If you have read my post on Alinea, you will know I am unashamedly obsessed. Grant Achatz’s most highly acclaimed restaurant, it is a Chicago must for any food lover, but it does come with a hefty price-tag. Just as much mad science, alchemy, apothecary and liquid nitrogen can be experienced at The Aviary, although here the focus is cocktails, bringing together all of these deliciously deadly elements in any dipsomaniac’s worst nightmare. It isn’t cheaper so much as more affordable, with the option to order as little or as much as you like, and believe me you will like.
The night is young when we arrive, but not for some as we’re told the wait will be an hour with the place already packed at 6:30pm. We head down the road to the Publican for a quick tipple before returning 45 minutes later to an empty house. The crowd here seems to move in waves similar to that of your vision after a few sips of the cocktail float (below).
Known for its molecular mixology, weird and wonderful ice displays (for which they have a dedicated “ice chef”) and various gadgets used in both the making and presentation of nibbles and drinks, the Aviary is not your average after-work watering-hole. In fact some of the tools and techniques you’ll probably never have heard of before, with items like Crucial Detail’s the Porthole having made their debut in this very room.
The gentlemen to our right have ordered the Rob Roy – lavender air, pedro ximenez 1985, scotch. That’s right, you heard me, lavender air, which is made using a volcano vaporizer. Their waitress dramatically takes to the paper-thin plastic bag, in which it is enclosed, with a kitchen knife, while floral wisps gently transmit through the air before vanishing completely.
The Aviary has its own bar menu, and the option of reserving the two-person kitchen table inside the chef’s cage where you will receive ten drink courses with paired food. Next next door is a more food-focused affair where a three-course menu is offered for $50, a seven-course $125.
Don’t come here hoping to drown the night away after a bad day, this isn’t the place where you can sit on a stool and chat to the bartender about your woes. Do come here to be wowed, tantalised and sensorily overloaded. A trip past the kitchen (or is it the bar?) on the way through gives you a nice insight into what lies ahead, with chefs/bartenders/mixologists busily concocting their next experimental poison. Having truly defined the art of the cocktail, The Aviary impresses, soothes and delights in all the right ways, and has truly raised the bar on drinking in Chicago.