Long-time barmini head bartender Jose “Chuck” Rivera is leaving the José Andréshotspot and D.C. behind to head back to his native Puerto Rico, where he’s opening a place of his own.
He’s partnering with the team behind La Factoria, ranked for several years as one of theWorld’s 50 Best Bars. The new project will be located in San Juan’s trendy La Placita district, and will be focused on showcasing authentic Puerto Rican ingredients and culture.
“We’re going to be actually recreating how Puerto Rico was in the 1930s,” Rivera says. The bar is a throwback to Prohibition days, when thirsty visitors from the States came pouring down to the island. “We’re going to be creating American-style cocktails with Puerto Rican ingredients, with tropical fruits and vegetables, and everything.”
They’ll also explore the early roots of cocktails created on the island over the decades that followed, such as the original Piña Colada. “We want to show everybody what’s Puerto Rico, what’s our culture,” Rivera says. “It’s funny, there’s a lot of bar owners that are opening Cuban-style bars. We’re going to be the first like ‘Puerto Rican bar.’” Perhaps he’s alluding to Colada Shop from another barmini veteran, Juan Coronado, or the already highly-acclaimedBlackTail Bar in Manhattan from the Dead Rabbit team.
Even while spearheading the project, he’ll stay behind the bar. “I’m going to be partner but also bartending every night. I can’t release myself from the bar,” Rivera says with a hearty laugh. He hopes to open the yet-to-be-named bar before the end of the year.
Rivera got started with ThinkFoodGroup four years ago at Mi Casa in Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico, before moving to Washington, D.C. in May 2014 to work at barmini. He began his tenure there as a bar back, learning the intricate system from the ground up. Two bartenders left that August, creating a void. That was Rivera’s big break. He helmed the ambitious, boundary-pushing cocktail institution for two years.
Rivera’s last day at barmini is slated for Aug. 27. barmini is still searching for who will replace him as head bartender, according to Rivera.