In the heart of Chicago's loop lives a pair of spirit guides who stepped away from the past and blended their lives with our present. These muses glide through a room where warm lamps bathe leather arm chairs and sofas. They run their fingertips across the walls studded with leather-bound books. They weave between men and women sipping on liquids of amber, rose, and gold. These two spirit guides come to rest within the pages of a cocktail menu. Their names are Henry and Violette and they are born from the heart and mind of Jess Lambert, head mixologist at Vol. 39.
The character of Henry is based on an American lawyer who works just in the area. Violette is his whimsical, playful French wife. They're both from the 1930-40s era and, together, they represent an intricate balance of the masculine and feminine notes on the pages of the cocktail menu at Vol. 39.
“When I first walked into the room, it was this masculine room filled with textures,” Lambert reflects upon her first encounter with Vol. 39 back when it was still being built. “It seemed almost intimidating, and I wanted to make it welcoming and inviting. I thought of the types of people who would have once wanted to come to a place like this...”
Henry and Violette were born when Lambert and a friend, who happens to be a writer, were sitting at Jess’ kitchen table eating cheese and listening to French music. Jess was wrestling with the conundrum of how to attract Chicago whiskey lovers to drink more brandy. “I had decided to find familiar ingredients and introduce new concepts with them. There are so many amazing cocktails at a lot of places in Chicago, so it was a matter of standing apart from the others and paying tribute to the reason why we’re here in the first place—honoring the classics and reimagining them with bespoke ingredients.”
“I was spending so much time writing Boleo,” Jess continues, referring to the sister restaurant at The Kimpton Grey Hotel. “I was having a hard time switching gears to write Vol. 39’s menu, especially because it didn’t have an identity yet. The concept was easily interpreted in a lot of ways. So, I ended up creating Henry and Violette. I use the juxtaposition of the two characters to create balance.”
But it wasn’t until the two had co-written copy for the first chapter in Henry and Violette’s adventures that the cocktail menu for Vol. 39 began to take shape.
The Classics on Vol. 39's cocktail menu are “a representation of how both our characters are grounded in tradition but then reimagined with a bit of playfulness.” And while every classic has a twist, “the New and Nuanced cocktail section is where the story changes the most. It’s a departure from the classics and more of where the next chapter in Henry and Violette’s story comes in.”
Each cocktail menu at Vol. 39 begins with the current chapter of Henry and Violette’s lives. The entire bar staff of Vol. 39 gets involved in the story of Henry and Violette. Each menu takes two things into consideration: what the spirit guides are doing and the theme of the ingredients. Bar staff often contribute recipes from their personal lives or memories and together they create each new chapter in the story. Most patrons aren’t aware that this is part of a much bigger story dating all the way back to 2016. Previous chapters of the story are recorded for posterity but are not on display at the bar. What you see on the menu is what you get (unless, of course, you ask).
“I don’t need guests to fully understand the story,” Jess emphasizes. “I just want them to feel transported. I want them to feel like Vol. 39 is their place of refuge, escape, connection, celebration. It should be a unique experience for each person that comes in. Everyone will interpret this journey differently. As long as we’re able to convey a feeling and impact them in a meaningful way.”
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