Once a dishwasher and a barback, bartender Jose Zepeda now enters bartending competitions and barrel-ages and infuses spirits for fun. Why the shift to a career in the industry? Aside from the obvious increase in pay and perks, the real draw for Zepeda was, admittedly, “girls and money.”
Zepeda had a clear idea of what the lifestyle of a bartender was in his early twenties, and now in his early thirties, has grown with the position. As bars around the country have remodeled and renovated to fit the “age of the aesthetic,” the bartenders themselves have had to meet higher expectations. The idea of “girls and money” as a primary motivator shifted for Zepeda as he began to develop a palate and appreciation for the art and science of spirits.
One of the most important experiences of Zepeda’s career as a bartender happened on a trip to New York City for his twenty-first birthday. It was during that trip that Zepeda learned that bartending could be more than just pouring beer and mixing Jack and Cokes. As he entered Employees Only, a speakeasy in West Village, Zepeda was greeted with a bar adorned with fresh herbs and spices. The bartenders dressed in professional chefs aprons, which intimidated Zepeda despite his excitement to visit the bartending haven.
“I didn’t even order a cocktail,” says Zepeda. “I didn’t know how to order. I just got a beer.”
Now, Zepeda would not only know how to order, he would probably be able to share a few recipes as well.
Hopscotch Tavern, Zepeda’s place of work since 2013, allows him to let his creativity shine as the head of the barreling program, which he started April 2017. His original intent was to age Negronis for National Negroni Week but stretched the program to fit his experimental impulses. Zepeda now ages Old Fashioneds and Boulevardiers for weeks at a time. Zepeda, of course, could not divulge how long he ages his spirits for, not because of any secret-keeping, but because, he says, “they just have to be ready to go. It takes time.”