The Violet Hour (Lounge/Bar, Wicker Park)
Location: 1520 N. Damen Ave.
Hours: 6 pm-2 am daily; open until 3 am Saturday
Phone: (773) 252-1500
Reservations: Not taken
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.
– Bernard DeVoto “The Hour”
The saying that looks can be deceiving must have been crafted after a visit to The Violet Hour, and I’ll drink to that! Located in the Bucktown/Wicker Park area, Chicago’s home to the largest collection of artists, the outside façade is ever-changing. There are no windows, panels board up the walls, and stylish graffiti gives it the look of an abandoned old building taken over by muralists. A single light bulb hangs above the door and after giving a hesitant “Knock… knock.. knock…. knock… knock..” We decided to enter this speakeasy at our own risk. Once inside we found ourselves in a rather drab looking concrete hallway — at the end of a fairly long line velvet curtains hung in the distance. A large figure threw open the drapery and I half expected him to say something along the lines of, “The wizard will see you NOW!” Instead he calmly asked if there was a party of four he could accommodate. After this pattern repeated itself a few cycles, my friend and I decided to team up with the people in front of us, making our group a party of four. A few minutes later it was our turn to experience the Violet Hour. Named after Bernard DeVoto’s poem “The Hour,” I knew to expect a place of enchantment.
Crystal chandeliers sparkled from the ceilings, the robins egg colored walls were lined with white crown molding and the backlit bar surrounded by thick valances glowed across the room. To my delight, we found ourselves in a doll house setting disguised from the outside world. Seated in a secluded booth we were free to observe our surroundings — other booths similar to ours were in the shadows and high winged back chairs clustered in various formations created a place for intimate conversation. After glancing over the menu and speaking to our attendant it was clear that our provisions would also exceed expectations. At the bar boutique cocktails are formulated from liquors, homemade syrups, bitters and a pinch of this or that. It would seem like an insult to order my traditional vodka, diet tonic, and lime at such a posh establishment (after reading the house rules it apparently is). So after a quick powwow my sidekick and I dared to request the Cascade Hallow (George Dickel, Lemon, Laird’s Applejack, Mint, Peychaud’s Bittes).
We were presented with a punch bowl and ladle and a block of twice filtered ice to keep our libations chilled. It was unlike any concoction I’ve ever tasted and if the Christmas holiday was a drink, this would be it! The night carried on with snacking on delicate donuts and discussions about everything from advances in science to politics. And as all good things come to an end so did my first visit to The Violet Hour. But don’t worry I’ll be back again, for there is too many tempting cocktails to sip on and many more exclusive conversations to be had. Only next time I may come dressed for the occasion in flapper/prohibition era attire.