Located on the second floor of The Kimpton Gray Hotel, Vol. 39 has a reputation for being a sophisticated cocktail bar. As found within Chicago’s Loop, Vol. 39 offers up “a menu of bespoke cocktails with a nod to the classics, an extensive list of fine wines and spirits as well as a tempting menu of small plates.” And one of the spot’s most popular cocktails is the Plum Forgot.
I had the pleasure of asking Vol. 39’s Dylan Knox, head bartender and creator of the Plum Forgot about his past, present and future as a bartender.
How did you become a bartender?
Dylan Knox: I started bartending while in college at University of Illinois, at a campus sports bar called Legends. Initially, it was just for extra spending money, but I quickly came to realize how much I enjoyed working at a bar and continued to seek out new opportunities after I graduated.
And how did you wind up bartending at Vol. 39?
Dylan Knox: I was a regular at Sable, another Kimpton property, during my time working at a steakhouse in River North. My time sitting at the bar really fueled my passion towards cocktail and spirits knowledge and I made it my goal to continue my career along that path. When Vol. 39 opened up at the Gray hotel, it seemed like the perfect place.
Do you have a favorite menu on the Vol. 39 menu?
Dylan Knox: It’s hard to beat our Vintage Old Fashioned, which is made with a 30-year-old Armagnac and Bourbon Barrel smoked sugar.
I’ve read about a new cocktail you’ve created called the Plum Forgot. What can you tell me about it!
Dylan Knox: It started with a sample of an aged Umeboshi Vinegar we received from Rare Tea Cellars. Ume plum vinegar is the briny by-product of pickled ume plums. On its own, it’s extremely salty and briny and potent, and I wanted to create a cocktail that elevated those flavors. We use Rhine Hall Plum Brandy to bring out the Ume plum flavors, and honey to provide a sweet contrast to the briny vinegar. The Monkey 47 gin does an incredible job of standing up to the big flavors present in the rest of the cocktail. The balance of fruity sweetness and fresh pine present in the gin makes the cocktail work like no other gin could.
When did you first become aware of Monkey 47 gin?
Dylan Knox: I remember hearing about Monkey 47 gin through other bartenders and being drawn to the bottle sitting on the back bar one day. The smaller size bottle and old timely looking label caught my eye, and I’ve been drinking it ever since. I still can’t find a gin that stands up to it in a martini.
What do you wish more people knew about life behind the bar?
Dylan Knox: I think it has gotten better in recent years, but it’s always disheartening when people ask what my “real” job is or “is this all you do?” Working behind the bar is incredibly taxing — both physically and mentally — and rewarding, and it is one hundred percent a viable career path that should not carry any sort of negative stigma.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Dylan Knox: The people! Both the people I work with and those who sit at the bar. Sharing whatever knowledge and experience I may have with people who are similarly interested is so much more rewarding than simply making a really delicious cocktail.
When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?
Dylan Knox: I spend a lot of time at home cooking and hanging out with my dog and two cats. I love going to concerts and going out to new bars and restaurants as well, it helps me a lot with new ideas behind my bar. I also play Dungeons and Dragons with my friends every week, which is how I de-stress and exercise my creativity while not working.
What was the last concert you attended for fun?
Dylan Knox: The last concert I went to was Boygenius at Thalia Hall. It’s Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, and Julien Baker on an EP together and it was one of my favorite concerts I’ve ever been to.
I do realize that I’m interviewing a bartender, but it’s my standard closing question: Finally, any last words for the kids?
Dylan Knox: I think I said my piece! Thank you so much for this opportunity, and cheers!