Aviary: America's most inventive cocktail lounge

May 23, 2011

I think the slingshot threw me for a loop. When the Old Fashioned was placed on our table at the Aviary - Grant Achatz's and Nick Kokonos' new cocktail lounge/lab in Fulton Market - it looked like a giant ice egg, filled with brown liquid. But when our server summarily placed her hand over the glass and gave it a whack with a slingshot device that shattered the ice shell into a dozen pieces, releasing the chilled bourbon, it was part show and part technological prowess.

Aviary is to cocktail enthusiasts what Comic-Con is to X-Men fanboys: a true chance to geek-out on aromas, temperatures, bitters, spirits and serving vessels. Servers seem almost as juiced to talk about how the drinks were created as the guests are to quaff them. The open kitchen sits behind a reinforced metal latticework that resembles a cage, and if you're into seeing how the drinks are assembled, you can gawk at one of the bar chefs whipping up drinks like modern mad scientists. There is also a kitchen here serving small bites (minimum order of three); but if you've just dined at Next, they'll escort you over to a table if you like, and chances are you'll be too sated to eat anymore. Late last week they also installed a tiny table for two inside the kitchen, for a nightly pair of lucky guests.

The true genius of the place is in the basement, where Achatz and crew have maintained an almost Wonka-esque collection of freezers, circulators and distillers. He showed us how that Old Fashioned was created and ultimately, is executed, and when you watch the video, I'm sure you'll be as amazed as I was. Budget note: along with the creativity and custom-made glasses and serving vessels comes the prices - drinks average $17 here. You can get a flight of three for $50 though.