‘The Violet Hour’ in Wicker Park

A few days back my husband & I visited The Violet Hour with a couple of friends. It was recommended by a friend of ours who knew about our love for good cocktails. The place is situated in the nice and artsy neighborhood of Wicker Park. Whenever I think of our visit to this place one word that comes to my mind is ‘MYSTERIOUS’, pleasantly mysterious, with capital letters! If you want a unique experience and are not in the mood for just another night on the town, this is the place you must go to! The surprises start at the door, which itself is hard to find. You will find many wall graffiti in Wicker Park. One of these walls at 1520 N Damen Ave (next to the blue line train station) has a door which is effectively invisible to the eye at first; this is the entrance door of the Violet Hour. Once we stepped in, my first impression of the place was that it was some sort of secret society meeting venue. The speakeasy feel of place was enhanced by dark, elegant interiors with long satin curtains, tall chairs and soft opera music playing at high volume. The tables are arranged so as to maintain privacy for each seated group. Our waitress seemed suited to the place with her black attire and gothic tattoos and make-up. The cocktail menu offered many options categorized by the liquor type. The potency of drinks increases as you go from the top to the bottom of the menu, as is the case with many cocktail bars. Among the four of us we ordered Empire Strikes First (Gin based), Valor Reborn (Whiskey based), The Boss (Whiskey based) and Pink Petticoat (Vodka based). The drinks were outstanding and quite potent. We also ordered one light appetizer to much on. The opera music wore on after a while and we were so engulfed in our chats that we didn’t realize when they changed the music to jazz blues. Overall, it was a pleasant experience and did not cost too much. 4 great cocktails and appetizer costed us $66 excluding the gratuity. Definitely recommend this place to a couple or a group of couples looking for a unique experience.

Here is a glimpse of the ‘house rules’ for The Violet Hour (The ambience was much darker than what appears in the pic):



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Three dots and a dash

A few days back my husband found this place while browsing for more cocktail places to explore in Chicago: Three dots and a dash at 435 N Clark St. I called up this place for reservations and was stunned to know that they were booked all the way for next 3 months!!! This was my first experience to hear such a long wait for a not-too-fancy place. We were given an option of waiting at the bar just in case the few coveted non-reserved tables become available. We did go to this place only to find that like-minded hopefuls were already waiting in a long line near the entrance. Realizing it was not our day we turned back and went to another place nearby. In a couple of weeks we wanted to try again and this time we did manage to get in. As expected, the place was full with no tables available, we were fortunate to get two seats at the bar. Then the real fun started. The place had a really good decor of a beach bar. It is inspired by the Polynesian island culture with Hawaiian masks hanging on the walls and palm trees right in the middle of the room. The cocktails have interesting names. We began with Dr. Funkhouser and their signature cocktail called Three Dots and a Dash. The drinks were served in very cool looking containers that you have an option of buying as souvenirs. Suffice to say, the cocktails were deliciously strong and quite big too. Indeed, they came with a warning, ‘Drinks of impressive strength, please sip delicately’. Our drinks had distinct flavors I had not tasted before. There were several listed ingredients that were unknown to us. Half hazy with one drink down, we decided to order another round. Our next choice was Pearl Diver and Dead Reckoning (cool names right?). This round lived up to our raised expectations after downing the first one. We orders small plate of chips and guacamole at the bar. It tasted great too. Overall we were very pleased that we got a seat at the bar and thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience. We want to try the dinner with drinks next time, and for that I will make the reservations couple of months in advance!

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Watershed at 601 N State St.

Since the weather has gotten warmer, my husband & I are on a cocktail-hunt in Chicago downtown. We have visited several places in the past few days and plan to continue doing so throughout the summer. We started our hunt with Watershed on 601 N State St. It turned out to be an awesome experience. The bar is in a basement of other cocktail/dinner place upstairs known as Pops. Although we later tried to get in Pops as well, it turned out to be a very busy place. Having said that, our first choice Watershed offered some great cocktails with unique flavors. The place is dimly lit with good music and has a few tables as well as couches and chairs. The ambience is semi-casual, relaxed and can seat just enough people to create liveliness without being noisy. I tried the cocktail Walk & Talk which had North Shore Gin, Lavender bitters and orange flower and my husband tried the Smoke along the track which consisted of Koval oat whiskey, orange blossom, angostura and grapefruit bitters. The cocktails came in maple brown fancy glass goblets with embossed design. The cocktails looked small in size but oh boy! were they strong!. The cocktails were perfect medley of flavor, taste and enough alcohol. Despite the mention of bitters as ingredients both cocktails were not bitter at all and had a refreshing taste without being sweet either. We also tried their appetizers, Grilled octopus with baked beans with bacon bits and honey glazed chicken wings. The food was delicious! The chicken was tender and perfectly cooked with savory sweet sauce and the beans below the grilled octopus were the best ones I have had. The service is quick and very good. Overall the place is quite underpriced for the kind of cocktails, food and service they offer in Chicago downtown. I would highly recommend this place for a casual drink or two after dinner.

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More about the city of Banaras


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Food from Banaras

I was in Banaras, India last month. While there, I was looking forward to explore the cuisine unique to this city which has an elaborate cultural history. Banaras is famous for its temples and of course the holy river Ganges. It is located in the state of Uttar Pradesh and the agricultural land surrounding the city is very fertile and well irrigated. Not surprisingly, plenty of fruits and vegetables are available in this area in all seasons. There is plenty of cattle as well. Sweets made from cow and buffalo milk are specialities of Banaras. The breakfast here is quite unique to North India. Typically the first meal of the day is Poori-bhaji. Poori is a type of bread made by rolling wheat dough into small discs and deep frying. It is served with boiled potatoes sauteed with herbs and spices. Poori-bhaji is usually accompanied by hot delicious Jalebi, which is a sweet made by fermented dough batter fried and dipped in sugar syrup. The breakfast is quite dense and is supposed to stave off hunger for many hours on a common working day. A variety of local and seasonal vegetables are available. Potato, Parvar, Turai, eggplants are a few common ones. Due to an abundant number of cows, dairy products such as milk, yogurt, ghee are readily available and are part of regular meals. Banaras Sweet House is a very old and famous sweet shop mainly known for mithai (desserts) made from either condensed or fermented milk. I had lassi there and undoubtedly, it was the best tasting and most mind-blowing lassi I have ever had in my life. Lassi is sweet yoghurt drink native to the state of Punjab. Lassi in Banaras Sweet Shop was served in kulhad (earthern bowl) and was topped with a layer of cream. For merely Rs. 25-30 (USD 0.5), it was the most refreshing and delicious drink you can ask for. Kala-jam here is also quite tasty. It is a ball of extensively condensed milk, to the point of giving it granular texture, deep fried and dipped in sugar syrup. One lassi and kala-jam were enough to fill me up at the lunchtime. For dinners on following days, I enjoyed various seasonal vegetables served with roti and rice. One more unique thing I noticed about food from Banaras was that it is safe to eat food from everywhere. The key is to stick to cooked food and drink only bottled water. The city of Banaras is bustling with culture and there is beauty everywhere you look, you only have to look!

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Henri – 18 South Michigan Ave

My latest birthday dinner was at Henri. Stylish, simple and semi-casual are the words that come to mind when I think of the ambience. The place has a good location overlooking Millenium Park and it is not too hard to get reservations especially on a weekday for dinner. If you are driving it would be better to park at nearby deck since roadside parking will be hard to find due to its prime location. The staff is friendly and welcomed us. The cuisine is American with a strong French influence. The menu has just enough choices under each category. The wine and cocktail list is quite expansive. We ordered the standard Sauvignon Blanc. Among appetizers we were debating among Roasted Foie Gras, Escargot Bourgogne and Portuguese Sardine and chose the latter. The Sardines came as 4 crunchy pieces with tomato, arugula sprinkled over them. One onion ring was placed at the center of the plate with a green sauce (which didn’t taste like onion puree). The Sardines were delicious but felt like they got over too quickly. I then decided to explore more the sea creatures at Henri and ordered Arctic Char for Entree’. It came accompanied with a soft gelly-like potato cake, crispy foam and lightly seasoned sauce. With 5 pieces upside down (skin up) the fish was quite filling and definitely delicious with a delicate balance of flavors. The appetizer and Entree very well harmonized with the Sauvignon Blanc. For desserts, I was expecting small portions. But the Creme Brulee we ordered was medium portion. The custard in Creme Brulee was awesome although the sugar on the top could have been charred a little more to my liking. In total, 5 people were waiting our table including the main waiter. The total including 20% gratuity came to $170 for 2 people. Overall, the experience was great and I would highly recommend Henri at Michigan Ave for special occasions.

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