The very serious-minded staff at The Aviary, the NYC branch of Grant Achatz’s famed Chicago bar, described their high-end cocktails as performance art. But I saw them more as a comedy. Because that’s what it is when you have your guests blow bubbles into a drink named How Does Snoop Dogg Use Lemongrass?. Nothing really happened other than the fizz going flat after the initial huff and the rest of us laughing. I would hope for more than just a fit of giggles after paying $24 a drink. Or maybe the joke’s on us for paying that much money.
At times, the presentation was very beautiful and I could see how The Aviary was passing this off as an exquisite performance. When the Heart of Stone drink arrived, our friend exclaimed, “Is that an aquarium or a drink?” And indeed, with what looked like sediment, liquid and things floating around, it could very well be mistaken for one. The little gadget was built so that each pour would be infused with different flavors, some a little more peachy, others a little more like tea. With this one, I felt like I somewhat knew where my $28 was going to. But then I also felt like it was a very elegant Sea Monkey contraption. So again, I wasn’t sure if they’re laughing with us or at us.
The biggest laugh went to the fried pork skin. For some context, we asked the server which of the small plates of food were shareable, and he recommended the crispy pork skin. A massive sheet of pork skin, which looked like it had been peeled off from the backside of a whole hog, arrived at our table like a dazzling centerpiece. It certainly could be shared amongst four people, and then some. To be fair, it was listed as “giant” crispy pork skin on the menu, so I guess we shouldn’t have been so surprised by how big it was. After more laughter at how ridiculously over the top the pork skin was, we managed to break pieces of it off. It was vinegary and salty at times, but overall it was a nice, savory snack. After all the commotion, the pork skin had the last laugh as we essentially pigged out and finished the whole thing.
The space at The Aviary is stunning, and you can’t ask for better views at the top of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Columbus Circle, but you might be better off going to a different rooftop bar with more reasonable pricing and the same skyline around you. I can see how if you’re a guest at the hotel, which at the night we went seemed to consist of well-off Chinese and Russian tourists, then this might be a good use of time and money, but if you’re a local hanging out with friends or on a date night, you’re better off paying money for a real performance.
The Aviary NYC
80 Columbus Circle at 60th Street
New York City, NY 10023
Tables can only be booked online