Turns out Alinea Group’s highly anticipated New York City debut is sooner than previously thought: The Office, the speakeasy portion of experimental cocktail bar The Aviary, will open in July, followed by the namesake Aviary in August or September.
Chef-owner Grant Achatz — you may recognize him from his turn in 2016 on Chef’s Table , his several James Beard Awards, or perhaps his three Michelin stars — has been flitting back and forth between NYC and Chicago to prepare for the opening, which previewed earlier this week in a rendering.
Now, Achatz reveals a little more about what to expect at the NYC Aviary and the big takeaway is: Get excited for breakfast.
Eater: Why did you choose this concept for New York?
Achatz: Back in 2006 when Ruth Reichl was still at Gourmet, she named Alinea the best restaurant in the country. After that offers just started flooding in from New York City developers, hedge funds, traders, and more that wanted to invest and put a “living room” quote unquote in New York. And it never felt right. All of them wanted to clone Alinea. That was never appealing for Nick [Kokonas] and me because there’s no win — if Alinea in Manhattan would have been better than Chicago, then Chicago loses.
When we opened Aviary, we knew it was scalable. What we’re doing at The Aviary has value in the cocktail world. That’s not to say that bars in New York haven’t done a similar style — Booker and Dax was doing some progressive cocktails, and Betony had a pretty creative cocktail program, but we just felt like the way we embraced the progressive nature of cocktails was something New York might accept and find compelling. And we had the advantage of Chicago being our testing ground and implementing these techniques, and now we’re able to transport it into other places, New York being the first. You never know where else.
What’s the rundown of bringing it to New York: What will be different?
There will be two different bars essentially. You have The Aviary and that’s basically Alinea for cocktails, so custom service ware, interesting flavor combinations, highly creative ice — what we’re known for. And then you have The Office, which is our speakeasy bar, so there are pre-Prohibition-style cocktails and a lot of old and rare spirits: things you can’t find anymore coming from collectors and auctions. I know it’s corny and I make fun of Alinea sommeliers when they open old wine, but there is something romantic and magical about opening a really, really old whiskey, and you’re kind of tasting time.
The other interesting aspect is our partnership with Mandarin Oriental. We have the ability — and the necessity because we’re in a hotel — to open up the program early in the day.
So, day drinking at The Aviary!?
It’s absolutely true. We have a responsibility being in partnership with the Mandarin Oriental to be open all day to serve the guests of the hotel. But also obviously being open all day has some advantages for people that want a Saturday afternoon cocktail or Monday afternoon cocktail, so it’s kind of cool that we get to fill that void. And we’ll keep it going all the way through until we shut it down at 2 a.m. or whatever it is.
What about the food side — what can we expect?
We’re not exactly sure yet, but it’ll certainly be indicative of the culinary style that the Alinea group has established. I think generally speaking, people obviously are focused on the cocktail aspect of The Aviary, but they don’t realize how important, expansive, and definitive the food program is. Currently here in Chicago, it’s essentially a restaurant as far as the food program goes. We serve tasting menus, have an extensive a la carte offering, we do a dim sum situation where we go to the room with various offerings and people buy them by the piece. So the culinary aspect of the Aviary is incredibly important, and me being a chef and having a food background, I wanted to make sure it was a strong point in the identity of The Aviary.
So breakfast is an opportunity for us to really open it up and get creative with what breakfast might entail at a restaurant in the Alinea group. We were incredibly inspired with the brunch/breakfast/cafe/coffee/tea scene when we visited Melbourne for Worlds 50 Best last year. I almost want to put it like Los Angeles-ish in its style, so cliches like avocado toast, but really creatively done with indigenous ingredients, plated artfully but yet not overly complicated for a brunch/breakfast. There were a lot of really smart flavor combinations that go outside of what we would typically find in the U.S., but largely that’s because they’re very conscious of focusing on local and Australian ingredients. And they do things you haven’t seen here in the U.S., like interesting ways to course out the breakfast, almost like a build-your-own tasting menu for brunch.
I think it will really inform what we do at the Mandarin for those hours. We’ll also obviously transition to a lunch period, where I can see us fulfilling the obligatory noodle dishes and creative takes on sandwiches. I’m a big fan of breakfast all day, though, so I think we’ll kind of go back into some more lunchy-brunchy-style preparations and things like that. But you’ll see a very definitive Alinea Group take on all of these meal periods, where it’s creative and interesting flavor combinations and ways to present things.
And price point?
To be determined, but it will be within the range of other cocktail bars at that level in New York. I don’t expect it to be higher or lower than anybody else in the city. It really all depends on the drink.
What’s the timeline as of now?
We’re still hammering away at the construction. We have a team of six people that are currently residing in New York who have begun the training program. We obviously have [bar manager] Micah Melton, we shipped out the GM of Alinea to help train the front of the house, the assistant GM of The Aviary, the executive chef of The Aviary Chicago Dan Perretta, and we’re importing our Chicago icemaker, who will be a permanent resident in New York, plus a couple of the bartending staff from Aviary. We also have a bunch of local and international bartenders with amazing pedigrees. We got the head bartender from an incredible bar in London that signed on.
July is the opening for The Office, and once that is open, they’ll begin full-on construction of Aviary proper. That will probably take a couple of months, so more late August/September before Aviary proper opens.