Featured bartender: Cafe La Paloma's Ibsan Perez
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Ibsan Perez spent five years behind the bar at the iconic Mexican restaurant Botanas, 816 S. 5th St., before he moved a few blocks down the street. His uncle, Jose Chavez, opened Cafe La Paloma last year and, according to Chavez, Perez has been a visionary and hardworking employee since day one.
"He created the drinks here and he is really good at talking to people while making multiple drinks at the same time," says Chavez.
Perez designed the majority of the cocktail menu which includes a variety of made-from-scratch margaritas. He's also doing his part to introduce the Michelada to Milwaukeeans that don't know it.
"It's great for hangovers," says Perez.
OnMilwaukee.com recently stopped in at Cafe La Paloma and chatted with Perez about Schnoodles, Micheladas, proper tipping and winter.
OnMilwaukee.com: Is it easy or challenging to work for a family member?
Ibsan Perez: It's a little bit of both. But mostly it's gratifying – I feel at home here and really want to see the business succeed. My uncle treats me good and I like helping him out.
OMC: What was your major contribution to the drink menu?
IP: The margaritas. Coming from Botanas, I knew what sold and what I wanted to do, given the chance to create my own margaritas. You have to have a great margarita if you have a Mexican restaurant and I think our house margarita here is the best.
I'm also proud of our fruit margaritas because they are made with real fruit purees – they are less sugary. We don't have any machines. Everything here is handmade.
We only recently started serving pitchers and half pitchers of margaritas because we wanted every drink to be handcrafted. When the ice melts, it changes the taste of the drink and we didn't want that. But people asked for them, so now we serve them.
OMC: How's your Michelada doing?
IP: They are catching on. I recommend them often because I think we make an awesome one here. I explain to people they are like a Bloody Mary. Great for hangovers.
OMC: Where did you learn to tend bar?
IP: I went to the Bartending Academy. I really wanted to have a certificate because I did not have bartending experience when I started. I got a lot of experience on the job – at Botanas – too.
OMC: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
IP: I was born in Mexico and moved to Milwaukee when I was 6. I don't remember much about Mexico. Milwaukee is home. If I go anywhere else, I feel homesick for Milwaukee.
I graduated from Pulaski High School in 2004 and I am hoping to get a business degree someday. I have a passion for education, but I still really love what I do – creating cocktails and working at the bar.
OMC: What do you like to do when you aren't working?
IP: I'm a homebody. I don't like the club scene much but I do I like going on brewery tours and to corner bars. I like everything that's happening on 2nd Street (in Walker's Point).
I'm more into going out to eat. I like a good steak – the bloodier the better. My favorites are Carnevor and 5 O'Clock Steak House. I eat here daily, though. I even get a bite here on my days off.
OMC: What's your favorite food item on Paloma's menu?
IP: Oh, wow, I really love everything. I love the quesadilla, it's a little different with the poblano pepper and the mushroom. I throw a little meat on there, too. I eat that like three times a week.
The soups are great, too. And the chorizo tacos are really good because the chorizo here is not too greasy.
OMC: What do you like about Milwaukee?
IP: Most of all, I like my family and friends. Both of my parents live here. I love the food scene here. And I'm a beer drinker.
OMC: What are you favorite beers?
IP: I like IPAs. Lakefront Brewery beers. Milwaukee Brewing Co. has some great beers. I like it all. I'm not a snob, but I'm definitely a connoisseur.
OMC: How much do you feel people should tip per drink?
IP: Tipping is important – this is a business, of course – but the conversations I have with my customers and if they come back to the restaurant are more important to me.
OMC: Who takes care of the fish? (There are eight fish bowls mixed in with the alcohol behind the bar.)
IP: I do. They don't have names, but I jokingly tell Jose I named them after all of the kids in our family. They are pretty easy to take care of. Just have to feed them every other day.
OMC: Are you a pet person in general?
IP: I am. I have a Schnoodle – a poodle / schnauzer mix. A little girl, Bella. She's 7. My brother has a dog, too, and we walk them together a lot. Take them to the beach or around the neighborhood.
OMC: Is this winter getting you down?
IP: No, I don't mind winter at all. And it's Wisconsin. People are always complaining it's too hot or it's too cold. But really, we have a little bit of everything here.
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