The Aviary NYC
Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 80 Columbus Circle, 35th Fl, Upper West Side
The Place: The infamously innovative “bar experience” brainchild of Grant Achatz, Chicago’s molecular gastronomy wizard.
The Time: Sunday September 29, 4:45pm. Yeah, it’s Rosh Hashanah. And I am in fact going to temple with my mother. BUT my boyfriend and I spent the day at the Whitney and after I made my way to the Upper West Side, I realized I had an hour before the Shofar blast. As someone who loves cocktails, I’ve been wanting to go to The Aviary since the New York outpost opened two years ago, and I can’t think of a better way to ring in the new year than with an elaborate cocktail.
The Vibe: The elevator opens on the 35th floor and suddenly I’m in the lobby of a hotel that I cannot afford to stay at. I head to the hostess stand and tell her it’s just me for a drink at the bar. She tells me that there is no bar to sit at and instead leads me to a table. It feels like a modern yet old-school yet futuristic version of a place the Mad Men guys would get drinks post-work. It’s super swanky, with gold-laced accents; everyone and everything drips wealth. But the views are truly stunning and I absolutely get the appeal. There aren’t too many people here; a double date at a window seat, a couple scrolling on their phones instead of speaking actual words, rich tourists taking photos of the cityscape. I’m a little bummed that I can’t sit at the bar -- it’s behind glass and looks more like chefs cooking in an open kitchen in a fancy restaurant than bartenders mixing drinks at a bar. Perhaps that’s the point, to transform cocktails into culinary creations. Still. I’m reading Liquid Intelligence right now and I would nerd out so fucking hard if I could see some of the gadgets and machinery involved in making everything.
The Bartender: In this case, it’s my server, John. (I know his name because all the staff wear name tags, reminding me that, yes, I am still an interloper in a hotel where a one night stay costs more than my rent.) John is so excited about everything and dives deep into The Aviary’s philosophy when I say I haven’t been here before. His enthusiasm for this bar, and seemingly life, is infectious. John waxes poetic about the mimosa, which “isn’t just a mimosa” but in fact has vodka ice cubes so the drink gets boozier with time. He also gives me plenty of detail when I say I’m deciding between the Margarita-ish and the Green Maria. When I remember that I have to sit through a two hour Rosh Hashanah service like a normal Jewish human, I go for the Green Maria, The Aviary’s version of a Bloody Mary, because it sounds like it won’t cause me to sway when I’m asked to “please rise.”
The Drank: The Green Maria, with its combo of tequila, tomatillo and cilantro, is refreshing and savory, and is probably the first and maybe only time I will ever enjoy celery. (ALSO this is the first and maybe only time a server will basically insist on taking a picture of me drinking a cocktail.) While delicious and surprising, I’m slightly disappointed that it looks more or less like a regular drink. Everything I’ve heard about this place led me to believe that each cocktail would be served in a fish bowl, or in a beaker that’s on fire, or that it would, I don’t know, float to me from the bar like the owls that deliver packages in Harry Potter. I take a look at the menu again. Mimosa, Bloody Mary, Vietnamese Coffee. Maybe these are just the brunch drinks? I can’t find anything at the bar or on the internet to confirm this theory. But, brunch drink or not, with tax and tip this molecular puppy costs me $30. Shana Tova to me, I guess.
Was I Hit On?: No, but I’ll say it would be tricky for anyone to smoothly come over and make a move on me, based on the layout of deliberately placed couches and lounge chairs. Though everyone who comes in and gets seated somewhere that’s not at the window asks if they can sit by the window and is AGHAST when told they cannot. Also the guy behind me won’t shut the fuck up to his date about rooibos tea, so I’m grateful I only have to talk to John.
Should You Drink Here Alone?: Look. I had a lovely time chilling by myself with my scientific green juice on this High Holy Day. But if I were you, I would make a reservation far in advance, bring 3 of my richest friends and order every cocktail on the menu. The Aviary is known for its theatrics, so get a front-row seat and enjoy the show.