Photo by Yunice Kang.
The ultimate cocktail-trotter – he’s visited no less than 62 countries – Nicolas de Soto has the travelling bug. After two years spent in Australia, a stint at Mama Shelter and China in Paris, he earnt his barman stripes in London, got hired by the Experimental Cocktail Group, before making the move to New York, his dream come true. He was quickly noticed in Williamsburg at Dram and Painkiller. “I didn't know anyone in New York; I literally arrived with my backpack. That was when I started to be seen differently, no longer the Parisian there to make money, but as the French barman always there behind the counter. I met everyone in the cocktail industry and finally found my place.”
Partnering up with two other big names, Zachary Sharaga and Greg Boehm, the Frenchie’s American dream came true when he took the reins at Mace, the former Louis 649, in April 2015. “For me, New York is all about 14th Street here in the East Village, where the density of cocktail bars is unique in the world and the nightlife so varied.” À la carte, with no long lost French alcohols or faded Gallic décor, just a dash of “mad scientist” - his nickname - and a kitchen that works on flavours and inspirations gathered from around the world. From Buenos Aires he's brought the mate, an herb adored by the porteños. In Chili he discovered the mote con huesillo, a drink sold in the streets of Santiago he’s revisited with a splash of sour. In London the pope of mixology, Tony Conigliaro taught him the art of home-made syrups and infusions. To all this he adds his own secret ingredient: intuition. “Instead of staying home looking at manuals, I decided to go discover the world and my cocktail ideas came to me through travelling, as I learnt how to understand flavours and balances according to each country. An expresso Martini doesn’t sell in New York, where they like things sweeter, but it’s a runaway hit in London, where cocktails are drunk as shots.”
So what’s next? Something big for sure. While Nicolas de Soto has no plans to leave New York, he will be opening his first bar in Paris this May. “While the cocktail scene is still dominated by New York and most of all London, where the creativity and risk taking is incomparable, Paris has raised its game in recent years – the Sherry Butt, the Syndicat and the Mabel are leading the way – and I’m coming in with the aim of working with the pros all while continuing to travel.” Tucked away in the Galerie Vivienne, at the back of the restaurant Da Roco – a new upmarket trattoria opened by successful restauranteur duo Alexandre Giesbert and Julien Ross (behind Roco, Roca and Rococo) in Jean Paul Gaultier’s former boutique – Danico will open its doors into a completely refurbished arcade. A cocktail monument has perhaps been born.
Mace, 159 East 9th Street, New York. Danico, Vivienne gallery, Paris Ist district.
By Alexis Chenu