2015 Chicago Rising Star Bartender Tyler Fry of The Violet Hour

2015 Chicago Rising Star Bartender Tyler Fry of The Violet Hour
May 2015

Tea time and happy hour are only separated by a few hours, but culturally they’re light years apart (as in no amount of Lapsang Souchong will require a designated driver). However, for Tyler Fry, the world of tea ended up becoming a kind of inadvertent gateway to tending bar.

After years of Japanese study, and his first exposure to real tea abroad, Fry became a tea specialist, working for years in the tea industry in Omaha, Nebraska before he ever got behind a bar. A fateful earthquake and tsunami were the only things that kept him from returning to Japan for further tea study. What got him thinking about cocktails was a tea cocktail tasting in a small Omaha tea house. Unlike most people, Fry was actually there for the tea. Since he’d also always been intrigued by the art of the cocktail, the tea-to-cocktail transition happened fairly rapidly, and naturally.

Before the age of 21, Fry was amateur-ly mixing cocktails in his parents’ basement (with less than choice product). That eventually gave way to his first bar program in Omaha, and a move to Chicago for his current gig at Violet Hour under industry veteran Toby Maloney—whose recipes the self-described cocktail geek, Fry, had already thoroughly studied. While his professional future will no doubt contain more tea than most, Fry is decidedly, and expertly, a bartender, mixing with the delicate sensibility of someone who appreciates the long steep of tradition.


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About: Wine To Water provides clean water to people around the world, giving the fortunate population an opportunity to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.


Interview with Chicago Rising Star Bartender Tyler Fry of Violet Hour

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start in the industry?
Tyler Fry:
I actually started off as a tea guy. I began learning about it in high school during my Japanese class and I worked at a tea shop. One day my mentor did a tea cocktail tasting and that changed everything. He set me off with the right books and places. He even got me a gig at the Side Door in Omaha.

CH: Who are your mentors?
TF:
Christopher Yohmei Blasdel, who taught me shakuhachi and aikido. Guy Haskell for aikido. In terms of spirits and cocktails, Dan Crowell, Toby Maloney, and all bartenders who have come before me.

CH: What is the philosophy behind your work?
TF:
At Violet Hour, we like to mix something old with something new, and to that I like to add my own personal traits and quips. Tea often comes into play. I also practice aikido and use those philosophies in my job all the time. I move with my center.

CH: You use a number of Japanese flavors in your drinks, have you ever been?
TF:
I have. I was getting ready to go again to study in Kyoto, but the earthquake and tsunami happened, so I wasn’t able to go.

CH: What is the most underrated cocktail ingredient?
TF:
Sugar. We all want dry drinks, but sweet-shaming is a sad epidemic. Sugar is flavor. So is salt.

CH: What is a cocktail trend you most would like to see?
TF:
I don't believe the “classic” drinks we revere are really enjoyed “classically.” I'm not saying we should go back to drinking eye-openers or as medicine at 10 a.m., but two things I would like to see change is how we serve and drink cocktails—stirred drinks like martinis and Manhattans get smaller. Also, the V-shaped cocktail glass or “tini” glass we've all been shying away from the last couple of decades—it's coming back, smaller.

CH: What’s your five year plan?
TF:
I’m a bartender, that’s my life. There are some good projects on the horizons. I foresee distilling as becoming big amongst bartenders in the future. Maybe I will be making absinthe or gin, possibly importing. If I opened a bar, it would be 100 percent herb-focused.