Since Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas opened The Aviary in 2011, their science-and-tech-heavy methods have blurred the line between bar and lab. Under the direction of Achatz and beverage director Micah Melton, a New York City branch of The Aviary, along with its quasi-speakeasy counterpart, The Office, is scheduled to open at the Mandarin Oriental in the Time Warner Center this summer, overtaking both the historic 35th floor Lobby Cocktail Lounge and the hotel’s eponymous bar.
“It’s awesome making an update in a concept of a room that’s so iconic,” says Melton. “When I see the space, I want to add the good food, good drinks component.”
For six years and counting, The Aviary’s staff has circumvented any traditional notions of bartending and craft cocktails. Its cooks have chopped, smoked, infused, frozen and spherified ingredients at prep stations, treating each drink as if it were being served at a Michelin-starred restaurant. A pioneering ice program, with frozen liquid that spices and flavors beverages rather than just diluting them, further highlights such innovation, as does the barware, like the vacuum flask for the Rooibos tea cocktail.
Not long after The Aviary’s opening, The Alinea Group began discussing with the Mandarin Oriental the potential for collaborative efforts. Kokonas says that although the hotel chain wanted to develop a restaurant, a bar made more sense.
“The main reason is consistency of the product,” says Kokonas. “We can reproduce perfect cocktails almost anywhere in the world because they are more about science and math versus the art of cooking.”
Melton explains that while The Office in Chicago focuses on whiskey and Chartreuse, he believes this specialization will change in New York, where they hope to introduce a blend of hard-to-find New York and Chicago spirits. Furthermore, he and Kokonas both agree that The Aviary NYC will feature adaptations to drinks that pay homage to the Big Apple’s cocktail history.
“The Porthole, In the Rocks, even Jungle Bird—it makes a lot of sense to serve these classic drinks, even if not in their exact iteration,” says Melton. “But obviously we want the drinks to be inspired by the space, the city, the bartenders from the city.”
But beyond the Chicago or New York City locations, Achatz and company are hoping to bring The Aviary brand to people’s homes this year. A Kickstarter for a recipe book was announced earlier this May in collaboration with artists Sarah Hemberger and Allen Hemberger, the author of The Alinea Project.
“We want people to use it, we want it to be functional, but we also understand people want to look at the photos,” says Melton. He adds that almost all of the cocktails are “replicable, as far as you can get into,” and that although they use grams in-house for precision, the books will include conversions for ounces and milliliters.
Melton and Kokonas note that timing between the book announcement and The Aviary NYC opening was purely coincidental. “It’s not going to be out when The Aviary NYC opens, but it helps push the brand as a whole,” says Meltons, hinting at future goals of expanding The Aviary beyond the two metropolitan capitals. “[The Aviary] is actually designed to feel like a hotel bar, so it makes sense to do more, and the Mandarin is a great hotel group to do that with.”