In the very early years of this blog, I made a visit to Mama Shelter where I was impressed by the drinks, as well as the person making them. That was 2009 and the bartender was Nico de Soto. And while Mama Shelter may have kind of lost cocktail cred over the past few years, Nico has seriously gone places (literally and figuratively.) He went on to work with the ECC group in Paris, London and NYC, travelled all over the world, won awards (including most influential bartender at 2014 Cocktails Spirits), and opened his own successful New York bar, Mace. And now, he’s completed the cocktillian loop, returning to France to open his second spot, Danico.
Danico is the bar attached to hotspot Darocco, a large light, and chic 180 seat Italian eatery all housed in Jean Paul Gaultier’s former flagship location and brought to you by Alexandre Giesbert and Julien Ross. Don’t hesitate to head straight through the busy trattoria to this bar hidden at the back or slip in via the Passage Vivienne side entrance.
In terms of décor, French contemporary and tattoo artist SupaKitch added signature touches like quirky wallpaper and a cool cocktail bar logo to the otherwise casually chic and unassumingly elegant small bar and its mezzanine. In Paris, where space is often at a premium and service is not, Darocco and Danico’s welcoming ambience and attitude offer a more inviting alternative that let you feel like you can breath…
Behind the bar, good-looking Frenchmen in nautical striped shirts (*wink, wink* Monsieur Gaultier) welcome incomings with a friendly smile and ‘bonjour.’ The Paris-based bar trio have all worked internationally with the Experimental Group and Nico, making for a tight team with a shared vision, set of skills and an understanding of service that allows them to function well even when the big man behind the bar is back in the Big Apple.
On the menu, a dozen cocktails with different base spirits ranging in price from 13 – 16 Euros tempt thirsty visitors. The menu itself is handy with an indication of glassware, method and flavor profile for each drink. For further reading, turn to the last page where it goes into deeper detail on each drink, including brands used.
It’s not surprising that the cocktails are well made and they focus on homemade syrups, etc. What makes Danico more of a stand out are some of the more unusual ingredients successfully incorporated (Pandan syrup, soy sauce, Japanese seaweed bitters, etc.) But there is also maturity to this menu that shows through in the fact that they are confidently incorporating more recent trends (vinegar, beets) that a less mature bartender (“tonka beans are soooo last year”) might ignore in lieu of the ‘next big thing.’
The menu is comprehensive in terms of offering something for every style/level of drinker while still encouraging exploration and some category crossover. The St Germain des Près is an approachable choice that unapologetically works a very popular combo of elderflower and cucumber, amps it up with pepper heat, then smooths it all out with egg white. La Myrtille!!! feels familiar, like a pimped out kir royale, made more complex and richer with the addition of Pierre Ferrand cognac fat washed with hazelnut butter and infused with tonka beans, verjus and the blueberry coming in the form of a shrub. At the other end of the spectrum, are choices like Pour Toi, le Barman!! (this menu likes exclamation points!!) Here’s a drink in my wheelhouse with a more intense mélange of rhum, red vermouth, Cynar involving sous vide and chica morada inspiration, it’s got a bitter edge + light mouth feel that make it a nice aperitif choice.
They can handle the basics beyond the menu. I started with the usual martini and got a Plymouth/Noilly Pratt with a twist, stirred in an ice cold mixing glass straight from the freezer. They’ve got a dozen or so gins ranging from London dry to newer styles. I finished my night with a bartender’s choice. Paul noted my prior orders of a martini and a Sayonara, Motherfucker!!! (punctuation theirs). I got something short and strong, including Rittenhouse, punt e mess, bacon bitters, maraschino and a few other things that was dry, layered and left a pleasant heat/spice that rested for a nice amount of time on my palette (I think this is coming from the bitters that have something in addition to bacon, but not sure what.)
Beyond the liquid, the glasses and the bar tools make an impact. In a detour from the usual silver or brass, here, shakers and jiggers are gold-plated. Mixing glasses are chilled, juicers are high-end, tools are top notch, including the (pleasure to use) de Soto double teardrop stirrer.
Increase your endurance at the bar by ordering up something from the restaurant: pizza, plates or bar snacks. If the olives, focaccia and cheese, are an indication, I’m good with the food. The focaccia is a tasty filler, but not as thick or bready as the focaccia I’ve had before (although I’m no expert on Italian baked goods, so that’s an observation rather than a criticism.) I totally dig the generous plate of large, quality chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano with aged balsamic vinegar. (And, served in this fashion is about the only way I want to eat cheese before a meal.)
With the attached restaurant pulling in a good crowd, I foresee Danico will be busy with the pre and post dinner drinkers alone. And, being the latest it-spot among the industry crowd, the butts on bar stools, won’t be lacking for a long time (although the ‘newness’ element will taper off at some point.) With that in mind, I recommend an opening hour stop to avoid the rushes. Bonus: they open at 6pm, atypically early for Paris, but something I really appreciate on nights when I want to get out, get a drink and then get back home to make some dinner and quietly enjoy the evening.
In short: Danico is an impressive showing that feels comfortable, quality and more adult-like than many of the current Parisian cocktail options. Nice work, Nico!!! (puncutation mine)
6 Rue Vivienne, 75002