Charles Joly, beverage director at Aviary. ( Lenny Gilmore / RedEye ) (Redeye )
Eventually, the rest of America was going to find out about Charles Joly. The bartender who earned early accolades during his tenure at Gold Coast cocktail lounge The Drawing Room made some big moves in 2013—and seemingly everyone took notice. He left The Drawing Room to helm the cutting-edge bar program at The Aviary, was named American bartender of the year at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail (“the beverage industry Oscars,” as Joly describes it), picked up a James Beard Award for The Aviary’s beverage program and launched a line of premade, bottled cocktails called Crafthouse. Naturally, this 37-year-old Chicago native doesn’t plan to slow down in 2014.
With all you’ve accomplished this year, what are you most proud of?
I think my transition to The Aviary was the biggest move for me. It’s not like I’ve changed careers, but it’s a whole new culture when you go to work for a new company. Doing that while also launching Crafthouse has certainly been interesting. I guess I work hard now so later in life [I] don’t have to work quite as hard. Hopefully it all pays off.
Is it hard to remain detail-oriented when you’re so busy?
I do enjoy the minutiae of things. I like design. I find pleasure in the details of things aesthetically, whereas some people are more big picture-focused. But I’m probably more competitive than I am detail-oriented. I do put a lot of pressure on myself.
What’s been your biggest challenge this year?
The largest challenge is balancing personal life with all of the projects that I have going on. All of my free time when I’m not at work or doing something Aviary-related goes to [Crafthouse], so time with my friends and my girlfriend has been very, very much diminished.
Do you have any hobbies?
I hang out with my dog and make him go for runs with me. That’s my Zen time when I can clear my mind. To do hours like this, if you don’t take care of yourself, you just feel terrible. I’ve gone through highs and lows of it and I think it’s essential to being able to maintain this kind of schedule.
What did you take away from 2013?
It’s been a wild year with lots of drastic ups and downs. We’ve lost a lot of good people; recently, [former The Aviary employee] Jason [Cevallos]. You start to realize that lack of time with friends is the greatest challenge. You realize how important the intrinsic parts of life are.
What’s on deck for 2014?
Keep pushing. Where can we take the beverage program here? How can we make it more interesting or maybe break some new ground? Crafthouse is getting primed to launch in multiple states as well. In the category of prepared cocktails, there hasn’t been really much that I would have ever put in my shopping cart. With [Crafthouse] we’ve really reset the bar in a category that’s been a bad word for a lot of years. We feel like we’ve remade the rules in terms of taking our time with it and making something that people can be proud to drink.
How do you avoid creative stagnation?
I’ve got a fantastic team and we’re able to constantly collaborate and bounce ideas off one another. My right hand is Micah Melton, who’s a fantastic bartender but comes from more of a culinary background. And being able to go to [The Aviary’s sibling restaurant Next] chef [Dave] Beran who’s got a whole incredible set of experiences, you have this wealth of talent and experience in the company.
What’s your opinion of the debate over the terms “mixologist” versus “bartender”?
The only time we use “mixologist” is probably for you guys, for the media. I’m a bartender at heart. Bartending is my career; it’s what I do every day. It’s where my heart is. Mixology has become kind of a buzzword. It can be used to give people an idea that it’s someone who’s fully dedicated, fully invested as a career bartender, but I’ve seen the word misused too.
What kind of bar do you hang out in when you’re off the clock?
When I’m not working, I go to bars that don’t even squeeze fresh juice. I go to the bar I go to most regularly because the staff is great. I’m there to reconnect with my friends. The beer is relatively cold and the music is good.
What’s the least bad flavored vodka?
Gin. Gin is the original—and still best—flavored vodka.