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Washington area native Josh McCabe’s 18-year resume reads more like a food critic’s list of must-visit DC restaurants: RPM Italian, 1789 Club and Restaurant, The Hamilton, Ghibellina…to have him calling the shots (and pouring them) for the Occidental’s drink program feels like a pro sports team having landed an all-star free agent.
McCabe got his start in the hospitality industry at the young age of 13, working for a golf course in the suburbs of DC and taking on his first proper restaurant job at 16. “I’ve worked every job in the business, except chef.” With a service industry resume as long an arm, it was during several years tending bar at the famed Hamilton restaurant that his love of the beverage side of the business grew. “I really enjoy the education behind it, all of it, spirits, wines, craft beer – there’s so much to learn and to share,” he said.
After earning his chops working at the Hamilton for nearly 7 years McCabe began something of a headlining tour, either serving as head bartender or bar manager for in-demand establishments like RPM Italian where he trained staff on how to make a dizzying 70-drink cocktail list or 1789, one of the city’s finest restaurants, and Ghibellina in the hip 14th Street corridor where he continually created new and seasonal drink menus. When asked to describe the palette of the typical DC drinker, McCabe said, “What’s great about DC is it embraces everything, there’s such a diversity of styles, that all genres of beverages are celebrated here.”
In keeping with the Occidental’s farm-to-table ethos, McCabe brought his relationships with a variety of local spirit producers to the restaurant in order to craft an ever-evolving cocktail menu that highlights locally sourced liquors for ingredients that were often assumed to come from outside our city. Thanks to McCabe, some of the Occidental’s most popular drinks now feature locally made Italian bitters, gin, vermouth, rum and even a locally made aguardiente.
What’s McCabe’s go-to cocktail? The Negroni — like a true Washingtonian who embraces diversity and change, McCabe calls The Negroni, “the most versatile cocktail there is.