Official nominations for the 2012 James Beard Foundation awards were announced late yesterday evening, and while I usually don’t pay much attention unless a favorite Chicago restaurant has made the list, this year is different for one reason: cocktails.

The Aviary's "porthole" cocktail glassware. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune)

This year, the Beards added a category to recognize one venue with excellent achievement in cocktails and spirits — essentially, the nation’s best bar. (Previously there had been one award each for Outstanding Wine Program and Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits professional; everything else is food-driven.) It’s called Outstanding Bar Program, it’s sponsored by Campari, and it’s meant to award “a restaurant that displays and encourages excellence in cocktail, spirit, and/or beer service through a well-presented drink list, a knowledgeable staff, and efforts to educate customers about beverages.”

Of course, there are no restaurants nominated in this category — only bars.

Among the five nominations are The Aviary (whose gorgeous, custom cocktail glassware is pictured above) and The Violet Hour — both no-brainers, and I’d have been shocked if neither made the list. (I had the pleasure of reporting heavily on The Aviary in anticipation of its opening last year; here & here). I am pleased as punch that Chicago is on the map with two nominations — the same number as New York, by the way (Pegu Club and PTD). San Francisco’s Bar Agricole rounds out the nominations for the best bar in the country according to Beard, and winners are announced May 7.