My friends always associate the word ambiance with me, and that is the very essence of me. Foodifyme wordpress readers might notice that I frequently use the word ambiance in my food blogs to describe an atmosphere that elevates the dining experience.
from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
am-bi-ence noun \ˈam-bē-ən(t)s, ˈäm-bē-än(t)s\: a feeling or mood associated with a particular place, person, or thing: ATMOSPHERE
It is spelled two ways, ambience and ambiance, with the original spelling derived from the French word ambiance.
I fully believe that when eating out it should not only be about the food, but the experience in itself, although this is a highly contested issue among my friends. The experience of being seated surrounded by a new place that takes you to another era, another world, another universe. That experience you cannot get from dining in your our dining room or at friend’s place no matter how good the food may be. It’s just not the same. The food and mood of the restaurant go hand in hand to make a one of a kind experience for any foody!
If a restaurant has just okay food, sometimes the ambiance makes up for just mediocre food. The best restaurant on the other hand offers both quality food and an inviting, unique atmosphere that creates a certain mood to the entire experience. A lot my favorite places that I frequent have this mysterious, secretive quality to them equipped with moody, dim lighting and aged, vintage decor. This ambiance provides a breathtaking experience that becomes unforgettable.
Here are the recent places I’ve been to. Note some of these pictures are taken from the lounge’s website.
The Violet Hour – Wicker Park, Chicago
A speakeasy tucked away in a the most hipster neighborhood in Chicago, Wicker Park.
“This is the violet hour, the hour of hush and wonder, when the affections glow again and valor is reborn, when the shadows deepen magically along the edge of the forest and we believe that, if we watch carefully, at any moment we may see the unicorn.” – Bernard DeVoto “The Hour”
This quote perfectly summarizes the essence of The Violet Hour. A dimly lit lounge with modern decor that exudes a certain magical, coolness about it. The entrance is not as secretive as the other speakeasies I have been to. Instead of taking your number and calling you when your table is ready, they make everyone wait outside until there is an open table for your party. Thus there is a very noticeably long line outside of what would normally be an unsuspicious door. Kind of gives away the best part of going to a speakeasy, finding it.
The Violet Hour has a set of house rules associated with the speakeasy. The most amusing one is their last rule:
“And finally, please do not bring anyone to The Violet Hour that you wouldn’t bring to your mother’s house for Sunday dinner.”
Please keep the unclassiness outside of the The Violet Hour!
The long ceiling to floor curtains create an illusion of magic, kind of reminds of the land of Narnia. When you enter into the Violet Hour, you pass through two sets of these ceiling to floor velvet curtains. What’s behind the curtain? Well let’s see.
Unlike the other speak easies, the Violet Hour has a more modern theme than the usual rustic, old fashioned, vintage theme. The high back chairs complement the long velvet curtains along with the very dim, moody lighting.
I ordered two drinks here. The drinks are a bit pricey coming in at $14 a drink, but at a place like this you are not only paying for high quality drinks, but the chance to lounge at the Violet Hour. Pictured is The Lay of the Land, a gin based drink. I also got the Gates of Paradise, a vodka based apple cider drink.
Lay of the Land – Letherbee, Lemon, Strawberry Preserve, Green Chartreuse
Gates of Paradise – Zubrowka, Apple Cider, Ginger Syrup, Lemon, Blackberry
The Gates of Paradise was definitely my favorite. The combination of all of those ingredients made for one delicious drink. Overall it is a bit loud for a speak easy since they play music in the background. Other than the noise level and the lack of mysteriousness surrounding the entrance, the Violet Hour is definitely worth a visit. Their menu changes every season, so I will have to go back soon to try the Gates of Paradise again!
The Bedford – Wicker Park, Chicago
Seems like all the hip places are in Wicker Park! The Bedford is a restaurant/lounge located underground in what use to be a bank.
Pictured above is a peak at some of the dining area seating. Also pictured on the left is one of the two entrances into the bank vault!
Here I am with my friend in front of the bank vault doors. We didn’t get seating inside the bank vault, but I would love to lounge in the bank vault next time.
This is what the inside of the bank vault looks like. Notice all of the authentic bank drawers lining the walls. How many people could say they sipped a cocktail inside a bank vault?
I wasn’t too hungry, so I just had a drink at The Bedford. They had their own version of the Dark and Stormy called Darker and Stormier, the drink on the left. This drink was more on the heavier side. No wonder it was darker and stormier than a regular dark and stormy! Look at all that rum.
Darker & Stormier – Dark Rum, Allspice, ROOT Liqueur, Jamaican Bitters, Lime, Ginger Beer
There’s something so very special about lounging inside an authentic bank. The next time I come I will make sure to get seated inside the bank vault!
Gilt Bar – River North, Chicago
Finally venturing outside of Wicker Park to River North. Gilt Bar is a small dish (think of tapas) styled restaurant with a full bar serving classy cocktails and range of liqueurs.
The lighting inside this restaurant is whimsically beautiful. Lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling, lit with a warm glow from the visible filaments inside the lightbulbs. A gorgeous cascading, web-like ceiling lamp in the center of the room. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of all of lighting.
Here is a picture that captures the warm, alluring charm about Gilt Bar. I took this without flash on my phone. I think it came out pretty well!
A lot of people have been raving about their Truffle Pasta, so I just had to try it for myself. It was definitely a unique dish. It is a little bit too heavy if you were to have it by itself. The creamy sauce it came with was so strong that I started feeling a little sick towards the end. I loved the pasta. You can definitely taste that it was hand made that day. Overall I think this plate is better when shared with someone else.
I got a side of the Blackened Cauliflower to balance out the heaviness in the Truffle Pasta. I have never had cauliflower like this before. It seems like they roasted the cauliflower giving it a slightly crunchy exterior with a hint of smokiness. It was served in a weak vinaigrette sauce and vinagrette onions. Gilt Bar did a very good job in dressing up the cauliflower.
My friend and I both ordered the Pimm’s Cup, a classic summer drink made with the UK liquor Pimm. It had just the right amount of sweetness and kick from the ginger beer.
Pimm’s Cup – pimm’s, lemon, ginger beer
The thing that made all three of these experiences exquisite and memorable is the unique atmosphere that they provided. Each of them slightly different. A modern styled speakeasy, a restaurant inside a bank vault, and a restaurant, bar with the best ambiance lighting. Ambiance really does make a difference. The next time you dine out make an effort to notice what type of atmosphere the place has. For me there is nothing better than sipping a delicious, classy cocktail in a warmly lit lounge with a couple of good friends. Makes for a fantastic night!