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955 W Fulton Market, Chicago

by Hamish Smith

What happens if a venue takes a fine-dining approach to cocktails? If the drinks are made by liquid chefs in a kitchen, their creations brought like plated courses to tables by hospitable and knowledgeable servers? The Aviary is what happens – and since it opened in 2011 it has redefined the way we view bars. Indeed, this is a member of The World’s 50 Best Bars and it doesn’t even have one.

Aviary’s drinks are precise yet theatrical, fun yet intellectual, and at times they compel quiet contemplation. This is why the atmosphere borrowed from parent three Michelin-starred restaurant Alinea works. A bustling bar would only jar against the beauty of the performance.

The ‘porthole’ serve – called 3 in 44 – in which the liquor macerates as you drink, is now well known globally, but not before The Aviary did it. The ‘frozen ball’ – aka In the Rocks – which is harpooned at the table releasing its stash of whisky, is now a famous serve, but not before The Aviary did it. The list goes on.

Thirty-nine different types of ice require the attention of three full-time ice chefs who go about their frozen craft in a purpose-equipped ice room. The Aviary’s beverage director, Micah Melton, says the ice is more about adding flavour than dilution. Like ice sculptors they have hoists for blocks, chain saws for cutting, ice picks for chiselling. There are custom moulds for ice pearls – tiny flavoured balls in different colours and sizes. Ice at The Aviary is an obsession. Here no one worries about what is practical. The Aviary just tries to produce the unseen, the undone, then worry about how to scale it later.