A new take on cocktails at The Aviary

July 15, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Seats are sold online, prices fluctuate depending on the time of week, and most impressive, the complete menu changes every three months. But they've also built a modern cocktail lounge right next door to the restaurant.

Classic cocktails have been making a comeback for years, but The Aviary moves to its own beat. There are two philosophies at work here: a throwback in the basement, and upstairs, a futuristic look at what cocktails can truly be.

If there were such a thing as rules for cocktails, The Aviary was designed, it seems, to break them all.

"And sounds kind of ridiculous, but once you start writing everything down on paper and then you challenge every aspect of what it's supposed to be, you come up with a whole new set of rules," said The Aviary's co-owner Grant Achatz.

Part of that philosophy is treating drinks differently.

"We see spirits and cocktails here as essentially a dish, but instead of it being food or something you chew on, it's something you drink," said Head Bar "Chef" Craig Schoettler.

There are small bites here, but with respect to the drinks, five bar "chefs" are responsible for making just four drinks each. One of things you notice right away - in drinks like "The Blueberry" - is not only the peels, zest, fresh herbs and fruits used, but also the custom-made serving vessels.

"And one of the things that helps you get there in the cocktail world and in the culinary world is equipment to help you manipulate, or manufacture or create different components of the cocktail," said Achatz.

The Rooibos is a perfect example: orange peel, lemon zest and cinnamon are placed into a vacuum pot along with tea and cardamom. A teapot is filled with gin, then heated at the table, drawing the liquid into the aromatics. Remove the heat, and the infused alcohol drops back into the pot. Just like high school chemistry lab.

Even more impressive: the Ice Room, a place to geek-out on all things sub-zero. Milk is frozen into different shapes, even along the insides of glasses; water balloons are used to make frozen "eggs" which are then hollowed-out.

"So we take the syringe, we fill it up with an old fashioned. So it's Eagle Rare 10 year, demerara sugar, some Angostura bitters and a little water," Schoettler said.

At the table, a nifty slingshot is used to break the egg, creating a drink called simply "In The Rocks."

Then there's the downstairs: an invite-only, retro-speakeasy, where Schoettler goes way beyond old school, serving cocktails inspired by turn-of-the-century ingredients.

"We're using the same mentality in the exercise of creating housemade tinctures and using those as our spice cabinet, so we're seasoning drinks with flavor profiles you can't buy in a bottle at a liquor store to help to try and create drinks that are not familiar, but still excite people and are still interesting and fun and new," said Schoettler.

Walk-ins are available, and they also take reservations, which are easier to come by if you follow them on Facebook.

The Aviary recently changed its hours. It is now closed Sunday and Monday.

The Aviary
955 W Fulton Market (connected to Next restaurant)
6 pm - 1:30 a.m. (closed Mon. & Tues.)
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