Nico de Soto is famous for being a nomadic bartender: he's said to be the bartender with the most world trips in a year. In 2018, he visited all the cocktail bars in the World's 50 Best Bars, and lives, not only in two different cities (Paris and New York), but on two different continents.
His entrepreneurial adventures, that can be defined as real experiments of flavours, trends and modernity - and very successful experiments at that - include Mace, a small cocktail bar in New York, which has always made the 50 Best list, another, Danico, in his native Paris, and the latest arrival, Kaido, in Miami.
Some time ago we went to his guest night at The Court, Rome, to try some of his creations. Between one smaiquiri and another (Nico's smaiquiri are his calling card: shots of daiquiri make the evening decidedly sparkly), we talked about his history, what mixology means to him and his projects, in constant evolution.
Photo courtesy of Nico de Soto
Nico, can you tell us how you became a bartender?
I have always loved travelling. And I approached this world quite late, at 27, in Australia. I found a job in Melbourne, where I learned some techniques and became more and more passionate about this craft. From there I returned to Paris where I became a bar manager at Mama Shelter, before embracing the Experimental Cocktail Club family and Curio Parlor (closed permanently). I also worked in New York and London for the Experimental, among the best bars in the world. In 2015 I opened my first cocktail bar, Mace, in New York's East Village, which immediately entered the World's 50 Best Bars list.
Travel is the basis of your work and menus. How important is it to your creative process?
Sure, I love to travel. And I also like to do it when I'm fixed in one place: for example, when I was in Australia I told myself that I was close to other cities besides the one where I lived and other countries. So why not go and get to know them? I firmly believe that curiosity is the key to everything. Traveling makes you try new flavours and discover new people who can inspire you. Sometimes they are good things, sometimes not, but the point is that the more curious you are in this profession, the more you will fuel your creativity. You taste new flavours, you see different styles. This was the only way I could create my concept of mixology.
So what's the basis of your mixology?
The taste. Flavour is the most important thing of all. The drinks I create must be rich in flavour: my idea has always been to make something supercool, in appearance and taste. You keep trying, failing and trying again until you get the flavour you want. I like the fact of first experiencing the place where I am opening my bar to discover it, analyse it, combine the local culture with flavours. The first drinks lists were based on the classics because, I can admit, I wasn't able to develop my own drinks yet. It's important to master the classics before delving into your own recipes. Slowly I discovered my style, cocktails without garnishes, minimal in appearance, but complex and full in flavour.
What's the difference between your bars?
My cocktail bars are characterised by my style of making drinks and more. Mace and Danico are the same, they have the same importance for me and the basic concept is the same: minimalism full of flavours, often unexpected but clear. Mace is definitely all about spice - each drink is the name of a spice, to say how important flavour is to me. Kaido changes a little, in Miami, where a collaboration with a chef began and in that case the style shifts towards Asian. Basically, I don't like having bosses, I like doing things my own way. Although, of course, I have partners who support me. Another thing that matters to me is hospitality: I think that when you pay for a cocktail, not only the drink must be perfect, but also the way in which you are treated. This allows you to create not only quality, but very interesting networks that lead to a fantastic bar experience.
Danico is the bar that you opened in his Paris. Can you tell us how mixology is changing in your hometown?
In fact there is not much talk about it, but in Paris there's a lot of creativity in mixology and also of the highest quality. There are about eighty cocktail bars and a lot of experimentation. Everyone knows Remy Savage of Le Syndicat, but there is much more. The Parisian bartender community is increasingly united, it never gets tired or bored and, for about ten years, it has reaped the fruits of many trips and bar shows around the world. I really like working in Paris, so much so that we are looking for a second location. Covid permitting, of course.
As a travelling bartender, how much has this pandemic affected the world's cocktail bars? What could be the trends of the future also considering the pandemic?
There is fear and confusion. Covid has destroyed investments, entire businesses and bars are very fragile businesses right now. Trends follow the moment of uncertainty: a discussion on fermentation can go on, or the one on low ABV drinks. Singapore could be a new beacon, quality mixology is exploding there. But the truth is that you can't know, it's all quite an unknown.
And finally, what is your favourite creation?
Clarified Milk Punch. I like it because it's a very complex drink with a long brewing and filtering process. The texture is truly unique, the flavour levels are many, different and recognisable.