Thumb through the pages of the cocktail menu at Mace (649 East 9th Street) and you won’t find classic drink names upon which to seize. Instead, you’ll peruse names of spices in bold-face, each one sketched and explained, in addition to being listed in a beverage. Here is pandan, a sweet herbal leaf that blends with clarified milk, rum, and pineapple juice. Or paprika, which adds just a little peppery heat to a verdant drink built with tequila, pea shrub, and tart verjus. The bar’s namesake, mace, is on the menu, too — the fragrant sibling of nutmeg mixes with a bittersweet blend of Aperol, aquavit, and beet juice.
Drinks hew to familiar flavor profiles (tart and fresh, nightcap-esque, deep and boozy), but nothing is going to taste like your classic manhattan — and so drinking at Mace can, if you want it to, be a little like a global education.
When cocktail historian and Boilermaker owner Greg Boehm contacted bartender Nico de Soto for this project, “he wanted to work with flavors we don’t find in spirits,” de Soto explains. “We decided to open a bar that would travel, and bring back flavors from everywhere. We decided to do the spices.”
De Soto was particularly suited to such a concept; the native of France has traversed the globe over the course of his career, working in Australia, London, and New York.
Once he, Boehm, and third partner Zach Sharaga latched on to spices, they began envisioning an ever-evolving menu of drinks that would showcase unusual and hard-to-find flavors and ingredients. Some of those spices are exotic and unfamiliar, but de Soto also worked to integrate more familiar ingredients to blunt the edge of what could otherwise read as an intimidating menu. Cardamom, cinnamon, and cocoa bean, for instance, get play next to ambrette and grass.
And while each drink contains several ingredients — and at least one or two homemade elements so that the cocktails are “not something you can get everywhere,” says de Soto — they’re delivered with an efficiency and speed that’s unusual for craft cocktail bars.
Mace is designed to look like a modern spice shop, but de Soto says the team purposely strayed from the ubiquitous old-timey drinking-den aesthetic. “This is not an apothecary,” he says. The narrow, bricked space is anchored by a zinc bar, and jars of spices line a wall and the back bar. The place manages to give off a semi-casual neighborhood vibe, and by 10 p.m. on a Thursday, good-looking Alphabet City denizens begin to mingle with each other across tables and bar stools.
Miguel Trinidad — who runs the kitchen at Boehm’s other joint, Boilermaker, in addition to Maharlika and Jeepney — is putting out a menu of simple small bites here; items include spiced nuts, melon-and-prosciutto skewers, and flatbreads topped with crab and avocado or bacon and fig jam.
Mace is open from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, and from 4 p.m. until 2 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.