2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

How to Stop Worrying and Love Tequila

How to Stop Worrying and Love Tequila

Batangas in Tequila

As a cool evening fell over Tequila’s central square, kids kicked soccer balls, old couples chatted on benches and I sipped a horchata in the corner, considering the limited options left to me following an afternoon of failure.

I was working on a story about the agave market and had spent weeks talking with industry experts and analyzing historic trends, but I wanted to put agave farmers at the center of the conversation and so I had given myself a day and a half in Tequila to interview and photograph a few of them. I had a list of contacts going in and a few strategies to round up more. I had imagined dropping my bags and running off into vast fields of agave tequilana to take photos in the golden evening light, but instead I was spinning my wheels.

I had been having good conversations and had learned interesting things, but I wasn’t shooting good pictures and I hadn’t found the characters to put at the center of my narrative. I needed agave farmers.

Clayton Szczech, industry expert and owner of La Cata bar, suggested that I might just bump into one at another bar: La Capilla. “It’s a small town,” he said.

As I pushed my way through a crowd towards the bartenders, Clayton’s prediction seemed entirely reasonable. The place was a dive, but with bright, local vibes. Old friends and new lovers out on a Friday night, drinking shots straight from the bottle. A single guitar player belted from the corner and the room swayed to the tune.

The bartop was littered with spent bottles of Coke, fresh limes, and tequila, and the bartenders hammered out one plastic cup after another of their signature drink: the batanga.

I gestured for one, sat, sipped and started taking pictures. Some consider the bar to be one of the best in the world, stripped down to the simplest possible ingredients of the ultimate neighborhood joint. A few mementoes, a couple of posters, just clean enough.

It took less than five minutes, but a group pushed over and introduced themselves. Luis Angel, Andrea, and Maricio, a farmer and heir to an agave dynasty.

We drank, we danced, we drank more and we made plans to meet at 10 the next morning: late enough to sleep at least a little. The bartenders handed out rounds of free drinks, the music turned up and a few guy calling themselves hotas—“the hot gays!” they teased—friended me on Facebook and asked when they could see their photos, and a local party girl pulled me off to the next bar.

I had spent the day feeling like the outsider I was and worrying that the story wouldn’t come together, but suddenly I had friends and a plan.

I never saw my three amigos again, but the night—tequila mixed with equal parts welcoming and luck—nudged me back on track.

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