Chicago: The Aviary

Of course I’ve been obsessed with The Aviary, and every other Achatz culinary adventure since my visit to Alinea. Not just a cocktail lounge, this is a theatrical experience that will provide you with stories to share with friends for years to come. I don’t consider myself a “one upper”, but I have a few brags like purchasing $13 shots of Malort, minnow shots, and now sticking my head in a plastic bag to inhale my cocktail, that I like to throw in your average drinking Show & Tell hour.

While spending the weekend at Chicago’s Riot Fest punk/alternative rock festival this fall, we headed to The Aviary for a change of scenery. As the first ones to arrive when doors opened at 5pm, I wondered if we seemed to eager but immediately decided I didn’t give a fuhhhch. It was a beautiful room, wrapped in soft high-backed lounge seating, prime for participants and voyeurs alike. Our waiter was attentive, informative and rolled with dumb jokes as if he wasn’t selling us $26 cocktails but slinging $2 PBR’s (albeit sophisticated slinging of shitty beer). While we stayed for a few rounds, I’ll attempt to quickly highlight the best here.

The picturesque favorite: First ordered was the beautifully encased, gradually infusing 3 in 441. Skeptical when our waiter explained that the cocktail would continue to change flavors and mature, this experience was like a flight of cocktails in one vessel. From start to finish, it changed from a clear, champagne color to burgundy, and the flavor progressed with it.

The Interactive game for nostalgic cartoon lovers: My cocktail arrived looking like a drinkable interpretation of a cartoon character, aptly named Bring Another Smurf! Topped with a crisp of a coconut mouthful, I was instructed to eat the topping, then blow into the straw to break through the barrier dividing the top liquor from the bottom. Given permission to blow bubbles into my drink until it changes color and mixes together was music to the ears of my inner five-year-old.

The Party Trick: (719)26-OATES was delivered to our table in a clear plastic bag. The waiter, in her scripted delivery, instructed me to “ignore what your parents told you about sticking your head in a plastic bag, and when I slice the side open, stick your face inside and inhale deeply”. As instructed, I earned a huge whiff of homemade oatmeal cookies. If holding your nose when you eat something gross to mask the flavor has any merit, this had the opposite effect. With a primed palate, I removed my cocktail from the bag, and enjoyed every sip of it as the scent lingered.

In addition to the cocktails, we ordered a chicharrone that stood about 2.5′ tall, and a real crowd pleaser if you want the entire room to stare at you and be aware of each breaking bite you take. We also order the oysters with mango ice caviar, and took advantage of just about every featured bite sold swinging/wheeled/presented to us periodically through the meal.

So, is it worth the $150 and all the banter? Yes. Some people go to the theater, spend $60 a person and drink $9 glasses of sub par wine in the lobby while discussing “what a fantastic show” it was. And I feel like this experience is that but more- a full experience of all of your senses including a show, a buzz, some photos, and a story for later.


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