The Spot – Hangouts you should visit at least once in your life.
Not long after Chicago celebrity chef Grant Achatz – he of Alinea renown- and his business partner Nick Kokonas opened The Aviary on West Fulton Market it was showered with rave reviews. It immediately became the hangout for the sophisticated and the chic. Cocktails were elevated to a new height. Achatz takes the position that cocktail serving staff should be trained as chefs, bringing the same attention to detail in the concoction of a beverage that one would expect for a full meal. But if by local standards the cocktails are pricey, they really don’t stand out as that expensive in European terms. Frankly, they seem normally priced compared with high-end cocktail bars in London, Paris or Milan.
One of the many differences between generic upmarket cocktail lounges and Achatz’s joint, however, is that few bring such creativity and new twists to the production of a far from simple drink. The highly professional and charming staff present patrons with their ordered cocktails as a delightful treasure trove in which the finishing details are fundamentally interactive: carafes in which the alcoholic loveliness has to be coaxed out through inserted fruit, fascinating bubbling flasks from which infusions have to be poured or even ‘eggs’ that have to be cracked, enabling the bourbon to escape. For some, this cocktail theatricality may all seem a little unnecessary. For most however, it’s all part of the fun.
In the true tradition of a Chicago speakeasy this exclusive venue is hidden behind a pretty bland façade that gives little away: this is a place you have to know about. Inside, however, it’s a different matter altogether. The relatively intimate space is occupied by a comfortable upmarket simplicity; booths that offer privacy and more socially outgoing standing areas though there is no bar. The skilled staff concoct their boozy tastiness at a work station visible through a cage-like screen; presumably in the aviary. Oh, yes, and in case you didn’t notice, there’s all that Michelin-approved cuisine that comes out of the kitchen too…
Those who are really lucky might even be invited downstairs for a drink in the ‘invitation only’ bar. The Office. Here, things have a more clubroom feel with leather chairs and a whiff of Chicago’s Prohibition past.
The Aviary is one of those worldly, urbane places that can put you in exactly the right mood. The history of the cocktail and Chicago itself are strongly linked. During Prohibition, the cocktail flourished primarily as a means of disguising the dodgy bootleg alcohol available and nowhere had more speakeasies than Chicago. The Aviary and the downstairs “office” are the perfect place to raise a glass to toast the once pragmatic reasons for mixing drinks that have been turned into an art form.