When the brains behind Chicago molecular gastronomy giants Alinea and Next set their sights cocktail-ward, it was fairly safe to assume the path was going to veer slightly left of centre from your average watering hole. Armed with their signature inventiveness, passion and a dedicated team of highly-trained ‘chefs’ (not bartenders or, heaven forbid, ‘mixologists’), Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas have propelled cocktails into a new dimension with the opening of The Aviary in Chicago’s meatpacking district.
Behind a stainless steel bar, stationed chefs have all manner of curious tools at their creative disposal, from canisters, scales, steel tubs, flasks and liquid nitrogen, to 30 types of glasses, 20 varieties of ice, and a range of crazy ideas that have come direct from Alinea’s instruction book. Old Fashioneds are served in hollow orbs of ice and cracked open with a flourish via slingshot upon presentation, and what the layman would call a Moscow Mule (here deconstructed and reborn as ‘Ginger’) is served partly as liquid in a lightbulb-esque vessel, alongside lemon pods, frozen ginger and tweezer-placed micro mint and shiso leaves. Despite the precision and showmanship, the atmosphere remains far from stuffy, with the knowledgeable staff happy to interact and answer all the questions you’re bound to have. Try the ‘tasting’ menu and watch the magic unfold with an accompanying series of delectable small-bites plates. Abracadabra!