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What Are the Rules for Reviewing Bars? Chicago Critics Discuss

Aviary has already been reviewed by two publications.
Aviary has already been reviewed by two publications. Photo: Nick Kindelsperger

Back in October, Grant Achatz wondered when publications would “start rating bars w/ star reviews?” It was an interesting question, especially since restaurant reviews are so prevalent. There are hundreds of restaurant critics out there, and also numerous cocktail experts, but can you think of many people that write long form reviews of bars and cocktail lounges? This week Achatz got his answer, as Time Out’s David Tamarkin wrote a four star review of Aviary. A week before, the Chicago Reader’s Mike Sula also penned a review of the project, albeit with no star rating since the publication never deals with them. We decided to reach out to Tamarkin, Sula, and Nick Kokonas, who co-owns the Aviary, about the process of reviewing bars and whether it is different than writing about restaurants.

According to Sula, he didn’t have to change his approach, but that was mostly due to the fact that the “Aviary is very much more like a restaurant than a bar.” That said, he did admit that while the Reader has published numerous “in-depth pieces about cocktails and cocktail bars,” it has never been “in the form of a traditional anonymous restaurant criticism.” He admits that it could “happen again,” but it’s “more fun to work one on one with bartenders in a reported piece.”

Tamarkin explained to us that reviewing a bar “isn’t any different than reviewing a restaurant. Same format: Order a bunch of stuff. Pay attention to service/room/price.” In fact, he thinks that this is not a new phenomenon: “In the past few years we’ve started doing longer reviews for notable bars.” That has included reviews of Lush, Disotto, and Big Star. Apparently, the only deciding factor about whether a bar gets a starred review or not is if it is “high-profile.” He claimed that “since Aviary is the most exciting bar on the planet right now (and I say that without irony), we gave it a large treatment.”

We were also really interested in what Kokonas thought about the reviews. He was extremely careful not to comment on any of the specifics, but he did let us know that bars “are no different than restaurants in the sense that they serve the function of providing an entertaining and enriching experience for their patrons.”

What do you think? Would you like to see more bars reviewed? Also, do you think that critics should approach bars in a different way than they do for restaurants?

What Are the Rules for Reviewing Bars? Chicago Critics Discuss