Sometimes a bird in the hand really is worth two in the bush. We were sad when we learned earlier this year that Aviary Decor and Lounge — our go-to for whimsical, delightfully off-kilter home design — was dropping the decor part of its mission. But that was before we knew it would be reborn, phoenix-like (okay, we’ll try to stop fowling up our references) into a new full-service restaurant and wine bar.
You may no longer be able to take the decor home with you, but the new venture, Aviary Wine & Kitchen, has plenty of ideas to steal. Owner Marco Fiorilo; wife, Shanna Eldridge, and culinary director/partner John Coronado have retained the playful charm of the former space, even after a major renovation.
Most of the oomph comes from a cheerful blue paint, somewhere between robin egg and peacock, that wraps the walls, acting as a neutral foil to the many pops of color. There’s plenty of black, wood, and white to keep things from getting too trippy, but a fuchsia couch, multi-colored barstool and chair legs, and pale pink pillows figure in the space, competing with a scaled up Warhol print of da Vinci’s Last Supper flamboyantly overlaid with one of the pop artist’s camouflage screen prints (you can get one of your own from Brooklyn’s Flavor Paper).
Though the palette is bold, the entry's expanse of glass allows plenty of light in the daylight hours, and clear blown-glass fixtures glisten like outsized twinkle lights in the night. And, of course, that sparkle looks great on a wine glass.
The wine program under the watch of beverage director Alex Wheatly Bell thumbs its nose at the thought that wine should be rarified. Bottles are divided into categories named after pop culture icons like Twiggy, Jayne Mansfield, Robin Williams, and Etta James. Some are a bigger reach than others (though we’re sure Biggie Smalls could make a great punchline out of Noblaie Chinon Blanc), but the copy makes for good reading should your dining companion start blathering about Taylor Swift.
Working with Coronado, new executive chef Thomas Calhoun has broken down the menu into three broad categories (“Peck,” “Graze,” and “Feast”), supplemented with cheese, charcuterie, and a raw bar featuring oysters and crudo. Calhoun is best known in town as the former pastry chef for Lenoir, and that restaurant’s seasonal, farm-to-table ethos carry over here.
The Peck section is mostly bar snacks like marinated olives and house-brined pickles, but the Graze section starts to expand the restaurant’s palate. Mediterranean influences show up in most of the small plates — from a simple house salad tossed with feta and pine nuts and a lamb (a protein popping up more and more lately) burger with a harissa aioli to a manchego risotto with plump Gulf shrimp — but Calhoun doesn’t stock too slavishly to theme, allowing for dishes like a chicken and pork sausage served with grain mustard and kraut. The mains offer only three choices, but the half chicken, whole fish, and Texas beef butcher’s cut cover a wide variety of moods.
Whatever you decide to eat, we bet the mood will be sunny. Wine bars haven’t always had an easy go of it in Austin, but Aviary’s bright, alluring reboot introduces a new perspective to the often stuffy category. If the glasses of rosé clinking around town are any indication, maybe what Austin really didn’t like was all the wine bar clichés. Luckily, Aviary is a bird of another feather.