Never before has an evening at a cocktail bar been such a theatrical experience. My expectations were high after hearing the hype surrounding Aviary, the recently-opened hotspot of chef Grant Achatz and business partner Nick Kokonas (other projects include Alinea and Next). Visions of smoke, mirrors, and white-coats working in laboratories floated through my head...It turns out I wasn't that far off.
In many ways, Aviary feels more like a restaurant than a bar. This isn't the place to mingle with strangers or stop by to join a group; rather, it's a place to sit back with friends and sip with leisure. Like all kitchens, Aviary has an executive chef in charge: Craig Schoettler. Peer into the cages (inspired by the bar's name) and you'll see Schoettler and his team carefully crafting cocktails without distraction.
So, how are the drinks? While all are undoubtedly beautiful, some linger in the memory more than others. Most are interactive and engaging in some way, whether it's pouring the final carafe of tomato juice and vodka into the deconstructed Bloody Mary ($18) or watching the server prepare the Rooibos ($18), brewed with tea, aromatics and spirits in a vac-pot that's brought tableside.
While it's undeniable that the drinks are seriously expensive, we found them more justifiable based on the high degree of craft and amount of top-notch ingredients that go into each one. The Aviary seems made for special occasions, whether entertaining out-of-towners or impressing a new date.
One recommendation: email ahead to secure a reservation. The Aviary does a reservation lottery, honoring a few requests every day. They often post availabilities on their Facebook page. Email firstname.lastname@example.org the morning of your desired evening out with the preferred time and size of your party, and you'll receive a response by 5 p.m.