We stood, in the sunlight of an abnormally azure Chicago sky, our mission clear, but execution not so much. On a search for drinks in the Wicker Park area of Chicago, a long, depressing walk, or short, depressing cab ride from our hotel downtown. Our mission: eat BigStar Tacos, was accomplished. http://potandpanhandler.com/windy-city-tacos-and-donuts/ Our next directive: cocktails at a James Beard award winning cocktail bar called the Violet Hour is more difficult, as we’re unable to find it. http://theviolethour.com/
The Violet Hour’s location purportedly, across the street from BigStar but all we see is a mural of an old dude, next to a donut shop. In an act of confusion, we went for donuts. After the donuts had a chance to adhere to our thighs, we had to find the Violet Hour or admit defeat as we’ve walked up and down the block four times already. I’m terrified. The 30 foot back and forth walking has me convinced my grade school PE instructor will materialize in an unbearably stretched polo shirt and short shorts, blowing a whistle, expecting us to shuttle run.
We gave up. Walking up and down in search of a bar we can’t see is embarrassing and it would be more prudent to drink in a bar that’s visible to us. So we walk past the mural towards downtown, when someone opens a door shaped hole in the mural and is swallowed by darkness. What could be going on in there, terrifying dudes reciting the first rule of Fight Club, while bloodying knuckles on one another’s faces? Possibly, or an atypically trendy crack den? Both are less terrifying than not knowing.
We enter the darkness and are greeted by black as deep as Lord Vader. Our eyes begrudgingly adjust to the dark and we notice a small white rectangle covered in hieroglyphics that floats at eye level. After a moment the hieroglyphics are revealed to be words stating:
No cell phone use inside lounge.
Proper attire is requested.
Please, no baseball hats.
Sorry, no reservations.
If you have a party of four, we’ll give you four chairs. If your party is eight, we’ll arrange eight chairs for you. No “party add-ons” without prior notification.
No O-Bombs. No Jager-Bombs. No bombs of any kind.
No Budweiser. No light beer. No Grey Goose. No Cosmopolitans.
And finally, please do not bring anyone to The Violet Hour that you wouldn’t bring to your mother’s house for Sunday dinner.
Hastily shoving my hat into my backpack, I feel like the government reading the constitution, no this no that, a list of things we can’t do.
With a whoosh of cloth, the darkness is pierced by a diffused grey/blue light, like a room lit by black and white TV, revealing a woman who looks at us skeptically. “Will you need a table… for two?” She asked pensively. We replied the bar would be fine. Relief washes over her like water from a bucket challenge. “Great!” “Right this way.” Reassured we wouldn’t be using their prime table real estate she’s happy and leads us to the bar. Subtly candlelit, it’s still dark, perhaps tequila will take the edge off of this darkness.
There’s a woman on her phone, I’m conflicted, should I tell on her? Didn’t she see the rules? This flagrant rule breaking should be investigated, I could call Rahm Emanual, but then I’d be on the phone too. Quite the conundrum.
Two drinks later, the tequila’s working or our eyes are adjusting to the mellow lighting. The drinks are a tad too sweet, in search of salt, we order nuts. The bar industry has found the way to make sure the only dirty unwashed fingers touching your snack nuts are the line cook’s is to make you pay for them. Spiced with cayenne, seasoned with paprika and oregano, sweetened with sugar they are an exceptional bar snack that prompts us to explore more from the drink menu.
Again the drinks are too sweet, maybe fries with aioli will help or some BBQ pork sliders with slaw and pickles. The fries are exceptional; a throwback to solid French technique, crispy frites, fines herbes and garlicy aioli. If more places served fries this good, our asses would be larger than they currently are. The BBQ is textbook a welcome respite from the vinegary BBQ we’re often subjected to in central NC. Why more restaurants don’t put neon green pickles on BBQ, is a modern day mystery in the least and a major American shortfall at worst.
The Next Round
Whoosh, a bald man with a build reminiscent of a mafia enforcer has walked in and is looking around in unabashed fascination. Or maybe he just can’t see as the transition from daylight to black and white TV is overwhelming. He strikes up conversation with us and buys us a round. He’s enthralled that we as tourists have found this bar before him. Despite the fact that he lives here, which is nothing to be embarrassed about as who would ever think to look in a mural of an old dude for a James Beard award winning bar?
“I’ll get the next round.” He says. He orders another round. We’ve worked our way through the entire tequila menu. “Look at this!” He exclaims and hands us a post card which reads:
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.
-BERNARD DE VOTO, 1948
“Isn’t that beautiful man?” He queries, he doesn’t wait for a response he’s so moved he continues “I’ll get the next round.” He has a stack of money that would make a less powerful man struggle to lift. We haven’t got the round yet, and he says “I’ll get the next round.” He’s said it so many times at this point I can’t remember when the last time we paid for a round was, which is always a good feeling.
The numerous next rounds of too sweet cocktails, of the enforcer have sent the Pan Handler to the restroom, where she has been for a long, long time. Eventually she comes back, and the enforcer bids us a good night. He states that in exchange for his next round generosity, that we should have a baby and name it after him. Oddly enough, that’s the 3rd or 4th time someone in the Midwest has said that to us, do we look like the kind of people who would recklessly name a baby after a drunken stranger or somehow find vomiting in a trendy speak easy sexually irresistible? I’ll never understand the Midwest. We forgot his name.
Coming soon: we pack up shop in Chicago and head to Miami where we wade through a sea of plastic surgery to find one of America’s best restaurants. Spoiler alert: biscuits. We hope to see you there -Pot and Pan Handler