I jumped off the Damen stop on the Blue Line and started walking down Damen on my way to The Violet Hour. I began to notice that the address I was looking for looked physically impossible. Frowning, I pulled out my phone and texted Violet Hour's head mixologist and owner as well as professional-level dapper dresser, Toby Maloney, "I'm looking for TVH right now, but I can't seem to find it...it's not a secret entrance thing is it?"
That right there has to be some kind of commentary on something, maybe myself, but I'm having a hard time cementing exactly what it is. Instead of thinking that maybe I wrote down the address or directions incorrectly my first assumption is there must be some kind of secret entrance thing going on.
As soon as I hit send I came to a pause in the middle of the sidewalk. My spider-sense was tingling. I slowly turned my head to the right and saw the ornate door handle sticking out of what was essentially, the side of a building. Once my mind had oriented itself to the door handle, my brain began to process the faint outline of a door around the handle that was the only interruption in the wall.
I was looking for 1520 and sure enough, looking above the door I saw the stickers "1__0" with a conspicuous space between the two numbers. It was suspiciously enough room to fit two more numbers.
I quickly looked around to make sure no one would see me. You know, in case I pulled on the handle and nothing happened. Then taking a deep breath I yanked hard and walked in and found myself facing...
I looked at the blank wall and that was only adorned with a framed copy of the rules high above reach. I turned to my left and saw what looked like black velvet curtains. I made my way towards them.
"Ppppbbbthhhht!" I went as I smacked hard, face-first into the curtains that were way heavier than I had anticipated them to be. I flailed a little before finally getting through only to find...another set of curtains in front of me.
This time I opted to pull them to the side rather than try to bulldoze through. Soon I had a handful of curtains in my left hand with no entrance in sight. I gave one last yank only to twirl and fall through in a very Lucille Ball manner. I quickly straightened up and tried to compose myself.
Just then my phone buzzed in my purse and I pulled it out. It was Toby.
"Call me." The text said. I texted him back saying I had found the place.
I took a minute to look around and whispered to myself, "Whoa..."
The place was huge. The exterior gave no hint at all as to what was going on inside. It was dark and felt dangerously elegant with low lighting. I felt like Special Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks when he entered the Red Room of the Black Lodge, except you know it wasn't all creepy and David Lynch. I take that back. It totally was all David Lynch because Twin Peaks was awesome, and when you step into the Violet Hour, after going through that entryway, it feels like you somehow magically stepped into a different plane of existence. The place was dark save for low lights flickering from all the candles and the glow from the bar. Even though it seemed lively it all came to me filtered and muffled.
The space was further separated by even more curtains here and there, with one particularly imposing set bisecting the whole place, including the bar. So, you know what? It was exactly like the Black Lodge, in an unsettling, cool and phantasmagorical way...except you know, the curtains weren't red and I didn't have the fear of my immortal soul being trapped in there for all time while an evil doppelganger ran around doing the bidding of a serial killing malevolent spirit.
I sat down and ordered a Palmer D'Or (Beefeater gin, lemon, egg whites, and Orange Pekoe tea). My phone was buzzing away again. It was Toby. He wanted to know who was working that evening and told me to look for Michael.
I looked around then cleared my throat lightly and quietly told the bartender who was attending to me that Toby said I should find Michael. I hoped I didn't sound too much like self-important snot saying that. I'm always worried of coming off entitled or self-important because, oooooh, I work for a publicaaattiiion. I seem to have an unholy fear of that.
I moved over to sit in front of Michael and introduced myself. Michael said he relocated from New York so that he could get in on the ground floor and work with Toby.
I was looking over the menu trying to figure out what my second drink would be. I noticed that the whiskey section had the Paper Airplane, courtesy of Sam Ross from Milk and Honey. And there was also the Fairview Manhattan. I asked Michael for a Manhattan and we had a little back and forth about it since he was super passionate about this particularly drink. He When I said I liked it because it was silky smooth he countered, "You don't want it to be too smooth. It needs to bite back a little."
The Manhattan Michael mixed for me indeed bit back a little. Disarmingly cool and refreshing at first, it swished down my throat only to uppercut me in the back of my mouth to remind me it was alcohol before dropping down my gullet. The flavor of the rye whiskey came through clear with what I like to call that "corn tea flavor" rye has to me.
I ordered a Secaucus Sling (Laird's Bonded Applejack, pineapple juice and raspberry syrup) as I looked over the food menu. To be honest, I'd kind of been stalking the menu at The Violet Hour once I knew I'd be in Chicago and I told myself that if I ordered any food, I really, really needed to try the Curry Rice Krispie Squares. The squares also came with spiced nuts and Cheddar Walnut Icebox Crackers that were toasty, warm, moist and cheesy.
Since I had been prodding Michael about Rye Whiskey, I then got The Blinker (Wild Turkey 101 Rye, grapefruit, homemade raspberry syrup).
"Looks like a cosmo, tastes like a cocktail," Michael said as he squirted a bit of grapefruit peel over the drink.
As I brought the glass to my lips to take another deep draw from it, I stopped abruptly as I realized a terrible miscalculation.
OK, so I know that I'm good if I stay in the four to five drink range. Once I stray from that number, things get dicey. I could survive a sixth or seventh, but it comes highly unrecommended. The Blinker was the third drink I'd had that evening so I thought I was doing pretty well. However, what I had left out of the equation was that each drink I ordered came with a little "refresher" vial, so I had actually been drinking double. Instead of three, I had happily tossed down six.
"You just got quiet darlin'," Michael said. "Is it finally hitting you?"
I silently nodded as I furiously stuffed my mouth with the broiled duck meatballs with green apple mostarda. I prayed that the saltiness and duck fat of these meatballs would form a protective barrier against the alcohol onslaught that was now running a phalanx against my liver.
Though I there were plenty more I wanted to try, with a sad heart I had to say, "Michael, you're going to have to close my check out or something regrettable will happen."
I took care of my check and dreamily drifted on a cloud of mild intoxication back towards the curtains. It all felt muffled like I was walking around sealed in a bag of cotton balls. For some reason the curtains gave way more easily this time around, practically opening themselves. At least that's how I remember it happening. Looking back at the framed rules on the wall one last time, I sighed deeply, pushed the door open.
I was practically assaulted by reality once I was outside of The Violet Hour. I had underestimated how much of cocoon the place provided. When I entered it was still light out with the bustle of several surrounding eating establishments, now it was dark. Gone was the muffled cotton feeling. The air was slightly muggy, and though it was now dark, the artificial lighting from the streetlamps and establishment were uncomfortably bright compared to the candle glow inside. People were loud. I turned back around to make sure I really was at a bar and this wasn't all some kind of weird "The Phantom Tollbooth" type thing. When I turned back to the street I saw a well-dressed group of people standing around as if waiting for something. I stared at them mildly puzzled because they seemed to be in the middle of the sidewalk creating a sort of line leading nowhere. Then I remembered where I had just come out of. Then with a goofy grin on my face tottered off into the evening.