If you were wondering whether those weirdly conceptual drinks at the Aviary are really worth the asking price, well, the cocktail world has chimed in to say, "hell yeah." Charles Joly, the Aviary's chief bartender and beverage director, won the Diageo World Class 2014 competition in London, where he was one of 48 competitors from around the world, and has been named the best bartender in the world by a panel of judges that included cocktail maven Dale DeGroff and others.
The competition consists of a series of drink challenges on various creative themes, like "a tale of two martinis" and "gastronomy." Joly was the only American competitor, and went up against bartenders from Canada, Australia, France, Italy, and Singapore in the final round, which asked them to invent a signature cocktail they would be identified with. His final cocktail, called Above the Clouds, was a take on tiki cocktails presented in a mocked-up tiki environment.
It's been fun to watch Joly's position at the most creative and unique cocktail experience in town—one hesitates to call it a bar, per se—bring him acclaim, since the Reader's Julia Thiel and I first met him when we shot the Key Ingredient episode with him at the Drawing Room in early 2012. His challenge—ambergris—came from then-Aviary beverage chef Craig Schoettler, and Joly had to admit to us before shooting that the Drawing Room didn't really have the budget for an ingredient that cost more per ounce than gold. He tracked down an ambergris extract oil that was cheaper, but it wasn't food grade, and rather than risk poisoning us and himself, he worked out an ingenious solution for capturing ambergris' scent and adding it to the cocktail.
The solution was right in line with the kind of weird science thing they do at the Aviary, so maybe seeing that helped encourage Grant Achatz to bring him over to the Aviary to replace Schoettler later that year. In any case, I'm sure he enjoys having the budget and the mission to do unique, exotic things at the Aviary now. Who knows what else his acclaim will bring him, but in the meantime, here's where it all began at the Drawing Room: