I've never written about a singular cocktail bar before, but I've also never been to a cocktail lounge quite like The Aviary in Chicago. The Aviary is the brainchild of one of my favorite chef's Grant Achatz, the man behind Alinea and Next, where I recently dined. The bar utilizes a lot of the trickery and food science that Alinea does, in addition they use specially designed barware to showcase drinks in a new and truly unique way.
The Aviary works in a similar way to Achatz's Alinea and Next where you buy "tickets" to reserve your experience. There's a 7-course food and cocktail pairing experience ($165) or you could choose a 3, 4 or 5-course cocktail tasting menu with paired bites ($65-$130). Or, you can slip in like we did after dining at Next. We told our waiter we'd really love to have an after dinner drink next door at The Aviary if it was possible. They kept tabs and asked if we'd be ok standing at one of the high top tables right next the mixologists. To me, that was the best seat, or non-seat, in the house.
It was hard to know if we were in a cage or the kitchen was in a cage, but a metal fence separated us from them, which was probably for the best given all of the action going on. The second we stepped in to The Aviary, darkness gave way to light only coming from the kitchen area where it looked like a team of scientists were bent over various experiments.
There were huge plumes of smoke, colors and smells erupting when we entered. The menu contains about 18 cocktail creations that range in price from $18 - 30 each. Don't expect to see a vodka tonic on this list. In fact, don't expect to recognize anything or think you've ever tasted anything quite like these drinks
The cocktails have a complexity barometer next to each, represented by a flying bird. The further the bird has flown to the left of the menu, the more complex the drink, and likely the expense. Yes, flying birds on a cocktail menu, that's where we are.
There are drinks served in bags infused with smells where you're supposed to stick your nose in as soon as it's ripped open to prep your palate for the drink to come.
My drink, Bring Another Smurf!, comes in a pretty glass tea pot looking glass. Layers of colorful Mezcal, coconut and finger lime sit on top of each other and then the server instructed me to blow into the long glass spout and blow bubbles into the main bowl of the drink. Yup, I was blowing bubbles. I was told, blow, blow, blow and then stop! Now suck and sip in the cocktail. It was good fun and a great layered taste of tropical flavors, which I can only imagine are better than anything else having to do with a smurf.
My friend ordered the 3 in 441. The 3 stands for the number of barrels of the drink's liquor that were created in the country. So yeah, The Aviary got 1 of the barrels, a 7 year genever, similar to a gin. It was mixed with a wide range of herbs and spices like hibiscus and elderflower. The longer the drink sat, the more infused the flavors became. It was a different drink at the beginning than at the end with many more floral notes developed.
The food menu runs from crispy pork skins to octopus croquette, mushroom chips and the infamous black truffle explosion, make famous after it spent quite some time on Alinea's menu. It's no longer served there, but the one bite wonder is now at The Aviary and makes for a wonderful starter or even dessert.
There's beer, wine, champagne and spirit flights offered as well, but do me a favor, don't go to The Aviary and drink a beer. Just stay home. This is still a tough place to get in, but they do take walk-ins each night if you feel like gambling. I'm also thinking eating at Next might increase your chances of grabbing a pre or post dinner cocktail.
I continue to be impressed by the creativity that Chef Grant Achatz and his team deliver by way of ingredients, pairings, platings and ambiance. I look forward to seeing what's next!
955 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607