When the Violet Hour opened its doors in 2007, the bar brought a lot more to the Wicker Park neighborhood than an unmarked entrance and out-the-door lines. Servers had (and still have) serious spirits know-how, and cocktails require undivided attention and three-minute wait times, an anomaly at the time.
The bar team that kicked off the craft cocktail revolution in Chicago is celebrating its 10-year anniversary today. We caught up with partner and head mixologist Toby Maloney and managing partner Eden Laurin to learn about 10 of the bar’s most memorable drinks in the past decade.
Most difficult to make: The Ramos Gin Fizz
“It’s is a delicious drink that requires a heavy breakdown of the protein in its egg white, and often has the bartender sweating with the effort of shaking it—or the barback, if they are unlucky enough to be standing nearby. They will be handed the shaker and told, shake till the ice is gone,” Laurin says.
Most expensive to make: Half Past the Square
Maloney says its riff on the Vieux Carré subs Nux Alpina Black Walnut liqueur for Benedictine, and adds root beer bitters—both pricey ingredients. "The time, energy and money it takes for the bar to train someone to make this flawlessly basically borders on fiduciary malfeasance," he says.
Favorite drink from the first menu: The Golden Age
“This is made with brutal anejo, cherry herring, egg yolk, and lemon bitters," Maloney remembers. "Back in 2007 when no one was drinking egg whites—let alone egg yolks—this was very jarring to people. The drink was meant to be somewhere in the middle of accessible and unfamiliar.”
Biggest bust: Poor Liza
“I love this one, but it doesn’t sell," Maloney says. That's a common issue with the brandy section of the Violet Hour's menu, he adds: "Brandy, especially Pisco, is not consumed enough, in my opinion, because people don’t understand brandy."
Most intricate presentation: Neptune’s Wrath
“This one is made with gin, absinthe, green Chartreuse, and egg white and requires us to flame the Chartreuse in a separate coupe and pour it on top of the rest of the cocktail while flaming," Laurin explains.
Booziest drink you've ever made: Staggarac
It's not on the menu, but two intrepid drinkers once ordered up a classic Sazerac made with Stagg whiskey, “which, in that year, was at 138 proof," Laurin says. "They drank them and quickly fell off their bar stools. Literally, one fell down.”
Most unconventional name: The Stroonze
“It was inspired by my grandmother because it features Cynar," an Italian Amaro that is made with artichokes, Laurin says. "Naples, Italy, used to be the biggest producer of artichokes, and my Italian nonna was from there. She didn't speak English and called everyone a stroonze, which is Neapolitan dialect for stronzo, or 'little shit.’”
8. Best cocktail to serve to someone who hates five-minute cocktails: Polka Dot Negroni
Don't shorten the process—just make it more interesting. Each ingredient in this summery white negroni "has a really cool, international, full-of-intrigue-and-wonder story behind it," Maloney says. "Great things come to those that wait; all others get a vodka soda.”
Most requested off-the-menu drink: Too many to count
“‘I had a drink four years ago, it was pink. And I think in a tall glass. Or a short one. And it was delicious!’" Laurin says, mimicking countless customers who want to re-experience a past cocktail but can't quite remember it ("I blame our esoteric names," she admits). But don't be shy: "This conversation happens several times an evening, and we love it!" she says.
Favorite drink to serve to someone from NYC: Crinkle, Crinkle
If you don't like Malört after this drink, you can go on back to New York, then! “By using Letherbee Besk, this drink showcases how cool Malört can be," Maloney says. "Chicago is the city of broad shoulders, and while San Francisco and New York may drink Fernet by the gallon, we drink Malört—and we’re so much cooler than you.”