To be a great food city, it helps to have great cocktails. The Aviary in the Mandarin Oriental at 80 Columbus Circle, fits that bill.
Located off the lobby on the 35th floor, you are high in the sky, with killer views of Central Park and Columbus Circle, from the floor to ceiling windows. It is glorious by day and alluring by night. At the back of the stunning space is a glass wall where you can view the mixologists, herbalists and ice aficionados, concoct your ambitious and well-crafted drinks. This is where science meets art, and it is like a cocktail lab if you will. My only objection, is I wish it was more centrally located to see more of the theatrics. And there is no contact with the bartenders, unlike Barmini in Washington where you have your own personal bartender to take you on your journey.
Every drink is designed to thrill the senses. From the unique glassware, fire, smoke, infused ingredients, flavoured ice, magic and whimsy. The bar snacks offered are also creative. No wonder, Grant Achatz of the three-star Michelin restaurant Alinea in Chicago is behind this project (although not in the same league). There are carefully staged culinary creations, like a pork rind as big as a palm frond, the chef’s signature black truffle explosion, a one bite delight of parmesan, romaine and black truffle. An asparagus salad that is a work of art, with almonds, green strawberries and chartreuse. The Peekytoe crab that comes on a curved sculpted plate, and tastes of green tomato, aji Amarillo and char roe. For bigger appetites the fried chicken sandwich on a sesame bun with house-made pickles. Or the ricotta gnudi, a springs bounty of asparagus, morel mushrooms, jamon and manchego. The dinner menu offers more choices for food and drinks. The wait staff is knowledgeable and can explain every ingredient and preparation to the minutest detail. The cocktail list is large and it is difficult to choose from, with clever tongue and cheek names like Zombie Panda, which is fruity and tart, Beam Me Up Toddy, which is luscious and warm, Boom Goes the Dynamite, warm and spiced, Margarita-ish, bold and bright, Wake and Bake, coffee and rye, Cloche Encounters of the 46 Kind, rich and mocha, In the Rocks, boozy and bitter, The Lovely Bunch uses fruits, flowers and herbs, and so on. What I like is you can get most of these drinks with or without alcohol. The menu is divided in cocktails and the more ambitious drinks under the wizard’s staff. The drinks and food are well spaced out, and it gives you time to enjoy each creation.
The prices for the drinks range from $19-38. The Bloody Mary is the most expensive, but it is an extravaganza, with multiple edible garnishes, served separately. If you are looking for a quieter, more secluded spot with classic cocktails, then I recommend the Office, hidden in the back. It is only open in the evening. It has an old world clubby feel, and here you get your own bartender to create drinks to your liking and specification.
At lunch, you can order a la carte or do a three-course prix fixe at $45 per person. At dinner, you also can order a la carte or do a five-course prix fixe at $165 per person. Or a three-course food and drinks at $110, or drinks only at $65 per person. These pairings are selected by the chef. The a la carte pricing for food goes anywhere from $11-36 per item.
This is a high concept bar with carefully staged culinary and elaborate drink creations. It is not easy to get a reservation, so plan ahead.