There’s a new hard-to-get ticket in the Chicago drinking scene. No, it’s not an elusive weekend seat at the Milk Room, nor is it a secret pass to The Office. The newest entry into the high-end cocktail experience category comes from The Violet Hour, as it enters its 11th year of serving some of the best drinks in town.
Once a week, the bar’s co-founder and partner Toby Maloney is creating a special tasting menu centered around a rotating theme. The series is called Behind the Curtain, and serious cocktail aficionados will want to start trying to get reservations now — each session accommodates just four guests.
Maloney, who splits his time in Nashville and New York City, is temporarily back in Chicago to work on a project. While he’s in town, he also wants to spend some time behind his beloved bar. So, on Tuesday nights, in a two-hour window, a small group of cocktail lovers gets Maloney (or perhaps another well-known guest bartender) all to themselves. “It might seem a little pricey — but you have a bartender’s sole and undivided attention for two hours,” he says.
Yes, tickets cost between $125 and $200 per person, but guests can expect to try a lot of different things — anywhere from six to 10 cocktails, split into half portions so you don’t get too smashed. Samples of ingredients or individual spirits might also show up on the table, so you “might taste 20 different things in a night,” says Maloney, who isn’t quite sure how to characterize this series. “A journey? An evolution? I’ve called it a tasting menu? They’re all kinda right, but none of them exactly fit.”
The idea was inspired by his time at Milk and Honey in New York; he used to walk past Chinatown on the way to work and find interesting ingredients that would inspire cocktails on the spot. These sessions are similar; sometimes inspired by an ingredient or a theme, each one basically features Maloney riffing, with some feedback from the guests.
A few sessions of Behind the Curtain have already happened, and they showcase the learning experience that underlies each evening. For example, during a “Hot Drinks” seating, Maloney made coffee-based drinks and showed off his theories on the combination of spirits and coffee. “I hate whiskey and coffee together, but rums and brandies just sing,” says Maloney. “Pisco in coffee is f-ing brilliant.”
The bartender isn’t naming an end date for the series yet, but upcoming tastings include “Celebratory Cocktails," “Vermouth, Sherry and Fortified Wine Cocktails,” and “Discovery Your New Go-To Cocktail for 2019.” Find out about these events on the Violet Hour’s Instagram.
Don’t worry if you’re more interested in drinking than learning — this isn’t a cocktail-making class. “If people want to know about technique, we’ll talk to them,” Maloney says. “But you can also sit and talk to your friends. A good bartender can immediately pick up on that.”