"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." -- Saint Augustine
For as long as the craft of bartending has been a viable career, the opportunity to travel has been one of its biggest perks. We know that Jerry Thomas, father of the American cocktail, spent time in San Francisco, New Orleans, and Chicago, in addition to New York, and that Harry Craddock found refuge at London's Savoy Hotel during Prohibition. And few books have been as influential to today's bartenders as Charles H. Baker's Jigger, Beaker, and Glass: Drinking Around the World, which chronicles the author's favorite drinks sampled on every continent. Bartenders travel not just for the exotic romance, but to add new techniques and nuances to their repertoire, not to mention new flavors and recipes.
Parisian Nicolas de Soto, bartender at Dram and Painkiller in New York for the past six months, is following the tradition of the traveling bon vivant, and will soon be leaving us for London later this month. Nico has made quite an impression on the cocktail community here, not just due to his disarming accent, but also for his poise behind the stick, undoubtedly polished over the years at several bars around the world. He first got into bartending in Paris in 2005 at a high-volume bar not known for its cocktails before moving on to a bar where he learned the Parisian "classics" at the time: Blue Lagoon, pina colada, mojito, caipirinha, etc.
In 2007, he moved to Australia, where he had lived previously, and delved into more serious cocktails in Melbourne. After a year he returned to Paris, working in China Club, a serious cocktail bar in Bastille, and then he managed the bar at Mama Shelter (a Philippe Starck-designed boutique hotel) before joining Paris' most respected cocktail bars, the Experimental Cocktail Club and Curio Parlor.
Before moving to NYC and utilizing his connections to get the job at Dram, Nico traveled through Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Cuba, Guatemala, and Mexico before flying to Vancouver for the Winter Games where he worked as a guest bartender. Other than bartending, tennis, and cinema, Nico's passion is, you guessed it--travel. He says of the 51 countries he's visited, his favorites are Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Argentina, Indonesia, Bolivia, Peru, French Polynesia, and Singapore; while his favorite cities are Paris, NYC, Vancouver, Melbourne, Sydney, London, Berlin, Singapore, and Barcelona.
“The Dizzy Dozen” (The Same 12 Questions We Always Ask)
Q: What is the first thing you drink after you wake up?
A: A strong black coffee, followed by a protein shake.
Q: What is the first thing you drink after a hard day’s work?
A: Either a whole glass of fresh grapefruit juice or a well made fresh daiquiri (2 oz. Chairman's Reserve rum, 3/4 oz. fresh-squeezed lime, 1/2 oz. cane syrup). I don't like beer, sadly.
Q: What is the most delicious ingredient in your liquor cabinet?
A: Noah's Mill 15-year-old bourbon. Just discovered it recently and I love it.
Q: If you could sit at the bar between any two people (alive or deceased), who would they be?
A: Sasha Petraske and Adriana Lima. No need to say why.
Q: Three favorite NYC bars: • Milk & Honey: Magic place, the Michael show. I haven't seen Sam at work yet. It's Sasha's. It's where everything started. • Death & Co: You'll never be bored, amazing drinks, and some of the most talented bartenders on Earth. I always bring my friends and dates there. • Dutch Kills
Q: Three favorite non-alcoholic hangouts: • My rooftop: 360º view, two blocks from the East River in Williamsburg, the Manhattan skyline view is amazing. • McCarren Park: Tennis court and grass, what else? • Paris of course -- my friends, my family, my heart.
Q: Average night’s sleep:
A: From 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. usually. Eight hours is a good number.
Q: What is your favorite place to shop for your bar?
A: Cocktail Kingdom: Bar tools, books, great place.
Q: Where do you find inspiration?
A: Bartenders I work with, meet, and watch. Bars I visited. The countries I visit. I visited 51, worked in five, spent two years in Australia. People, no books -- people.
Q: If you woke up on a desert island, what bottle would you hope to have wash ashore?
A: On a desert island, with the heat, damned a bottle of coconut water. On a cold island, send me a Zacapa 23-year-old.
Q: Do you have any bar-related good luck charms?
A: I had a blade that I carried around the world with me, but I lost it recently.
Q: Do you have a nickname for yourself when you’ve had too many?
A: Nico, that's it.
Nico's going-away parties are at Painkiller this Wednesday night and at Dram on Sunday night. Bye Nico, you will be missed!