasn't an expert on martini's (huh?), and when we ordered Sammies, he didn't provide cloth napkins or plates. A food runner handed them to us, commenting "They've been sitting there for a while so I thought I'd just give them to you."

Not to be so negative about the place; it is a wonderful environment and when its on, its REALLY ON. It can be world class. But a place that aspires to be 'world class' must (IMHO) be held to that standard and shouldn't have bartender/mixologist talent that isn't ready for prime time.

I've recently (well, five months now) moved from NY to Chicago. One difference I've noted---NY will definitely hold a place to a standard and 'call' them on it if they fall short. Chicago folks, interestingly enough. seem to accept things as they are more than would happen in NY.

I feel that Violet Hour is a top notch place that seeks to attain excellence. If we merely accept what is offered (flaws included), they will never be prompted to attain the excellence they could otherwise achieve.

All that said, I look forward to going there on a regular basis and will always have a great time, no doubt. I just want them to be held to the standard to which I know they aspire and are capable of ultimately achieving.

New Yorker's are not so forgiving; Chicagoans are a bit, if I may be so bold (now living here), a bit over-forgiving.

Surely there is a middle ground.

Edited by DutchMuse (log)
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I think its bartender variation.  One week prior to my ill-fated 'vermouth martini' evening, I had outstanding martinis (made by, as I recall, Kyle (?)).  But he told us he was going to Publican except for 2 days per week, and I have a feeling some new talent was recruited for Violet Hour.

Sounds like Henry was the right choice.  The person who took care of us (I didn't get his name) was really behind the curve. He confided he wasn't an expert on martini's (huh?), and when we ordered Sammies, he didn't provide cloth napkins or plates. A food runner handed them to us, commenting "They've been sitting there for a while so I thought I'd just give them to you."

Not to be so negative about the place; it is a wonderful environment and when its on, its REALLY ON.  It can be world class.  But a place that aspires to be 'world class' must (IMHO) be held to that standard and shouldn't have bartender/mixologist talent that isn't ready for prime time.

I've recently (well, five months now) moved from NY to Chicago.  One difference I've noted---NY will definitely hold a place to a standard and 'call' them on it if they fall short.  Chicago folks, interestingly enough. seem to accept things as they are more than would happen in NY.

I feel that Violet Hour is a top notch place that seeks to attain excellence.  If we merely accept what is offered (flaws included), they will never be prompted to attain the excellence they could otherwise achieve.

All that said, I look forward to going there on a regular basis and will always have a great time, no doubt.  I just want them to be held to the standard to which I know they aspire and are capable of ultimately achieving.

New Yorker's are not so forgiving; Chicagoans are a bit, if I may be so bold (now living here), a bit over-forgiving.

Surely there is a middle ground.

Thanks for the fine explanation. Sounds fair to me.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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NY will definitely hold a place to a standard and 'call' them on it if they fall short.  Chicago folks, interestingly enough. seem to accept things as they are more than would happen in NY.

You are also posting thoughts on Chicago restaurants at LTHforum.com. It seems a lot of your posts are along the lines of "this place would never last in NY," or "the food scene in Chicago doesn't hold a candle to that in NY". Naturally you are going to get some pushback from people who think you are basing your judgment on a very small sample, and that you aren't picking the best Chicago has to offer. I think you'll also notice on LTHforum (and here) that the people can be incredibly over-critical about Chicago restaurants.

Your posts at lthforum on the Violet Hour are a good example. Here you had two posts describing your two visits. Over there you only posted about the second (disappointing) visit and basically said that the place isn't very good because they don't make a good Martini. The response you got was that people's tastes differ and that your preferred Martini recipe wasn't necessarily the only "proper" one. I would hardly say this response means people accept mediocrity.

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We asked the mixologist what ratio he used for gin to vermouth: he replied "two to one." (The last weekend when we were there, the mixologist said "three to one" meaning three parts gin to one part vermouth).

My (uninformed) guess is that the bartender was attempting to stage a fair fight of sorts between the Old Raj and vermouth, hence the variation in ratios; not that Junipero isn't big-boned in its own right, but Old Raj is such a massive gin that in my estimation it tends to exist within a stratum unto itself.

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Could be, db. I think he was also attempting to get the right ratio of water (i.e. melted ice) to offset the 'hot' aspect of the Raj.

Darren--sorry for any confusion. On each board, I interact with posters and other than the initial post, my responses are tailored to the discussion at hand on that board.

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Could be, db.  I think he was also attempting to get the right ratio of water (i.e. melted ice) to offset the 'hot' aspect of the Raj.

Even with my limited knowledge, I don't think that's right....the Kold Draft ice melts so slowly, and, with or without kold draft, I don't think the bartenders are trying to figure water from melted ice into their ratios.

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Not to belabor the point, but ice (that is to say, water) is always factored into ratios. It's the reason that bartenders make drinks from room-temperature booze. Knowing which drinks to let sit for how long before straining is one of the ways that a good bartender practices his craft.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Not to belabor the point, but ice (that is to say, water) is always factored into ratios. It's the reason that bartenders make drinks from room-temperature booze. Knowing which drinks to let sit for how long before straining is one of the ways that a good bartender practices his craft.

...right! And how long to stir/shake it....makes perfect sense. Thanks!!

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Not to belabor the point even more… There are so many factors to consider when making a drink. Water is about 20% give or take. So a bartender, on the fly with 17 other things in their head, have to calculate the proof of the booze, the ice (or lack there of) that the cocktail is going onto, the other ingredients and THEIR water content, the order that the drinks are coming up, the temperature of the shaking/stirring ice (has it been there for an hour of did the bareback just bring fresh?), the temp of the room, the temp of the booze and citrus and vermouth, and juices, the temp of the mixing glasses and shaking tins, the temp of ones HANDS AND SPOONS all make a difference.

Toby

A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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Not to belabor the point even more… There are so many factors to consider when making a drink.  Water is about 20% give or take.  So a bartender, on the fly with 17 other things in their head, have to calculate the proof of the booze, the ice (or lack there of) that the cocktail is going onto, the other ingredients and THEIR water content, the order that the drinks are coming up, the temperature of the shaking/stirring ice (has it been there for an hour of did the bareback just bring fresh?), the temp of the room, the temp of the booze and citrus and vermouth, and juices, the temp of the mixing glasses and shaking tins, the temp of ones HANDS AND SPOONS all make a difference.

Toby

...so when that perfectly balanced cocktail comes upon my lips, it truly is an intricate work of art and science. Thank you. :wub:

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Thanks for the input Toby and all. Right now I am on the QE2 en route to Southampton on its last transatlantic voyage, missing the quality of cocktails I could have had at The Violet Hour (but enjoying the 1966 Chateau Lafite with the chateaubriand, but that's for another day).

I look forward to many more experiences at one of my favourite places in Chicago. I am afraid I got off on the wrong foot sounding a bit displeased by my last experience there; but a sign of respect I have for world class places is to be a bit critical because I think the place aspires to a world class enterprise.

That's true of Violet Hour but few other places; if that didn't come through, may I apologize and set the record straight?

Edited by DutchMuse (log)
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The new autumn menu is indeed fantastic, but what I love about the violet hour is the drinks that are NOT on the menu - the perry county smash being one that comes to mind instantly. The 227 being another (potent) one. A sip of Antico Rosso on the rocks is something that should not be missed either, as it is, simply put, perfect.

Having made a tradition of heading to TVH after work on mondays, I can honestly say that I don't look at the drink list anymore. I put my experience in the hands of Michael and am never disappointed. If you're heading over there - do the same.

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Stopped in for drinks on Wednesday with some pals. We had thirty some drinks between us (I'll leave you hanging as to how many of us were there, haha), and every one of them was a winner.

I'd say that we conquered the fall menu and are now awaiting the winter!

One little cool detail: I asked to go off menu and get a Poor Liza. The waitress (not the bartender, I am talking about the cocktail waitress here) explained to me that they are having trouble getting the right brand of pear brandy, and that the flavor of the drink might be a little off if I made a substitution - and then she described the sub they might use. How cool is it that the waitress know that they were (1) out of the brandy used to make a drink that is no longer even on the menu, and (2) was knowledgeable enough to caution me about the taste difference, and (3) knew the exact ingredients (she mentioned combining two products to approximate the proper brandy) they'd use as a substitute?

Amazing.

-James

My new book is, "Destination: Cocktails", from Santa Monica Press! http://www.destinationcocktails.com

Please see http://www.tydirium.net for information on all of my books, including "Tiki Road Trip", and "Big Stone Head", plus my global travelogues, and more!

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Amazing.

Absolutely. I was in last night with a big group, so for the first time did not sit at the bar. Eden took fantastic care of us, was unrelenting in her attention to us and knowledge of drinks. Simply the best place in Chicago for cocktails!!

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Amazing.

Absolutely. I was in last night with a big group, so for the first time did not sit at the bar. Eden took fantastic care of us, was unrelenting in her attention to us and knowledge of drinks. Simply the best place in Chicago for cocktails!!

...or anywhere in my experience.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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...or anywhere in my experience.

Ok...I can go there, but have to put Milk and Honey and Death & Co on the list. I have been incredibly well spoiled!!

I have yet to make it to PDT, but the only places I have been to compare for range and quality of with TVH are Tailor and Pegu Club.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have yet to make it to PDT, but the only places I have been to compare for range and quality of with TVH are Tailor and Pegu Club.

I've only been to PDT once, and my experience was not good. I'll have to give it another go, I suppose. I did like the concept, though.

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