The Violet Hour is ground zero for craft cocktails in Chicago. Right off the Wicker Park six points, it’s a landmark bar in a city that does food and drinks just as good, if not better, than any other. Prepare to be given the ol’ razzle-dazzle, boys and girls of the legal drinking age.
OUR ARTICLEBY: Joe Demes Contributing writer
Happy hour might start at four, but the violet hour commences at six. You’ll know it’s happening when the single yellow lamp above an unmarked door begins to glow. There’ll also be a big fucking line.
Chicago’s Violet Hour is actually easier to find than that. Right off the six-corner intersection of Milwaukee, Damen, and North Ave., the massive and constantly changing mural on the building’s façade should give it away. (If you don’t know it when you see it, we can’t help you.) Opened in 2007, the Violet Hour is essentially credited as begetting the contemporary cocktail scene in Chicago; the bar program is run by Toby Maloney, who’s spent a stupid amount of time behind the stick and worked in places like New York’s Pegu Club and Milk & Honey (sadly closed as of October 2014, though the London iteration still lives on).
no shots or bombs of any kind, you degenerate, though the bartenders often give out samples of their cocktails without asking.
Violet Hour takes its cues from these bars as far as quality and attention to detail go, and its name from Bernard DeVoto’s The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto, a quote from which serves as the epigraph for their massive spirits list. “This is the violet hour,” DeVoto says, “the hour of hush and wonder, when the affections glow and valor is reborn, when the shadows deepen along the edge of the forest and we believe that, if we watch carefully, at any moment we may see the unicorn.”
The sense of hush is part of what makes this bar, even though their music is anything but soft. While there, we heard Iceage, Thee Oh Sees, and The Horrors coming through the speakers, thought the playlist changes often. The space is divided by low-hanging curtains into three rooms: an initial seating room with ten bar spots, a couple of booths tucked out of sight, and an array of high-backed leather chairs, monolithically tall like long shadows (DeVoto’s forest); a kind of antechamber with ten more bar spots and three more booths; and a fireside lounge in back for larger parties, with booths and ottomans.
Their seasonal cocktail menu is twenty drinks deep, along with a roster of six constants – the Violet Hour classics. There’s also a daily punch which serves five, and a carafe option: made to serve nine, you can choose from one of the menu drinks, a classic cocktail made en masse, or go dealer’s choice. There is a small food menu, should you find you chased the unicorn a little too quickly, as well as a beer and wine list. That extensive spirits list that we mentioned, while dense and intimidating from the exterior, provides gentle and detailed primers on each category of spirit, so you can potentially leave better informed and more confident than when you came.
That being said, the proprietors do ask that you act better than usual when you enter and have a list of guidelines for guests. There isn’t a dress code, but proper attire is requested. Phone use isn’t allowed; seating capacity is strictly obeyed (like we said, big fucking line, but also big fucking hush); no shots or bombs of any kind, you degenerate, though the bartenders often give out samples of their cocktails without asking.
It’s a nod to Milk & Honey’s house rules, but their last rule best sums up all those before it: “Please do not bring anyone to the Violet Hour that you wouldn’t bring to your mother’s house for Sunday dinner.”
Make sure your entire party is on time. They don’t take reservations and add-ons aren’t accommodated, so you won’t be seated until everyone’s present
Want something to take home with you? The Violet Hour sells a proprietary Old Fashioned mix that comes loaded with everything but the hooch
Don’t like what you see? Talk to your bartender. Violet Hour is credited with a number of contemporary classics
Violet Hour is as much a good date spot as it is a space to catch up with old friends – it’s intimate and good for any occasion