I love Portland, but there are a couple of things I really miss about living in Chicago. My friends there are at the top of the list, and my favorite bars – these two missings are closely related. This morning I was reminded of a wonderful bar called The Violet Hour that I often went to with my friend Natalie.
The fun starts before you even get in the door. The exterior of the bar is completely nondescript, with an entrance that looks like a stage back door. The artwork on the side of the building also changes regularly, and sometimes it conceals the door so well that you wouldn’t notice it if you didn’t know it was there – a nice nod to Chicago’s speakeasies during Prohibition. Violet Hour serves deliciously complex, perfectly balanced cocktails concocted by their bartenders. They all have wonderful, evocative names (often literary), rendered in a heady array of fonts on the menu. I’ve taken dozens of photos of elegant drinks there, but they’re all on my old phone and I can’t put my hands on them at the moment. I’ve stolen a recent one of Natalie’s; she sends me love letters on Instagram when she’s there.
I’ve kept a menu from almost every time I’ve been there, and for a while I was making a series of earrings based on my favorite cocktails. I came across this one this morning while I was working on the (never-ending) sorting of my Leaves of Glass back catalog. Hush & Wonder had the faintest trace of Creme de Violet, and it was delicious.
The menu changes regularly, but if you have a favorite cocktail of yore, chances are good that they’ll remember it and will make it on request. It’s a dark bar, heavy on the velvet and candlelight, with tables and chairs arranged in small groupings. The chairs all have very tall backs with heavy upholstery. Sound is absorbed and there’s a nice sense of privacy, even in a large open-plan room. It’s still easy to people-watch, though, and it’s a pleasure. And if you enjoy documenting your cocktail intake for social media, it’s absolutely designed to make that irresistible. Beautiful drinks, good glassware, tiny decanters, handsome food, candlelight – it’s intoxicating. The entire experience of an evening there is a feast for the senses, and I miss it.
Up tomorrow, another of my favorite places in Chicago: The Green Mill.