Fate continued to smile on us after our dinner at Next Restaurant, as Gareth and I went to The Aviary, the new cocktail bar from Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas. Visiting Chicago just to experience their creative cocktails would not be a bad idea. Where else might you find an “ice chef?” Peychaud’s bitters ice cubes are soft and crunchy in the Rhubarb, made with lemon balm, tonic, cocchi and gin.
A beautiful view of the kitchen at work unfolded before us in our first few minutes. They brought us two watermelon shooters as an amuse. My only prior experience with this delight was in photos so I was super excited to experience it in the flesh. Though it was a bit of a tease as there was a dash of soy sauce in the ingredients which put it off limits for me.
Gareth was there to rescue mine and insure that it was enjoyed by one immune to gluten. We spent time pouring over the menu unsure how we would make the seemingly impossible decision of actually deciding what to order. Then our server surprised us with a new shooter that they made especially for me without the soy sauce. The service that evening, at Next and The Aviary, was nonpareil. All our servers seemed as excited to be there as we were, which is especially amazing since we were on vacation and they were at work.
After the amuse, they found a space for us in the comfy lounge area. We were then finally forced to choose from the many options on the menu. We both opted for the “Tasting Menu” consisting of three different drinks – Gareth selected the Sorrell – made with raspberry and champagne, the Dark & Stormy – made with black seal rum and house-made ginger beer and served in a brown paper bag, and a Root Beer – made with vanilla, sassafrass and kirsch. (aside: they also offer a much more extensive Chef’s Tasting Menu if you reserve in advance)
I chose the Rhubarb (after seeing the beautiful ice on a neighboring table), the Bitter – made with amaro, bonal, apple brandy and cognac, served from a smoky glass, and the Cold Chocolate – made with Ecuadorian chocolate, fernet, bourbon and ice cream ice cubes – remember, they have an “ice chef!”
Making the most of our short time in Chicago, we then directed our attention to the a la carte menu. After witnessing the creative heating of a cocktail nearby, we had to order the Rooibos, which was made with lavender, almond, vanilla and gin. Our eyes always prowling other table’s selections (a common happening at the Aviary according to Chef Craig Schoettler), we spotted the 2 in 1 – a carbonated negroni combined with a white lady and made with gin.
When we were invited down to The Office, the smaller bar downstairs, we couldn’t believe our luck. When I read about the invitation-only speakeasy before vacation, it never even crossed my mind that I could be so fortunate. The drinks are all stirred or shaken, rather than some of the more wild presentations upstairs, with cocktail and food choices that are all unique from The Aviary’s menu.
The magic of the evening continued with another incredible experience at the hands of Grant Achatz’s team. Undeterred by our earlier consumption at Next, duty compelled us to explore the food offerings while we were at The Office. Carpe diem.
Three cocktails, six oysters, an ice cream sundae for two, foie gras with black truffles and creamed morels. Carpe diem indeed.
Only the 2 a.m. closing could get us out of there. The best description of the Office I’ve seen is on Time Out Chicago’s site: “In every part of the experience – the exclusivity, the perfection, the nostalgia – lies the genius of the Office, where to spend lavish amounts of money on fleeting pleasures feels not like a sacrifice but rather a distinct privilege.”
I hope to have the opportunity to return one day soon.
Address: The Aviary, N Morgan St & W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607
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