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Sexy. Mysterious. Slightly Pretentious. Gimme some more Violet Hour.

10 Jul

I have a recurring dream of romancing Justin Timberlake. You’re right, you’re right; who doesn’t.

Well, in my version of “The Dream,” (yep, I’m gonna go ahead and capitalize that) JT is beautifully dressed, as he always is, in a three-piece suit. We’re in a plush, cozy booth together in the dark corner of an exclusive, trendy lounge, and it’s as though we’re the only two people in the room. In the soft candlelight, Justin leans toward me until his fedora barely grazes my cheek, and begins to nibble my ear. And so on, and so forth.

It’s difficult to describe The Violet Hour. It’s a bar, yes. But, once you experience The Experience of The Violet Hour, you realize it is much more. Last night as I sat in a corner of VH, looking around me at the candles and the deepening shadows, trying to put my finger on the weird mystique of the place, it suddenly came to me: Violet Hour is the setting of my Justin Timberlake Seduction Scene! When you visit, I think you’ll see that Violet Hour is completely out of dream.

Here’s the breakdown:

In one word: Cocktails

Location: 1520 N. Damen Ave., Chicago, IL

Food: Lots of inventive little nibbles make up VH’s “Sustenance” menu. My group only wanted a small snack, so we ordered their Spiced Nuts with House Chili Powder and Honey. Warning: these are addictive! I’d definitely try these if you just want a little something. If you’re looking for something more substantial, go for one of their sandwich options, including a Smoked BBQ Brisket Sandwich that looked delicious.

Drink: The cocktail menu is organized by the type of alcohol in the cocktail—Gin, Tequila, Whiskey, Rum, Wine/Sparkling drinks, and more. It is large and can overwhelm. My advice is to start in a section you feel comfortable with, then branch out, and definitely ask your server for his or her recommendations. We found ours to be quite helpful. Know this: all the drinks we sampled were strong. So, even if you like the sound of all the bells and whistles in one of the drinks, I’d say don’t order it if you don’t like the base alcohol because it will have a very prominent presence in the cocktail.

When it comes to the Gin selection, the Juliet and Romeo gets my full endorsement. With Beefeater, Mint, Cucumber, Rose Water it’s refreshing but has a lot of character–lots of delicious, delicate flavors make it anything but one note. If you’re celebrating something and are looking for a Sparkling cocktail, The Etiquette is one of my favorites. It’s some kind of magic made up of sparkling wine, Tabernero Pisco Acholado, Raspberry Syrup, and Aperol. It’s sweet, but has substance. Surprisingly not a girly drink at all.

the Juliet and Romeo cocktail at Violet Hour. I love that most of their cocktails come with a sidecar.

Service: Our wait in the claustrophobic front closet was more than a drag, but once we got inside we received excellent service. Our waitress was attentive, and she provided helpful information about the menu and offered great recommendations for cocktails.

Scene: Violet Hour works hard to make you feel like you’re in an off-the-grid, extremely exclusive speakeasy. From the street VH is a nondescript, washed-out, wood-paneled wall with no sign or even an obvious entrance. Once you find the door you’ll wait in a small entry room with 10-15 people behind a lavish, cornflower-blue velvet curtain. Every five minutes or so a sharply dressed bouncer pulls back the curtain and allows a group to gain entry. I waited 35-40 when I visited. Violet Hour, you should know that Chicago is not New York, and these shenanigans are acceptable only because your cocktails are outstanding.

Violet Hour's no-name entrance. Guess some people think finding the door is half the fun.

On the inside, VH is made up of a series of dimly lit rooms with mahogany parquetry, high ceilings, and cornflower-blue walls with white crown molding.  More floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains separate each room, which contain groups of slim, insanely high-backed, cornflower-blue leather chairs. Each group is arranged around a single white wooden table with a candle on it. Though the rooms contain several crystal chandeliers, most of the lighting comes from these candles. The chairs combined with the curtains create an odd ballroom-meets-boardroom feeling.  Because the chairs have such a high-back they create a sense of privacy when they’re arranged in a group, which gives VH its intimate atmosphere.

Violet Hour's sexy and mysterious boardroom-meets-ballroom interior. In my dream, JT and I get it on behind one of these giant chairs. Sexy and classy.

Because this is a classy joint, don’t bring the frat brothers. You’ll be sitting and talking, so bring a close friend you want to talk to.

Dress: Dress to impress. You will see and be seen.

Cost: It’s on the expensive side for Chicago ($12 a drink), but worth it.

If you like, try: I have to say, the atmosphere is unmatched in Chicago. In New York, try PDT (Please Don’t Tell) in the East Village.

Watermelon Basil Cocktail and Watermelon Basil Lemonade

2 Jul

I can trace my personal problem of eating my emotions back to watermelons and the Fourth of July.

As a kid, July 4th was a depressing day because it marked the half way point between the first day of vacation and the first day back to school.  The only solution was to drown my sorrows in slice after slice of watermelon.

These days July 4th represents a break from work, rather than a return to it. And for me, watermelon is still the best way to mark the occasion. 6% sugar and 92% water by weight, watermelon is sweet and refreshing. But pair it with basil and lemon and it becomes a force to be reckoned with.

I hope you enjoy this watermelon basil cocktail and watermelon basil lemonade. Fresh, bright, sweet, and citrusy, they’re two of my favorite summer drinks.

where the watermelon grow

To prep for both beverages buy a watermelon that’s really ripe, so it’ll be sweet and juicy. Here are some ways to spot a ripe one:

  • Look for a yellow or light colored bottom. If it has either of these things, it’s ready.
  • Listen for a hollow sound. Give the watermelon a gentle tap to check for a hollow sound. You’ll know it when you hear it. Hollow=ripe. Not hollow=not ripe.
  • Look for a heavy melon. Since watermelons are 92% water, a ripe melon should feel heavy for its size.

Each recipe uses about 8 cups of cubed watermelon, juiced, which is equivalent to about half of a very large watermelon, or an entire regular sized watermelon.

celebrate summer--watermelon basil cocktail (left) and watermelon basil lemonade (right)

Watermelon Basil Cocktail

8 cups of watermelon, cubed
4 large basil leaves
1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
Angostura bitters
1 bottle chilled sparkling wine

The night before your party:

1. In a blender, juice the 8 cups of watermelon.
2. To the blender pitcher of watermelon juice, add 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Squeeze it yourself, or, get something from the store–I won’t tell.
3. Put the 4 basil leaves in the juice mixture. Put this mixture into the fridge. While it chills overnight the juice will become inflused with basil.

Make sure you also chill your champagne or sparkling wine. Before the party the next day, strain the juice into a large pitcher to remove the basil leaves and any extra large pieces of fruit. Don’t worry–there should still be a good amount of pulp.

Then, to make a drink:
1. Start with a couple of good splashes of Angostura bitters in the bottom of your champagne flute.
2. Fill about 1/3 of the flute with the watermelon/lemon juice mixture.
3. Top it off with your chilled champagne or sparkling wine. A marvelous, creamy foam head should form when the bubbles meet the pulp.
4. Cheers!

Makes 4 servings.

It’s always nice to offer a special non-alcoholic beverage. Here’s an alternative that’s just as refreshing and delicious.

watermelon basil lemonade

Watermelon Basil Lemonade

8 cups of watermelon, cubed
4 large basil leaves
2 cups of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 lemon to cut into lemon slice garnishes
sugar cubes (optional)

Night before prep:

1. Same deal. Juice the watermelon, add the lemon juice, submerge the basil leaves for optimal basil-infused flavor, chill.

Before the party:
1. Strain the juice into a pitcher. Keep the basil leaves for garnish, if you like.
2. Slice a lemon into garnish slices and add it to the pitcher.

Because the watermelon is so watery by nature, don’t put ice cubes into the main pitcher, it’ll just melt and dilute the flavor. Instead, put a couple of ice cubes into a glass. If you have younger kids coming who prefer their lemonade on the sweeter side, add a sugar cube to each glass. Otherwise,  I like how the bright tartness of the lemon juice balances the honey flavor of the watermelon.

fun, "gourmet" lemonade

Hope you enjoy and have a Happy 4th of July.