It’s been a while since I’ve been excited about a cocktail bar in New York. Heck, it’s been a while since I’ve even had the motivation to go out and drink actual cocktails. Friends always ask me what’s going on with Dipsology and the answer is not a whole lot. Where Bartenders Drink hit shelves in the spring (and got nominated for a Tasty award!), Adrienne moved to Napa where she drinks lots of wine, and I pretty much went from drinking several nights a week to once or twice a month. I might reboot the project in the form of a new site or app, but for now it’s on indefinite pause. Til then, I’ll try to share noteworthy drink experiences I come across here.
I’m excited about the Aviary for a few reasons. The original in Chicago, which is adjacent to Alinea, knocked my socks off when I went a few years ago. Grant Achatz is a culinary giant who brings spectacle and whimsy to his food and drink without compromising flavor.
The New York edition of the Aviary is located on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental overlooking Central Park south. It’s one of the best views in town and for an uptown girl like me, such a relief that it’s actually north of 14th street. I don’t typically like gimmicky bars and I’m even more skeptical of bars in hotels, especially the higher the floor you’re on. I give the Aviary a pass because I genuinely think they’re trying to push boundaries both in terms of menu and presentation. There wasn’t a single drink in Chicago that I didn’t like (I did the tasting menu) and I’m happy to report that the same is true of my experience in New York (we tried 8).
If you’re intimidated by the menu, don’t be. Think of it like a food menu where you’re going to start with lighter drinks at the top and then towards the middle, find more substantial, spirit forward drinks. At the bottom are the sweeter, dessert-like cocktails. Here’s what we ordered with my Twitter-esque reviews of each:
- How Does Snoop Dog Use Lemongrass?
- Light and citrusy. Requires swizzling ingredients using lemongrass stick. Comes with mini snow pellets that are refreshing. Think adult snow cone.
- Bring Another Smurf!
- Uses butterfly pea flower, which changes color of drink from blue to purple. Pretty to look at. Coconut nibble served with it is yummy!
- Not the prettiest drink on the menu, but one of the best margaritas you’ll ever have. Best part is the mango ice cube melts and enhances flavor as you go.
- Loaded to the Gunwalls
- One of the more theatrical cocktails on the menu. They bring out a candle and a ship in a light bulb. There’s fire. End result looks like a cup of miso soup.
- Memphis Half Step
- Looks like the Old Fashioned cousin to the Margarita. What lacks in presentation is more than made up for in flavor. Get this if you like smokey, spirit forward drinks.
- Wake & Bake
- Too fun not to order. This is what everyone is going to go to this bar for. Coffee cocktail served in everything bagel smelling bag. Because New York.
- Carrot Cake Ramos
- Literally the liquid version of the best carrot cake you’ve ever had. If you have a sweet tooth, get this!
- Bloody Mary
- For $38 you’re getting the most decadent drink on the menu. It comes with 5 nibbles that all complement the drink. Good to experience once, but don’t necessary feel compelled to order again.
Food wise, the only advice I have to offer is this: get the pork skin! I didn’t think it would be anything spectacular, but there’s something about the acidity of the vinegar in the pork combined with the sweetness of the corn dip that is shockingly delicious.
The Aviary isn’t a place you just drop into and sit at the bar. It’s best if you make a reservation in advance and preferably time it with sunset. If you go with a group, you’ll have a better chance of being seated by the windows, which offer beautiful unobstructed views of Central Park and midtown. It’s also the cheapest way to make your way through the menu, which is expensive, even by New York standards.
You can also add the Aviary to your list of prime date spots or special occasion destinations. Go here for early drinks and then make your way to either Ippudo or Marea for dinner.
Bottomline: The Aviary is a great addition to New York’s thriving cocktail scene and a very welcome addition to Upper Best Side nightlife. Whether you’re a cocktail nerd or novice, I hope you go and appreciate the experience and marvel at its ambition.