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At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting
--T.S. Eliot, "The Wasteland"
So there I was at 9 PM on Friday trying to get into the Violet Hour, Terry Alexander's new Prohibition-style speakeasy in the former Del Toro space, which by all accounts is suppposed to be our ground zero for the high cocktail culture already well entrenched in New York City. I'd like to tell you if mixologist Toby Maloney's $11 craft cocktails are worth it, but it just didn't go down the way I'd hoped.
First we were greeted and carded by the very dapper and welcoming doorman George, who ushered us into spare, unfinished hallway that leads in the bar proper. We had just enough time to glimpse the candlelight drenched, blue velvet draped lounge--a soothing contrast to the chaos on the street--before George whisked us back onto the sidewalk because the bar had hit capacity. He was apologizing and taking down our cell phone number when a young woman broke ranks from the small line that gathered outside the door, brandishing her own phone and demanding George speak to "DeCarlo." (sp?) That's all it took for him to drop us and shift all of his agreeability to the other end of the line, promising the lady would be well taken care of, and bumping her ahead of us to the top of the list. Still George assured us he'd call soon when there'd be space for us, and that he had a "99% success rate" seating patrons.
That sounded reassuring, if ridiculous, so we headed down to Rodan, where we finished a round of drinks without hearing from George. We moved up Milwaukee to Empire Liquors, where an entertaining and generous barkeep kept us there for two more rounds. By then 90 minutes had passed, and because my ability to judge the Violet Hour was fairly impaired at that point, I was more than willing to give it another shot on a weeknight. But my companions, two ladies who don't need three drinks to become unruly if given cause, wanted to go back and give George heck. Confronted, he dubiously claimed we'd given him the wrong number, but immediately ushered us inside, where we were given drink menus and seated around a table on giant blue thrones. We kept ourselves busy trying to read the menu in the dark--swiping candles from other tables to amp the dim. Before we knew it, some 20 minutes had slipped by and we hadn't seen any of the bar's alchemists.
I realize libations at this level can't be splashed together in seconds, but my friends were threatening to set the menus ablaze, so I hustled them out the door where a surprised George asked us what we thought. "It was bad," we told him. He apologized, and we finished the night sulking over matchlessly bland burritos at Flash Taco.
I know the Violet Hour ain't Coyote Ugly--it's Slow Drink. And maybe it's my own fault for expecting the Wicker Park wasteland to be anything but user unfriendly on a Friday night. But I sure hope George readjusts his percentage the next time he asks for someone's number.