Before you go to a restaurant, what do you want — or need — to know the most? In our series The Rundown, we’re sharing all the essentials about Resy restaurants — our newly opened, old, and soon-to-be-favorites spots.
This time around, we’re looking into Bar Tulix, a swanky seafood-centric Mexican Manhattan den from Oxomoco chef-owner Justin Bazdarich and Mercer Street Hospitality founder John McDonald.
As the third act in a Mexican trilogy for both parties (Oxomoco and the recently closed Xilonen for Bazdarich, Dos Caminos and El Toro Blanco for McDonald), Bar Tulix is an exciting new addition to Mexican cuisine in the city, a place where salsa-spiced seafood towers and masa-battered whole fish collide.
Here’s everything you need to know about this anticipated restaurant, opening this Friday, March 4th.
1. Once upon a pandemic time…
… Came the idea of a restaurant.
It was early into COVID-19 and John McDonald was bored. He’d decided to transform El Toro Blanco, his decade-old West Village Mexican restaurant, into Hancock St, an update on the supper club genre and a completely new concept. That’s when he realized: He wasn’t going to have a Mexican restaurant anymore.
Over in Soho, his burger destination, Burger & Barrel, remained COVID-closed. McDonald had every intention of reopening, but when he ran into Justin Bazdarich, his friend of over 15-plus years, something clicked, he explains.
“I said, ‘Listen, if you’re interested in coming into Manhattan and doing something new and fresh and different, I won’t reopen my business. I’ll do it with you if you take on the food.’”
This was nearly a year ago. And after months of discussion and ideating, the concept for Bar Tulix was born.
2. It’s pronounced “Tu-lee-sh.”
Not Tulix with a hard “eks.”
Bazdarich has an affinity for restaurants with the letter “X” that revolve around Mayan and Aztec deities, if you hadn’t noticed. Oxomoco and Xilonen were named after the Aztec goddesses of the night and young maize respectively, and Tulix is a nod to the Mayan moon goddess Ixchel, whose mythology includes dragonflies, or in the Yucatec Mayan word, “tulix.”
But don’t go digging for meaning too much — Bazdarich and McDonald aren’t trying to do anything too concept-y or theme-driven with Bar Tulix. And they’re certainly not playing by the rules.
3. It’s Mexican seafood with a twist or two.
“When someone says to me, ‘New York needs another authentic Mexican restaurant,’ I’m kind of like, ‘Well, this isn’t going to be it!’” McDonald jokes.
In short: Don’t go looking for tradition. Instead, Bar Tulix reads more like a free-flowing ode to coastal Mexico, with a seafood-heavy menu and flavor profiles you’d encounter in the Baja California peninsula, from Tijuana to Ensenada. Most importantly, Bazdarich is having fun with the menu and putting what he likes to eat on it.
“It’s very enjoyable to only have to worry about the kitchen again,” he says.
Bazdarich raves about a crab tostada with a vanilla-orange mayo and habañero salsa, and of a clam sourdough toast (“That’s just a fantasy for me: garlic, booze, butter, and clams on toast,” he says). He’s stoked about a whole lobster drizzled with mezcal-smoked chile butter on top, and waxes poetic about a deep-fried whole fish battered in masa (supplemented by the folks at Sobre Masa, who’ll be nixtamalizing heirloom corn for them), which will be served with tortillas — whether flour or corn depends on your choice of entrée. There’ll be a Caesar salad as a nod to the dish’s Mexican history (it was invented by an Italian man named Caesar Cardini in Tijuana), and reinterpretations of the quintessential raw bar.
The one dish both Bazdarich and McDonald are most excited to see come together is the seafood tower.
“There’s something magic about people sitting down and sharing a plateau,” says McDonald. “From almost 20 years at Lure, it’s still so great when you walk into a room and see that: people sharing and grabbing, putting sauces. It’s interactive.”
And he can’t wait to see it happening in this new space, too.
4. Look out for the bookcase of booze.
If you take a look at McDonald’s Mercer Street portfolio, one thing is very clear: He knows how to build a room.
For Bar Tulix, the veteran restaurateur created a dramatically lit space with hand painted gloss black walls and wood paneling, amped up by 1950’s leather bentwood chairs, heavy oak tabletops, and photos of a sailboat race that took place in Ensenada in the ‘50’s. (Pro tip: McDonald already has an inkling for what the best seats in the house will be — do ask for any of the three booths in the window as a special request note when booking on Resy.)
“It’s very subtle, warm, and a sexy room,” McDonald states. “It’s a dinner only [spot]— we’re not doing an all-day café.”
This only serves to draw your attention to a bright and library-like bookcase — a dominant backlit display that shows off all the tequila and mezcal on offer.
Dreamt up by general manager Trey Bliss (who followed Bazdarich from Xilonen), the bar program goes deep on small-batch and artisanal tequila, mezcal, and sotol. Bliss put as much thought and care into the selections as one would with a serious wine list, offering a range of bottles even McDonald didn’t know existed.
“Trey really possesses that knowledge to merchandize and showcase that kind of product,” McDonald says. “It’s not just the obvious big brand names; it’s going to be fun.”
5. This is a collaboration built on mutual trust and respect.
Bazdarich and McDonald met over 15 years ago when the former was just a young chef at Jean-Georges, and the latter a restaurant regular and friend of the acclaimed French chef. Over the years, they followed each other’s culinary journeys, but Bar Tulix is the first time the friends became business partners.
“Part of my mindset these past two years with COVID was just wanting to do projects that I was a 100% passionate [about], and absolutely laser-focused and into. And so much of that has to do with having a culinary partner like Justin,” McDonald says.
For Bazdarich, working with McDonald and being linked to Mercer Street Hospitality after helming his own restaurants has been freeing in a way, allowing him to focus on the menu.
“John has a great stylistic eye with the space, plus the experience [surrounding] hospitality,” he says. “It’s a really easy-going collaboration that makes my life much easier. [He] can do what [he does] best, and I’ve tried to focus on what I think I do best: food.”
Bar Tulix is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and from 5 to 11:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.