Drink This: Speakeasy-Style Cocktails at The Violet Hour


There’s no place quite like The Violet Hour in the city of Chicago. Modeled on the speakeasies of old, it’s not your typical bar. For starters, it’s a bit hard to find if you don’t know exactly where to look. There’s no sign, instead, you’ll find what appears to be a boarded up building, but if you look closer you’ll see the door handle. Pull it and you’ll step into a completely different world.

As your eyes slowly adjust to the darkness – the space is lit almost exclusively by candlelight – you’ll first notice the impossibly high-backed chairs that look like something straight out of Alice in Wonderland. Beyond, heavy plush blue curtains drape gracefully from floor to high ceiling, separating the room into two sections. To the right is the bar, where bartenders dressed in old-fashioned vests and armbands measure out precise drops of old-school ingredients.

If you’re on a date, huddle over candlelight in one of the booths or tall chairs, but my favorite place to sit is at the bar. There’s no standing room allowed at this bar (if the seats are all full, give your number to the doorman; he’ll call when something opens up) so you never have to worry about getting elbowed in the back in a crowd. With the low lighting, quiet music, and “through the lookingglass” atmosphere, it’s the perfect place to enjoy some quiet conversation and some top—notch drinks.

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You won’t find Bud Light here. Nor will you be able to get a Captain and Coke or a Vodka and Cranberry juice. The drink menu is divided by liquors, and only offers those that were available during the Prohibition era: gin, rum, whisky, tequila, brandy, and a limited offering of vodka drinks. Each one offers ingredients like ginger, egg white, angostura bitters, chartreuse, maple syrup, rose water, and other delicate tastes that combine to make each drink totally unique, and always delicious. Can’t decide? Tell the bartender what you like and watch as he or she measures out the ingredients with a medicine dropper, mixes it with its own particular kind of ice (specially designed to melt less quickly and thus preserve the flavor of the drink) and pours it into its own special glass.

The drinks change seasonally. In summer, the 41 Jane Doe’s is a light, fruity and potent hit, while in the winter, nothing warms you up better than the creamy Chitown Flip, which can only be described as tasting like “Christmas in a glass.”  Don’t like your drink? Just let the bartender know and it will quickly be replaced with another.

Drinks aren’t cheap at $12 each, but for the care and craftsmanship that goes into them, I say it’s worth it. Plus, Violet Hour obviously isn’t the place you go to get rowdy drunk; it’s a place to enjoy the “violet hour,” the time of “hush and wonder” with a few classic cocktails. Think of it like fine dining, but with drinks. The bartenders are master chefs, and their drinks a little taste of haute cuisine in liquid form.

Photos by: honeykennedy, ShuttleRunner