Charles Joly has become one of the best-known Chicago bartenders, mostly for his work over the past few years at The Drawing Room, a cocktail destination. Now he's taken over as beverage director at the chef Grant Achatz-led Aviary, where all eyes will be on him as he rejiggers the menu.
Mix: Taking over a high-profile destination like Aviary must have involved some planning - what were the most important things for you to tackle?
Charles Joly: The focus of the Aviary shares many similarities with other high caliber venues. Ultimately, we want to provide a memorable experience with laser sharp customer service. People come out to bars for a variety of reasons - great cocktails are definitely not enough to ensure a complete experience. I wanted to bring the hospitality I've learned and my passion for the industry to the space. Cocktail creation and exploration come next.
Mix: In design at least, Aviary pushed the boundaries when it opened in what a bar could be - does that challenge extend to your thinking about the menu?
Joly: We are definitely trying to rethink the cocktail. How can it be enjoyed? What can we serve it in? We look at how we can effect all of the senses in a non traditional way. There are many tools and techniques used here that I haven't had access to in the past. With this, I'm provided a larger arsenal from which to approach new creations. It's very important to me that everything in a cocktail, including its garnish, presentation etc make sense and contribute to the overall product.
Mix: In what significant ways have you changed or are you planning to change the menu?
Joly: I believe in the core concept behind the space and will continue to drive that. You'll definitely see my personality come through as the menu evolves. I tend towards the playful, sarcastic and light hearted when it comes to cocktails. We're creating more of a connection between the Aviary and our sister restaurant, Next. We currently have a four-course cocktail flight that is Kyoto influenced to give a nod to the menu next door. Our kitchen is joining in on this and is offering three amazing ramen dishes.
Mix: Are there types of drinks you’re more likely to focus on, or leave out?
Joly: Nothing is off the table for me. We have the resources to attempt just about anything and innovate new techniques, service pieces, etc. I'm excited to explore this more. The menu will always reflect seasonality, which has always been a core design element for me. The kitchen techniques I've used in the past are being taken to a whole other level with the amount of talented chefs in the space.
Mix: In some ways the anticipation surrounding Aviary when it opened worked against it - will you need to handle the same high level of scrutiny now, do you think, and if so, how do you prepare for it?
Joly: I know my cocktails and menu here will be scrutinized. It comes with the territory when you are at a high profile space. All I can do is put out cocktails that I believe in and I believe represent our mission. Not everyone is going to like everything we do. I design menus to be diverse and have something for everyone.
Mix: Are there areas you're looking to explore that you may not have been able to at The Drawing Room or other operations?
Joly: We have several cocktails that I'm excited about. I reworked the "In the Rocks" cocktail for the first time since the space was opened. It had been a version of an Old Fashioned - delicious but a new look. I changed this to a Vieux Carre, one of my favorite brown and stirred numbers, and integrated the Peychaud's directly into the ice shell.
Mix: What's your favorite drink right now?
Joly: We just launched a "Root Beer" cocktail. I've wanted to do a classic root beer for some time. We ended up with something a bit more dessert driven including all of the classic sasparilla spices, dark rum, carbonation and a Fernet-Angostura foam to finish it off with a frothy cap.