Avant-Garde Chef Grant Achatz Reinvents the Hotel Cocktail Bar in NYC

AFAR sat down with the innovative mastermind behind Chicago’s Alinea restaurant to discuss his new twist on the classic hotel bar, late-night eats, and smuggle-worthy chartreuses.

Avant-Garde Chef Grant Achatz Reinvents the Hotel Cocktail Bar in NYC

Courtesy of The Aviary

AFAR: You have opened two bars at the Mandarin Oriental, New York. What’s the difference between The Office NYC and The Aviary NYC?

ACHATZ: The Office looks to the past and Aviary looks to the future. Aviary is the Alinea for cocktails. It’s highly progressive when it comes to flavor combinations, technique, the use of things like rotary evaporators and aromatic volcanoes [vaporizers for flavor infusions], and custom serviceware. At speakeasy-style The Office you’re going back in time: The drinks are served in antique coupe glasses, and we try to use vintage and rare spirits.

AFAR: How similar are the New York bars to the original Aviary in Chicago?

ACHATZ: One thing that sets them apart is that in New York, you’re 35 floors up overlooking Central Park, with one of the rarest and most iconic views in all of the United States. But as far as the food and beverage go, it’s drawing off our repertoire from Aviary Chicago.

AFAR: Micah Melton is the beverage director. What sets his drinks apart?

ACHATZ: Micah is a trained cook, so he comes to cocktails with a cook’s mind and understands nuances in flavor. We talk about unlikely food pairings I’ve done over the years, and he merges those ideas into cocktails. For example, there’s a cocktail on the menu that involves banana and curry that we serve with the caviar course. That’s his fingerprint; he looks to unusual combinations and incorporates a lot of food elements you wouldn’t typically find in the cocktail world.

AFAR: At The Office, people can order “Dealer’s Choice.” How does that work?

ACHATZ: It’s a habitual thing, drinking. It’s very personal—way more so, I would say, than food. When you order Dealer’s Choice, the server prompts people with a few questions: “What spirit do you enjoy the most? Do you like sweet or sour?” And so on and so forth, and then our bartenders customize a drink for you.

AFAR: What’s your favorite late-night bar dinner order at The Office?

ACHATZ: I would start with the mussels. They’re steamed in a fennelly, Pernod-laced broth and served with country-style bread to soak up the sauce. And then jamón ibérico, which is one of my favorite ingredients. I’d probably end on the ice cream sundae, because you can make your own adventure. Do you like M&M’s? Gummy bears? Heath bars? The list goes on and on.

AFAR: Of the bars you’ve found in your travels, which have inspired you the most?

ACHATZ: There’s one in Toronto that’s called BarChef, and the bartender, Frankie Solarik, does Aviary-style cocktails that are very creative. In Tokyo, there’s a place called Takazawa Bar. The owner is also a chef, and he has a really wonderful restaurant in Tokyo. He opened this bar a couple of years ago. You can get progressive, creative drinks or more The Office-y type things, as well. And we went to a bar in Berlin called Rum Trader, where I had an amazing mai tai. The great thing about cocktails is that it’s fun just to kind of stumble into places. Every city, large and small, has charming, quaint, dirty places that have this unique, original, authentic personality you can find in the drinking world that’s not quite so easy to find in the restaurant world.

AFAR: What spirits have you brought back from your travels?

ACHATZ: Our team always has an eye out for certain chartreuses—especially if we can find anything vintage. Traveling in Mexico, we find bottlings of mezcal that are simply not available here in the States, for whatever reason. We try to smuggle those back in our suitcase. We’re always on the lookout for things that we simply cannot find here. We take our chances with immigration and TSA.

>> Next: 15 of Our Favorite Rooftop Bars in the U.S.

Megan is a writer covering wine and travel.
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