Nico de Soto is struggling to book a reservation. This isn’t unexpected. In fact, it seems to the be case all over town at the moment.
The French bartender’s own highly-regarded bar, Mace, is already more popular than ever after recently moving to its third location in six years. The three-time World’s Best Bars honoree first opened in the East Village in 2015 before bouncing to a bigger space nearby, closing for a little more than a year due to the pandemic, and finally landing on 8th Street in the West Village last month.
“I don’t think I’ve ever done an opening like this,” de Soto says. “Every day, it’s packed, all the time. We do three times the number we used to do at the second location, it’s crazy,” he says.
“I was telling [an industry colleague], I hope it’s gonna stay like that for a while, because it’s just crazy, those numbers that we do, and not only Mace, all the bars, all the restaurants are very hard to book right now. I haven’t [previously] been in a situation where I cannot book a restaurant that I really want, you know? Usually, you always have the choice.”
A business owner loves to see it. A consumer, less so. Like many of us, de Soto, who has a particular fondness for omakase and Michelin-starred restaurants, is feeling the effects of competitive demand for nights out. Recently consulting his personal list of 30 possible restaurants—for a dinner three weeks out, no less—only one table was available.
“And it’s only for two people, he says. “It’s crazy.”
A recent effort to reserve for Eleven Madison Park’s new plant-based menu was touch-and-go, too. De Soto tells a familiar but still pulse-quickening tale of failing to secure a spot in May for June, then logging onto EMP’s reservation platform at the stroke of 9am on June 1 for July, and clicking through combinations of dates and times while options dwindled with every passing second. Finally: success.
“But in one hour, like, the whole month was gone,” he says.
For all of Mace’s popularity, reservations there are presently a little easier to come by, de Soto says. Tables are available for its new menu of broiled razor clams, burrata with fire-roasted stone fruit, oysters, Atlantic lobster and littleneck clams. Its zinc bar has 14 seats for walk-ins and a closer view of spice-oriented cocktails in progress. And, unlike its previous locations, outdoor seats are available as well. That last new addition helped to inspire Mace’s most exciting new cocktail, the Wasabi + Cilantro, which is also its first frozen option.
A take on the Miami Vice cocktail, which contains equal parts strawberry daiquiri and piña colada, the Wasabi + Cilantro tops an icy blend of wasabi-infused rum, strawberries, angelica root, vanilla and lime with a mix bacon-washed rum, pineapple, coconut, plantain, lime and cilantro.
Together with his head bartender, de Soto, who approaches his cocktail recipes the way a chef builds an entrée, started conceiving the frozen last December.
“The very simple reason is the outdoor area,” he says. “We’ve never had the outdoor area. I thought, ‘oh, that would be good to have a frozen drink and to be outside.' Inside the bar it’s not super warm, so I was like, ‘oh, now we have the outdoor place, I [can] see people on the terrace, having frozen drinks,’ that’s why I made it.”
Soon after (and isn’t this always the way?), de Soto started suddenly seeing Miami Vice riffs everywhere. Another industry colleague even gave him advance notice that their bar was planning a version for its summer menu, too, lest the addition appear intentionally derivative.
“I was like, I need to post the drink right now or people will think I was copying someone,” de Soto says. And so the zeitgeist goes.
“You’re gonna scroll stuff on social media,” he says. “You see a Miami Vice, you see a frozen drink, those two colors. Unconsciously, you can be scrolling and say, ‘oh, I’m going to do a Miami Vice drink,’ without even wanting to copy anyone.”
“It’s a very visual drink. And of course there’s a lot of bartenders that are like, ‘That’s cool, I’m gonna do my own.’ That’s normal, that’s what makes a trend. But I find it very funny, because I was like, ‘oh, we’re gonna do that, no one does Miami Vice, and it’s going to be cool,’ and many bars are doing Miami Vice this summer.”
Even with new menus and a new space, de Soto says he’s welcoming guests back to the same familiar Mace. “The vibe, the music, the lighting, all of that, it stayed the same. So it’s just moving the bar to a different location and bigger space,” he says.
“When you open a bar you have to consider all the little details, all the little steps one by one. And we try to make the best in the world.”