August 16, 2010
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The Violet Hour

We were in Chicago to visit Mom, who isn’t very well. We’d had an early dinner.

Egullet had recently featured a terrific thread about a three-day whirlwind tour of every wonderful thing to eat in Chicago that the writer (obviously a cooking pro) could humanly squeeze into a long weekend. One of his stops was Mado, the nifty farm-conscious joint where we’d just had some lovely eggs in purgatory. His next stop had been The Violet Hour, the night was young, and it was about to pour.

There is a point where the marriage of gin and vermouth is consummated. It varies a little with the constituents, but for a gin of 95 proof and a harmonious vermouth it may be generalized as about 3.7 to one. And that is not only the proper proportion but the critical one; if you use less gin it is a marriage in name only and the name is not martini. You get a drinkable and even pleasurable result, but not art’s sunburst of imagined delight becoming real. Happily, the upper limit is not so fixed; you may make it four to one or a little more than that, which is a comfort if you cannot do fractions in your head and an assurance when you must use an unfamiliar gin. But not much more. This is the violet hour, the hour of hush and wonder, when the affections glow again and valor is reborn, when the shadows deepen magically along the edge of the forest and we believe that, if we watch carefully, at any moment we may see the unicorn. But it would not be a martini if we should see him. – Bernard DeVoto, The Hour

The Violet Hour has no sign. You find it from the address, and perhaps from the young women in aspirational strappy dresses waiting outside. It has a wait. It has rules: no Bud, no Gray Goose, no Jäger bombs, no bombs of any kind, and don’t bring anyone you wouldn’t bring home to your mother for Sunday dinner.

It’s great.

I had a Summer Sidecar (Maison Surrenne, Lemon, Orange Curacao, Lillet, Orange Flower Water ) and a Blue Ridge Manhattan (Rittenhouse Rye, Carpano Antica, Laphroig, Peach Bitters). Linda had an El Diablo (Lunazul Blanco, Lime, Ginger Syrup, Créme de Cassis) and the famous Juliet and Romeo (Beefeater, Mint, Cucumber, Rose Water). The place is serious – home-made bitters, eight kinds of ice, and when making that Juliet and Romeo the bartender brought over a bunch of fresh mint and placed it before Linda before selecting the leaves. You could smell the fresh mint.

Besides, you just have to love that unicorn.