Last time I was in Chicago was 30+ years ago. It was a great town back then, and that made it even more awesome to go back this summer and see it the way it is today. I couldn’t believe how it’s even more improved from where it was thirty years ago!
I have to say, as someone who does extensive culinary travels for a living, it takes a lot for me to really be impressed when it comes to food towns and Chicago, you were certainly impressive!
There are some wonderful outstanding highlights during my four days in Chicago that really stick out in my mind. I’d love to share one of my favorites from Chicago’s impressive nightlife.
One of the coolest things I checked out in Chicago was a bona fide speakeasy. I wasn’t expecting it to be authentic and true to its historic roots, but it was so hard to find! I felt like it was the olden days!
I was lucky enough to venture out one evening with a fellow chef and blogger, Chef Beth Vlasich Pav, who shared a lot in common with me. When we arrived at the address, we were standing in front of an eye doctor’s office. It was HUGE – a block long. The front address was the eye doctor and when you looked at the wall, it was just a cement wall, painted over with a huge mural. Unless you could put your head up against the wall and look straight, other than that, there was no way you could notice the door handle–there was no light or anything! It was called The Violet Hour.
Past the door, we found ourselves in a narrow hallway. Then, all of a sudden, a gentleman in a suit walks up and comes out to us, asks how many in our party and motioned to follow him…this way, please. With a bit of flair, he drew back the drapes and it was like being pulled back in time too. Just like a speakeasy! It was a magnificent room with vaulted ceilings that seemed three stories high!
I was so impressed by the service too! The suited gentleman did not pull back the curtain until there were two seats available for us and everything had been cleaned and prepared for us. They kept track of everyone in the place to make sure they were taken care of.
The atmosphere lived up to the speakeasy name. Our seats were pushed in for us after we sat down and as I scanned the room, all I could see were these magnificent, tall leather blue seats for two. There were couples everywhere and it was incredibly romantic because everyone had their own space and you didn’t feel like everyone was listening to your conversation.
I couldn’t write a blog post about a speakeasy without sharing what I had to drink 😉 A few important things to note is that this place uses the utmost care with ingredients and they even make their own bitters! With such attention to detail, they also have a pretty extensive list of house rules and things you won’t find on the menu like: no cosmos, Jager-bombs (or bombs at all!), no Budweiser, no Grey Goose, no light beer and no reservations!
We had the pleasure of being served by Jim, our incredibly talented mixologist. He had a cocktail shaker in each hand and was shaking and pouring like a well-orchestrated dance. This wasn’t anything like Tom Cruise in Cocktail. This was classy and something that walked right out of a Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movie!
With such skill going into mixing and serving each drink, it was no wonder that they tasted phenomenal too! Their entire menu was separated by liquors—brandy, rum, vodka, whiskey. gin, tequila and, in old-time fashion, potable bitters. One of their most popular concoctions is the Violet Hour Punch which serves 5-7 people costs about $60 and includes white rum, black rum, Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, Lemon and nutmeg. With such playful names like Juliet & Romeo, the Redheaded Stepchild, Little Death and a Long Sleep, the Wrath of Grapes, and Hungry Hungry Hookah, it was hard to choose! I had the Teaches of Peaches—a dreamy mix of: Modest Vodka, Lemon, Plymouth Sloe Gin, Egg Yolk and Crème de Pêche. Yum! Beth opted for a whiskey cocktail, The People Have Spoken, which was a $22 cocktail of Parker’s Heritage Wheat Whiskey, demerrara, Pechaud’s bitters and herb sant. Talk about treat yourself 😉
The room was so dimly lit, almost black, with just the soft lighting of candles everywhere so you could still see your cocktail. Despite the low lighting, as I look back on my time in Chicago, this experience was certainly a highlight of the trip!