Jerry Zheng has gone through a few ups and downs to get where he is now, co-owner of two successful bars in China's capital, Liu Zhihua reports.
Born in 1989, Zheng Jilong has become a cocktail-making wizard, starting from scratch to co-own two successful bars. D&M Bar opened in 2013 at a residential community near Beijing's CBD, and The Mixing House opened earlier this year.
A school dropout who once struggled to make a living, Zheng says an online video in which a mixologist showed his bartending flair changed his life.
That was in 2009, three years after the Weihai native from Shandong province had dropped out of a martial arts occupational school, making a meager income through occasional performances.
"I was young and didn't have a skill to impress employers," Zheng says, who is now well-known as Jerry Zheng among Beijing cocktail lovers.
"I had never heard of a mixologist, but was stunned by the gracefulness and smartness he demonstrated in the video."
In 2009, with all the money he had saved - 10,000 yuan ($1,500), Zheng came to Beijing and took a four-month bartending course at an occupational school.
"The school was small and not that high-end, but it opened a door to a new world for me," Zheng says.
It was first time he realized bartending is a respectable profession that requires systemic skills and knowledge, and it's not just about shaking cocktail shakers and being cool, he adds.
It was hard for him to remember cocktail recipes, and even harder to master bartending movements with flair. However, the training he'd gotten in martial arts since young had made him accustomed to move his arms and hands firmly and with strength, and that helped him to learn to make cocktails with elegant but relaxed moves.
He got up early and started practicing at 7 am every day, two hours earlier than others.
He thought all the time about tips he'd been given to develop his skills, and practiced his set of movements much more than others in the class.
"I was not smart, so I worked hard," Zheng says.
But four months was too short a time for him to fully acquire the skills and knowledge to become a bartender after graduation. So he started working as a waiter in 1949 The Hidden City, a club area in Beijing, where he got the chance to learn from senior bartenders.
Everything seemed going well, until a bad decision dragged him to the lowest point of his life.
He joined in a startup and contracted to run a bar, only to find he was victim of fraud, and lost more than 60,000 yuan in two months. Most of the money had come from his parents, who even suspected that Zheng had become addicted with drugs.
Starting from zero, Zheng drifted from one bar to another, until in 2010, he got a position at Twilight, a popular bar in Beijing.
The bar had a different culture from others where he'd worked. He was not only encouraged to learn from its skilled mixologists, but he also was required to create new cocktail recipes every day.
He quickly developed his cocktail-mixing skills and theoretical knowledge, such as the characters of different spirits, and how to mix them with other ingredients, and says now that he learned more in his time at Twilight than in the past years combined.
"I was enlightened that mixing is the soul to a cocktail, and it is equally important to innovate and to respect the classics."
In 2012, he started to consider opening his own bar in a residential community.
"Most of bars in Beijing are located in bar streets and hotels, and I just started to wonder whether they can satisfy all the needs," says Zheng.
As Chinese people are increasingly getting used to drinking cocktails, people would go a long way to bar streets and hotels if they want to throw a party or socialize with others, he says. But if they just want to sit down to drink and talk with close friends, or simply to enjoy cocktails themselves, he believes most would prefer a bar that is quiet and not far from home.
In 2013, Zheng borrowed money and opened D&M Bar with another mixologist, Guo Xushan.
In about a year, thanks to its location, privacy and drinks list of about 150 cocktails, it was packed every night.
Then Zheng launched The Mixing House with Yang Zaigui, a chef, which means they can provide Western and Japanese food, as customers from D&M Bar had suggested.
Opened in February, The Mixing House has begun to show a profit, he says.
"I never dreamt I would own two bars when I was in Weihai," Zheng says.
"I'm glad I came to Beijing. It is a place for dreamers, if you try hard."
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Dishes and cocktails at Jerry Zheng's The Mixing House in Beijing. Photos By Jiang Dong / China Daily
Zheng Jilong (center), better known as Jerry Zheng, with chefs and mixologists of The Mixing House.