Go through an unmarked door past the kitchen of the New York branch of the Aviary—the new extension of Chicago’s mecca for experimental cocktails—and it’s like stepping from the future into the past. You’ve entered The Office NYC, the Aviary’s sister bar-within-a-bar (there’s also an Office in Chicago), where dim lighting, dark wood, and cowhide-backed bar chairs set the mood. While the Aviary offers wild, futuristic cocktails that are almost as much fun to look at as they are to drink, The Office features classic cocktails that are expertly made.
There’s also a small menu of house specialty cocktails (all $23), among them the astonishing “Amaretto Sour.” It’s in quotation marks for a reason; the black-truffle-infused amaretto and Cynar 70 artichoke liqueur make it taste utterly unlike the drink of the same name beloved by college students in the 1990s. The Passionfruit is a foamy rum concoction with Dijon mustard, imparting an earthy, tangy kick. Request a Dealer’s Choice (the price varies depending on the alcohol chosen for the drink) and you’ll get a litany of questions ranging from choice of spirit to choice of season (“summery or wintery?”)—along with other appropriate adjectives or descriptors—followed shortly by a bespoke cocktail tailored to your individual preferences.
But the stars of the show are the vintage spirits, arranged chronologically in their own separate menu, starting with a pre-phylloxera Hector Romain Cognac from 1835 ($1,200/oz). You’ll also find a pre-Prohibition Old Overholt rye from 1908 ($300/oz), a 1960s green Chartreuse ($125/oz, one of many available), and an 18 Year Old Balvenie single malt bottled in the 1980s ($100/oz).
“Dusty bottle” cocktails employing vintage spirits are a delicious and fun way to drink the past. The Negroni ($90)—using 1960s Beefeater Gin, Carpano Antica, and Campari—works particularly well, giving the drink a soft roundness that only a half-century spent in the bottle can achieve. The Daiquiri ($355) uses fresh lime, sugar, and 1943-vintage E & J Burke Jamaican rum, which gives off a gorgeous slight funk on the finish. There’s even a turn-of-the-20th-century Wet Martini ($600), which uses long-extinct Lash bitters, vintage Noilly Prat vermouth, and century-old Tanqueray Sweet Gin.
The food complements the drinks well; the dishes are on the small side, but in the case of the rich prime rib-eye tartare ($40) or the creamy foie gras with strawberry and tonka jam ($40), a little goes a long way. And the knowledgeable staff are attentive, helpful, and entertaining in their descriptions of the menu, right down to the Greek tax stamps on a bottle of Chartreuse or the provenance of the cattle used in the beef tartare. Walk-ins are welcome, but reservations (at theofficenyc.tocktix.com) are encouraged.