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Whisked Away at the Violet Hour

Dana goes incognito to find a drink that's just right.
Tuesday Jul 15, 2008.     By Dana Kavan
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Drink of the week: Blinker

Where you can find it: Violet Hour (Note: If you've never been to this undercover haunt, be warned that it's not super easy to find, thanks to an intentional lack of signage and mysterious exterior. Look for a tall bouncer just south of North Avenue on Damen and a dark-blue wood door with the words 'Post no bills' on it. Bingo.)

The damage: $11

Why here? For as long as I can remember, my taste in mixed drinks has been the alcoholic equivalent to claiming vanilla as my favorite ice cream flavor. I usually order vodka and soda water. It's boring, I know, but my experiences with cocktails have often gone a Goldilocks-like route—too sweet, too strong, too weak. I rarely land myself a cocktail that's 'just right,' so I stick with my failsafe. But since the opening of Violet Hour a little over a year ago, I've been reassessing my bar tab. Numerous local and national publications have credited Violet Hour with leading the rebirth of cocktail culture in Chicago, dubbing it a modern-day speakeasy for its keen attention to detail (think custom ice, filtered water and house-made everything) and creative libations. It's a lot of hype, but considering it has awakened the adventurous drinker in me, I think it deserves the praise.

How it went down: I've been to Violet Hour a handful of times, but my most recent trip truly accomplished a great task: It had me slugging whiskey and liking it. Through the urging of my friends, I decided to order the Blinker, a mix of Wild Turkey 101, grapefruit and homemade raspberry syrup. The last time I drank Wild Turkey was on the eve of Thanksgiving some years ago, when I went to a party that required all guests take a sip of the stuff before entering. It was supposed to keep with the whole Thanksgiving/turkey theme, but it really just left a sour taste in my mouth for the Kentucky-made bourbon. In the Blinker, though, Wild Turkey 101 truly took a different form.

The 101 refers to its proof, which is quite a bit stronger than the typical 80-proof bourbon. This results in a sharp bite of whiskey up front with each sip, followed by a hit of zippy citrus from the grapefruit and rounded out by the raspberry notes, which impart a slight bitterness. The watermelon-color drink comes served in a coupe glass with a mini-carafe topped off with the leftovers. Though it's not as complicated as some of Violet Hour's other drinks, its simple fruit accents provide just enough sweetness to make it drinkable and not at all saccharine-tasting. Indeed, it's just right.

Would I want to become a regular? The room's boudoir-esque feel is also pretty spot-on. Thick billowing blue curtains section off the space, which has tall-backed powder-blue booths, crystal chandeliers, a chalky white and grey marble bar and square blue stools. The affect is soothing, and its anti-cell phone, no-standing policy furthers the chill vibe. Top it all off with a little Miles Davis and you've got yourself the perfect antidote to whatever ails you—in my case, a cocktail rut.

Dana Kavan scours the city for drink deals so good you'll offer to buy a round and creative libations that outshine your average on-the-rocks concoctions. Want to give Dana tips on where to rack up a bar tab? Share your finds before her next night out.


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