What first started as a part time gig that allowed him to party, drink and meet women ended up becoming a lifelong career for Nico de Soto.
The world renowned bartender and bar owner started very late in the industry. He was 28.
“I had a computer science degree and a degree in nutrition science. I went to Australia for a year on a working visa and thought why not bartending? I fast got into it and by the time I went back to France, I was much more valuable because bartending wasn’t a big thing in my country then. Little by little I grew and ended up opening my own bar.”
De Soto’s colourful profile includes visits to 88 countries and working in 33 of them.
He first began bartending in Paris in 2005 where he was trained in the art of classic cocktails, later working at some of Paris’s most respected cocktail bars, the Experimental Cocktail Club and Curio Parlor.
In 2015, he opened his first cocktail bar Mace in East Village in New York ranked 28th best bar in the World at Drinks International World’s Top 50 Best Bars, for the fourth year in a row.
In 2016, he opened Danico, in Paris- his new bar inside the Galerie Vivienne.
His approach to drinks is inspired by travels and cuisine, always trying to get new flavours, combinations and techniques. De Soto won the award of the Most Influential French Bartender at Cocktails Spirits Bar Show 2014 in Paris.
“There’s always a scene at different cities like Sidney, Singapore and Tokyo and I go there maybe once a year because it is such a great scene and energy. I am interested now in the African scene because you can see it’s very new. There are brands getting it right out there, in terms of flavours you have the whole world to try- we don’t know a lot on Africa and there is so much on offer.”
De Soto was in Joburg recently for a special #MooteeSpaza Session hosted in partnership with Pernod Ricard.
Together with another international and award-winning bartender Moe Aljaff, the two were tasked with recreating the drinks served in their bars using the Pernod Ricard brands Altos tequila, Absolut Vodka, Jameson Whiskey and Beefeater Gin.
Aljaff is no stranger to nightlife having spent his entire young adult life in the industry. Starting as a club promoter and bouncer at age 19 he went on own his own bar at 27. His worldly tastes have seen him immerse himself in the nightlife of places like Amsterdam, Thailand, Norway and Spain. An award-winning bartender, Aljaff created the brand Two Schmucks and opened a bar in Barcelona which has led him to even more accolades.
The Melville hotspot Mootee Bar saw the mixologists use their talent to create winning cocktails that delighted the locals’ taste buds.
#MooteeSpaza is a series of events held at Mootee bar showcasing international bar talent in guest bar tending sessions open to the public. The talent create a special menu of cocktails using the Pernod Ricard portfolio and fresh local ingredients.
De Soto is a fan of lavender as a primary ingredient in some of his drinks, which he used for #MooteeSpaza.
“With Lavender, everywhere I go people love it, I have to consider who I am working with and I love absinth – only Pernod Ricard has that.”
De Soto’s most recent bar opening was last year with James Beard’s Awards chef Brad Kilgore to open Kaido, a Japanese influenced cocktail lounge in the Design District in Miami.
“There are three more projects on the way. I’m always inspired. In Peru, while I was backpacking, I discovered an amazing drink they made there with a fermented purple cone infused with pineapple, cinnamon, lime, some cloves and green apple among other ingredients. I t was so good and I use it a lot in my own infusions. Every country has something inspiring about it.”
De Soto said he was excited to explore Africa and all it has to offer.
“I have travelled a lot around SA. I want to focus on Namibia, Zambia and Botswana when I come back around this side. Apart from SA, I have only been to Morocco and Tunisia on the continent so there is still a lot to explore.”