After a steady diet of beer in Chicago, we decided it was time for a break. So naturally, we hit up a cocktail lounge.
The Aviary had us at cocktail tasting menu. Located in the city’s Fulton Market meatpacking district, the Aviary is part of Chef Grant Achatz’s world-class restaurant empire. Achatz is the culinary force behind three Michelin-starred restaurant Alinea, which is famous for its molecular gastronomy.
The Aviary offers the option of a five-cocktail and 10-cocktail tasting menu, with small bites to accompany each course. As well as being a sensory experience in the art, science and pageantry of cocktail making, a visit to the Aviary is also exemplary of how to generate conversation about a brand.
And while the chichi Chicago lounge/restaurant is at the forefront of innovation in every way, like many hospitality-driven industries, the bulk of the marketing behind the Aviary is good old-fashioned word-of-mouth.
So how do you get people to share your brand? Take a cue from the Aviary, because I haven’t been able to stop talking about the place since we left the Windy City.
The technique that goes into an Aviary cocktail extends far beyond simple muddling, blending and shaking. The tools used to make each cocktail are equally as elaborate. A Japanese Yama Siphon, normally used to brew tea and coffee, becomes a tableside experiment in physics.
Liquid, along with spirits of choice, are heated in the bottom beaker to create a vapour. The vapour pushes the liquid into the top beaker where it meets exotic ingredients like fruit and botanicals. Once the flame is snuffed, the vapour cools. What goes up must come down, and the deliciously infused libation is vacuumed back into the bottom beaker before being served to guests.
The Porthole, an infusion device developed for the Aviary, is a departure from the left side of the brain. Rather than science, the carefully crafted chamber turns alcohol into art. Much like the Aviary, the Porthole is a window into another world – one that’s remarkable and worth sharing with others.
Show off your expertise
Bartenders at the Aviary aren’t mixologists. They’re skilled cocktail chefs with access to a state-of-the-art kitchen to prep their libations and intoxicate the senses of their guests.
Fragrant Matcha tea, Nelson Sauvin hops and Chicha Morada – a Peruvian beverage made from boiled blue corn, are among the freshly-sourced and housemade ingredients featured on the Aviary’s ever-changing cocktail list.
The earthy and aromatic Yuzu, for example, is brewed tableside using a French press. The cocktail infuses gin with dandelion root, white peppercorn, bitter orange, lemon and botanicals like coriander, thyme and chamomile. A cordial made from Yuzu, an Asian citrus fruit, forms the drink’s base.
Meanwhile, knowledgeable servers are at the ready to describe the cocktail without overwhelming guests with complicated details. Throw in some scented dry ice, or another molecular technique that teases the senses, and you’ve got a top-tier culinary experience that begs to be shared.
Make every experience VIP
Securing a reservation at the Aviary isn’t effortless. In fact, the Aviary doesn’t even offer reservations. It sells “tickets” for entry – all sales are final.
Like a theatre or musical performance, lucky ticket holders are not only privy to a remarkable, expertly-produced experience, but they’re also subject to an exclusive event.
Tickets are really a deposit to limit what’s known in the restaurant business as “no showing.” If guests can’t make their designated appointment, they can always give tickets away or post them on the Aviary Facebook page in an effort to sell or trade them.
And while the Aviary reserves 50-60 per cent of its plush seating for walk-ins, the ticket system subjects prospective guests to a quasi-type of game mechanics. The reward for playing is a table at the swank establishment.
But wait – it gets even more exclusive. Tucked away on the Aviary’s lower level is a clandestine speakeasy called The Office. Entry is by invitation only and a key is required.
Up on the main floor, we were clueless to the bustling bar below us. Out of nowhere, however, a door swung open giving us a quick peek into this other world. Somehow, we managed to persuade our server to hand over the key.
Thrilled to have been let in on the secret, we turned back to our trusted muse — beer. A collaboration between the Aviary and Danish brewer Mikkeller, The Forager brought us back to earth. Like the Aviary, the truffle-rich stout proved to be remarkable, expertly-brewed and elusive — another brand I’ll be talking about for days to come.