From the outside, new Wicker Park lounge The Violet Hour appears to be just another dive bar. There’s no sign, and the plain wood paneling nearly obscures the door, except for the bright yellow light bulb hanging overhead. But the line outside on weekends arouses curiosity about this secretive new hot spot where the cocktail reigns supreme.
Named after a line from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland,” the elegant setting inside The Violet Hour is a striking contrast to the outside. Theatrical, blue curtains divide the three rooms and ornate chandeliers accent the lofty ceilings. Candles and soft lighting illuminate the pristine rooms, reminiscent of a Prohibition-era social club in a metropolitan hotel. Tall, regal blue chairs and cushy booths beside a fireplace provide a comfortable spot for sipping chic cocktails made with the utmost care by the expert, well-dressed bartenders.
The Violet Hour prides itself on its spirits, and our friendly server gave us the low-down on the intricate drink making process. She also advised us to be prepared for a fifteen-to-thirty-minute wait for our drinks, something the average night-lifer may not be accustomed to. With eight, yes eight, different kinds of ice specially tailored to keep the drinks cold and never watery, The Violet Hour puts detail into their drinks, and it shows. While the menu does offer beer and wine, the extensive drink-list offers cocktails made with rum, vodka, brandy, tequila and much more, making the wait worthwhile.
The Pearl Vodka martini was smooth to perfection and the Amaretto Fizz, made with Lazaroni Amaretto, lemon and egg white, was as refreshing as Italian ice. All liquor drinks cost $11, and the eclectic food menu ranges from $6 -$12 and offers items like a fried peanut butter/banana/bacon sandwich on brioche or curry rice krispie squares. The music, as eclectic as the menu, ranges from loungey to jazzy to modern rock. The loungey, jazzy music works best with the atmosphere.
The Violet Hour doesn’t accept reservations, and prohibits smoking. Even more unusual, a sign inside asks patrons to refrain from cell-phone use, (although texting is allowed) adding to the hush-hush, speakeasy atmosphere. The seating-room only policy typically garners a fifteen-to-twenty-minute wait on a Saturday night.
Overall, we couldn’t get over how comfortable and pampered we felt at this upscale, innovative spot right in Wicker Park. While the drink prices and wait might keep us from staying there all night, the drinks and service will keep us coming back for more. (Liz Haley)
The Violet Hour, 1520 North Damen, (773)252-1500. 8pm-2am (3am on Saturdays).