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Exiting the Damen “L” stop in Chicago’s hip Bucktown neighborhood, the inexperienced visitor only notices the noisy crowds at Big Star to the south. Those in the know, however, have long ago discovered that directly across from the Tex-Mex hangout covertly exists one of the city’s most unique bars, The Violet Hour.
There’s no neon sign or portrait windows to signify arrival. Instead, it’s an ever-changing mural next to an unmarked door which designates the spot to line-up and wait your turn to enter the bar’s abyss. If lucky enough to make that trip, be aware that this won’t be your usual drinking experience.
Before finding a seat (all are seated – patrons are not allowed to idly stand by the bar) and ordering the first round, you must first consent to the house rules: There is no ordering of “bombs”, girls are never to be approached and cell phones usage is strictly off-limits. Though slightly startling to the uninitiated, it’s best to embrace these guidelines as a refreshing surprise. If OK with them – and you will be asked - walk past the velvet curtain behind the main door and consider yourself one step further down the rabbit hole.
Once inside, the establishment’s refined high-backed chairs and benches provide resting spots to sample some of the best cocktails Chicago has to offer. Those lucky (or brave) enough to grab a seat at the bar will gain a significant advantage – direct consultation with a mixologist. From this prime location you can simply share your taste preferences and the barkeep will take it from there.
Prefer a drink heavy on citrus? No problem. Looking for something to match the fall weather? They've got that too. Though the timid may fall back on the familiar (there's an extensive menu), don’t be afraid to give the staff a challenge. The Violet Hour aims to meet the desires of your palate, not the other way around.
The entrance to The Violet Hour sits a few storefronts south of Penny's Noodles on Damen. Large groups should go on the early side or be prepared to wait. Drinks fall in the pricey $10-$13 range, but this is one place where the old adage that you get what you pay for holds true.
For those unable to make the trip to Bucktown soon, rest easy. The Violet Hour has made one of its original cocktail recipes available for public consumption (See The Violet Hour Presents: Juliet & Romeo). No guarantee that the experience will be nearly the same, but at least you can set your own rules.
Parker is one of the founders of Ezra's. He loves finding great, hidden gems no matter where they are.