You can only imagine how frequently new bars pop up in the city (Alphabet City in particular), meaning that it takes a real bit of doing to stand out above the rest. And Mace, which opened a little under two months ago, is one such establishment — owned and operated by a team of cocktail world heavyweights including Greg Boehm (of Boilermaker, as well as the leading barware company, Cocktail Kingdom), barman Nico de Soto (Experimental Cocktail Club, Dram, PKNY), and Zach Sharaga, formerly of neighborhood favorite Louis 649; the previous tenant of the slim, 40-seat room where Mace is currently housed.
For uninitiated passerby, there’s nothing outwardly broadcasting that this is the hot new place to be — a glance through the floor-to-ceiling windows reveals a handsome, zinc-topped bar in front, a couple of tables in back, and not much else. But it’s what’s going on behind that bar that counts; starting with the brightly colored jars of spices that share shelf space with bottles of roasted banana and cocoa nib-flavored Prata Cachaca, brown butter and hay fat-washed Cognac, and seaweed-infused Scotch Whiskey. That’s because (as the name would suggest), the 12-drink menu at Mace is informed entirely by the spices; a concept inspired by the world of aromatics the globetrotting de Soto discovered on his travels.
In less capable hands, ingredients like mace (a nutmeg derivative, commonly used in pumpkin pie), chamomile (think flowery, sleepytime tea), and paprika (the vividly red powdered pepper, frequently found in Hungarian goulash, or sprinkled atop deviled eggs), could read like a disaster in the McCormick aisle. But per de Soto, each smartly conceived libation is a multi-layered, highly nuanced, and utterly original winner; especially that “Paprika;” actually as green as the springtime and tasting as such, made with blanco tequila, smoked paprika and pea shrub, balsamic vinegar, champagne and verjus. Sweet and piney Pandan leaves infuse the sugarcane-based spirit, batavia arrack, in a giddily tropical blend of pineapple juice, clarified milk, black tea, coconut water and rum, and Indian Ambrette (used to add a musky, animalistic element to fragrances), more than holds its own in a powerful concoction of sherry, rye whiskey, tobacco essence and soy sauce. Other drinks are as a delicate and subtle as a whisper; think a Japanese teacup filled with “Grass” — silver needle white tea-infused shochu, grass cordial and grapefruit oil.
Licorice, cardamom, and cumin may not seem like obvious playfellows when it comes to cocktails, but the proof is in the pandan — Mace is adding a serious jolt of spice to the Alphabet City bar scene.