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A Look Inside The Aviary on Opening Day; See Why People Waited Six Hours For the First Sip

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The Blueberry yields many drinks to share
The Blueberry yields many drinks to share

On Friday afternoon, Grant Achatz tweeted that Aviary would open its doors at 6 p.m. the following day, and it didn't take long for the word to spread. By 12:15 p.m. Saturday, the first people got in line and when they were let in nearly six hours later, the line had grown to stretch down Morgan Street and around the corner onto Fulton. Yes, people were eager to get a taste of what Achatz, Craig Schoettler and their team had been working on for months. And it didn't disappoint.

James Gordon and his wife, Sarah, drove in from their West Suburban home to stake their place in line. Jason N. came from the far northern 'burbs and was second in line around 3:30. And James Nelson popped down from North Center shortly thereafter. And not only would these early arrivals get first dibs at the cocktails, but they got an added bonus: dinner with Achatz.

Jason N. (who asked we not use his last name) said that around 4 p.m., he and the others who arrived early, were invited inside to share staff meal with Achatz, Next exec chef Dave Beran and the rest of the staff. They dined on paella and salad, conversed with the chefs and got a tour of the space. As for why they arrived so early? "They're doing stuff that no one else is with cocktails," James Gordon said. "We can't make what they make at home." His wife, Sarah, followed that up with, "It's like drinking Alinea." And in many ways, she's right.

Just before opening at 6 p.m., more than 100 people waited to get inside the brand-new lounge. As guests walked in, they were greeted in the Gallery with tables topped with fresh grass where a refreshing amuse of a cocktail with strawberry juice, Beefeater gin, distilled sorrel, creme de violet and ice spheres infused with Peychaud's bitter.

After that, with down tempo music setting the mood and the sun shining through the sheer curtains from the west, guests were handed the Aviary menu. Opening the first flap, it's explained that the graphical birds on the front page correspond to each handcrafted cocktail's level of complexity: the farther out they fly, the more difficult the cocktail. The menu itself is organized from sweeter, lighter drinks up top leading down to cocktails that tend more toward being bitter or dry. Orders are taken on and transmitted to the kitchen via the iPos Aviary proprietary software on the iPhone. There were a few glitches getting the order sent, but it was opening day after all.

During our two-plus hour visit, we tasted through several cocktails, including the Ginger, Aviary's take on a Moscow Mule. The presentation was stunning: ice was layered like snow cascading down the side of a hill with the ingredients on top : fresh ginger, shiso, bright red thai chile, fingerlime. A small carafe of Karlsson's vodka was then poured over top, mixing everything together. We had the Pineapple, a simple combination of mint, sanbitter and chartreuse served in a glass where the ice is frozen to the inside, keeping your drink at a constant chill.

The interactive In the Rocks, a playful take on an old fashioned, was served in an "egg of joy" as our server called it. To get to the drink, you need to crack open the ice shell with a small rubber band-like tool created by Martin Kastner. Other people around us ordered even more intricate cocktails, including the Bluberry, served in a cylindrical sphere reminiscent of a space-aged tea kettle; and the Rooibos served in a bunson burner-like glass apparatus, which allows you to feel like you're participating in a science experiment.

The "bites," a series of single-bite finger food, give patrons an opportunity to sample what the food is like at Alinea for a fraction of the cost. Each, like the creamy pork belly with coconut and curry on an iceberg leaf; the wagyu beef topped with pumpkin seed and a sticky smoked paprika and the chowder croquette filled with clam and a spicy corn pudding (honest, we wanted an entire bowl of this), are served on small platters where the leaves come off, giving the diner a tiny plate.

By the time we left around 8:30, the line was still stretching down Morgan. We have a feeling it'll be like that for quite some time.
· Aviary Opening Saturday at 6 p.m. [~EChi~]
· Inside The Aviary: Garden-Inspired Design; Unique One Bites and a Specially Crafted "Bar" [~EChi~]

UPDATE: Shortly after we posted this, our friends over at Details let us know they spoke with Achatz and Schoettler and got them to break down the cocktails and menu, drink by drink. Pretty cool stuff. Go check it out.

The Aviary

955 N. Morgan St & W. Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607 Visit Website

Next Restaurant

953 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607 312 226 0858 Visit Website

Alinea

1723 North Halsted Street, , IL 60614 Visit Website

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