From the below-the-decks sheen of Lure Fishbar to the swank ‘70s influences of El Toro Blanco, restaurateur John McDonald creates unique, 360 atmospheres that elevate the dining experience. They are specific without kitsch, well-designed but never heavy-handed. Luxurious and refined, McDonald provides Manhattan with the types of places where people power lunch or indulge in glam dinners that lead into late-night revels. It is an aesthetic and a culture he has been cultivating since first opening MercBar in the early ‘90s, every year strengthening his foothold in the New York City scene with another opening–most recently, Bowery Meat Company and, very soon, Sessanta at SIXTY SoHo. Below, we put McDonald to The Interrogator task, talking Napa road trips, red wine, and Elvis Presley.
Place of residence:
Downtown New York City, SoHo
No specific occupation–restaurants, bars, media (Tasting Table), and EBOOST.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
A good father.
Quote to live by:
“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen endeavor.” — Vince Lombardi
First job you ever had:
Waxing skis in high school.
Least favorite part of your day:
Anything before 9 a.m.
Windows down, the song you’re playing is:
“Reach For The Sky” by Social Distortion (lyrics to live by)
Three guilty pleasures:
I really don’t have guilty pleasures, so rather not make them up.
If you had to watch one movie on repeat for eternity, what would it be?
You have a million dollars to spend on art, you buy…
Something worth $2 million.
Plane, train or automobile for a road trip?
Train in Europe. Car in USA.
What IS your favorite road trip?
A drive up the coast of California into Napa in July.
Personal travel ethos:
Pack light, never check bags, be spontaneous even after trip is planned.
Drink of choice:
Beach house or tree house:
Where the best meal you ever had and what was it?
Best meal is pretty difficult, however I will go with the first meal at the outpost of Matsugen NYC. It was a collaboration with Tokyo’s Matsushita brothers and Jean-Georges Vongerichten in Tribeca. The first week they were open all three brothers were in town and the meal covered some of the best sushi, sashimi, soba, steak, and other Japanese cuisine all in one sitting that was by any measure as good as it gets. I miss having that restaurant in NYC.
What is the best news you ever received?
“You’re going to be dad,” whispered in my ear by my wife.
Who or what is largely overrated? Explain.
Sales. Usually when you buy things on sale you don’t really need it.
Briefly describe the best concert you have ever gone to.
Best concert would be my first. My mom took my sister and I to see Elvis Presley in 1977. My mom went to ASU and knew the back door location so when the show was over she took us to see him leave the building and there were only a handful of people who knew.
Where do you go for inspiration, peace of mind?
I don’t have a particular place where I “get peace of mind.” It’s not about the place; it’s about controlling your attitude no matter the location.
Photo by Gerald Forster via Herewegonow.