A tequila love story from Jalisco to San Francisco 

click to enlarge Julio Bermejo
  • MIke Koozmin/The S.f. Examiner
  • It took Julio Bermejo of Tommy’s restaurant just one sip to fall in love with one tequila maker’s product. Then it took Bermejo 13 years to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
Julio Bermejo loves tequila.

For the past 30 years, he’s been the guy behind the bar at Tommy’s restaurant in the Richmond district, shaking up his world-famous Tommy’s Margarita for neighborhood locals and visitors from near and far. Bermejo’s selection of tequila is legendary, and his personality is as warming as the añejo he pours.

He’s no stranger to praise either. Bermejo is the sole American ambassador of Mexico’s National Chamber for the Tequila Industry. His margarita has been dubbed a new-era classic by the International Bartenders’ Association for its sheer simplicity: 100 percent agave tequila, fresh-squeezed lime juice and agave nectar. That’s it.

But along the way, Bermejo found something more incredible than fermented plant juice and accolades — a tequila love story, if you will.

The tale began sometime in the 1980s, when Bermejo’s passion for tequila was budding. It was then that he took a sip of El Tesoro that he would never forget.

“This stuff was delicious,” Bermejo said. Something on the back of the bottle piqued his interest. It said something like, Don Felipe personally hand-picks each of the agave. Bermejo was loath to believe it.

“I thought there was no way this could be true,” he said. “I had to meet this guy and see for myself.”

Upon his arrival to the El Tesoro distillery in the small Mexican town of Arandas in Jalisco, he saw a woman standing beside Felipe.

Bermejo had brought along his then-girlfriend, yet he still could not help but admire this woman’s beauty.

“The soft and warm gaze of her brownish, black eyes — it was just, wow,” Bermejo said. “It was the most comforting thing I’ve seen.”

It turns out the woman was Lily, the daughter of Don Felipe. It also turns out Felipe did hand-pick his agave, exactly as he said he did.

In their small town, Felipe was also known as “El Ingeniero,” or “The Engineer.” Along with running a respected, self-sufficient but small family operation using early tequila-making methods that included crushing agave piñas with a tahona wheel, Felipe also taught chemistry at a nearby school. Over the years and in between relationships, Bermejo would return to Arandas hoping to court Lily.

“I already knew what their operation was like, but I would travel all the way to Arandas just to see Lily and say hi,” Bermejo recalled.

For 13 years, Lily politely declined each advance.

“I’ve been rejected for breakfast, walks in the park, coffee, concerts — you name it,” Bermejo said.

He eventually found long-term companionship with another woman. Talks of marriage ensued, and Bermejo even flew to Cape Town, South Africa to meet the family of the woman he was preparing to propose to. Still, Bermejo said, he felt a little doubt. It was just the slightest bit of hope that he could be with Lily instead.

“If you want to marry someone, you have to be all in,” Bermejo said. “My feelings for Lily were based on nothing but a glance.”

So Bermejo made one last trip to Arandas to see Lily, who was out of town at the time of his arrival. Determined, he returned again a few weeks later and found Lily in her office. Again, he asked her out to lunch.

“I wanted to know before I went and proposed [to another woman] if this woman [Lily] has any interest in me,” Bermejo said.

After 13 years of denial, Lily finally said yes. During lunch, Bermejo found out Lily was single. “When she asked me the question in return, I told her that I was in a relationship, but, ‘I wanted to break up with her to be with you,’” Bermejo said.

Lily told him that they could talk further when he was single. On the same visit, Bermejo asked Lily if she would like to join him and some friends to go see a Santana concert. She accepted the invitation.

Bermejo likes to remember it this way: During the soulful instrumental of “Samba Pa Ti,” he touched her hand and saw fireworks.

Two weeks later, Bermejo broke up with the other woman. And upon returning to Mexico, he took Lily on a getaway to Puerto Vallarta.

“It was beautiful, we had a hotel on the beach, waves were crashing, and on our second date I asked her to be my wife,” Bermejo said.

Nine months later the two wed in front of a thousand guests who flew in from all around the world to see tequila royalty tie the knot.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The couple is currently in the process of distilling and promoting their second batch of agave spirits, dubbed L&J, marrying precedent and prospect.

Sometimes doing what you love — in this case, drinking tequila — leads you to the person you love.

About The Author

Rhys Alvarado

Rhys Alvarado

Rhys Alvarado is a cocktail enthusiast and sucker for soul and sweet reggae music. A food and drink blogger since 2009, Rhys has sipped his way from Hawaii to Santa Barbara and up the coast to San Francisco, where he's found a glorious wave of craft concoctions and expert drink-makers.
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