"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com is back for another round – brought to you by Aperol, Pinnacle, Jameson, Fireball, Red Stag and Avion. The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
It wasn’t a usual Monday night at This Is It, 418 E. Wells. St., when I popped in for a featured bartender interview. I expected it to be fairly dead, with maybe a scattering of barflies grabbing a quick drink to close out a rainy Monday.
Much to my surprise, however, most of the seats at the bar were filled. Apparently, the crowd was there for the new episode of "RuPaul’s Drag Race" – shown on both of the bar’s two TVs – and the ensuing drink specials.
Thankfully, bartender Tom Momberg found some time to take questions about working at a gay bar, drinks, motorcycles and killing off the bar’s hideous carpet – found on both the ground and the walls.
OnMilwaukee.com: Are you a Milwaukee native?
Tom Momberg: Yeah, I am. I was born here. I grew up a little bit on the East Coast in Winston-Salem; that’s where a lot of family still lives. But my parents ultimately came back here, and I went to high school in Oak Creek and went straight into UWM from there.
OMC: And you’re a journalism senior at UWM?
TM: Actually a double major in journalism and philosophy with a broadcast focus. I’ll be graduating in December.
OMC: Congratulations. What is the goal with all of that?
TM: I want to write. I want to travel. I want to see new faces. I just think that bartending and journalism a lot of times go hand in hand. It’s the interpersonal skills that people gain that are universally nice. I just love people, and I want to continue my life. I don’t want to stay in Milwaukee forever.
OMC: If you could pick one place that you could go, where would it be?
TM: Scotland. I’d love to tour some distilleries.
OMC: What journalist do you want to strive to be like?
TM: Well, I can tell you that I’ve read pretty much everything by Hunter S. Thompson. Maybe a bad example of a role model, but I really respect his writing and his voice.
OMC: So you say bartending and journalism go hand in hand. Would you say this job has been more informative than some of your classes?
TM: I guess in finding a way to connect to someone and keeping that through a conversation. I think that’s important in journalism, your image and your pathos appeal, as you might say. I wouldn’t say that I’ve learned more from doing this – I mean, it’s a gay bar.
Even growing up, I was never really all that comfortable. I am gay, and it took me a while to come out. All of my friends were straight, but it was always fun finding a way to relate to people and entertaining different notions that you share in common.
OMC: Do you notice or tell when straight people come in?
TM: Sometimes it’s pretty noticeable, but the fun thing about the bar is that it’s really inclusive toward anybody. I mean, we have drag queens come in here every once and a while, but it’s not a drag bar. That’s what I like about it; it’s not completely over the edge. We accept everyone. By the nature of our location, we’ll get a lot of service people from Louise’s and Rock Bottom Brewery after they get off of their shifts – gay, straight, doesn’t matter.
OMC: Does it ever annoy you when straight people come in as tourists essentially?
TM: Definitely not. I think some people feel a bit out of their comfort zone, but we do a good job of trying to get people interacting and including them in conversations.
OMC: Is it hard to convince straight people that this isn’t a stereotypical gay bar?
TM: I don’t know if I’ve ever had to really convince anyone. I think you just have to be here to experience it. I mean, we’ve had some weird crowds; it happens … quite a bit, but it’s a constant influx of different people.
OMC: What’s the weirdest crowd you can think of?
TM: Oh, we’ve had just messes. At bar close last week, we had to carry a drag queen out of here with her heels off because she was passed out over the bar. And I wouldn’t have served her had I known she was that bad already, but with all of the makeup, it’s hard to tell!
OMC: So besides journalism, what are your hobbies?
TM: Well, I love the outdoors. I’m a backpacker, camper, rock climber and a survivalist. I just love being outside, going on extended hiking trips. I’m a hunter. I really love guns. I grew up with my dad, and he influenced me with a lot of those things. He got me riding motorcycles at a really young age. I actually sold my car this last fall, so now I’ve got two motorcycles but not a car.
OMC: What are the two models?
TM: They’re older bikes. I’ve got an old café-style racer, a Suzuki GS550, and I also own a Kawasaki GPz750, which was a premier sports bike for its time in the ’80s.
OMC: That was all like brain surgery to me. I’ve never had the stones to get on a motorcycle.
TM: I mean, my dad taught me how to drive stick shift when I was like 10, and I had ridden on ATVs and dirt bikes prior to that. Once I got on a bike, it just kind of felt like a second home. When I hop on a bike, I get away from my parents and my significant other, and just put it all behind me.
OMC: Do you get hit on a lot here?
TM: Surprisingly, women hit on me here just as much as men. I find that astonishing. I’m just always like, "You know this is a gay bar," and they’re like, "Yeah, but I didn’t think you’re gay!" But it’s fun.
OMC: What is your favorite drink to make for others?
TM: I can make a lot of things. I probably make more extravagant drinks for myself. My favorite drink is the one I’m drinking right now: a rye Manhattan. I’m a whiskey guy … and beer.
OMC: If you were showing off, what drink would you make?
TM: I would make a James Bond martini. We don’t have Gordon’s here, so that makes it difficult. But Stoli is better than Gordon’s. What I always like to suggest to people with my favorite drink to make as a martini – a vodka or gin martini – is I like to swirl the glass with some good grade scotch. You swirl the glass and then empty it. It just leaves that little bit of a smoky heat aftertaste on a gin martini, but it’s not overpowering.
OMC: How long have you been bartending?
TM: Four months.
TM: I grew up pouring my dad drinks when I was 6, as bad as that sounds.
OMC: What was the biggest learning curve for starting bartending?
TM: There was no learning curve. For me, working in a restaurant was a lot more challenging – putting things together at a fast pace, making sure everything goes out in order. But what I felt was lacking in the kitchen was the kind of social experiences that I get out here. I mean, we’re probably the busiest gay bar Sunday through Thursday night.
OMC: Why do you think that is?
TM: Surprisingly, despite this crappy atmosphere, people really like this place.
OMC: What would you do to remodel this place?
TM: Where do I start? First of all, there’s about eight feet of space between this drop ceiling and the Bar Association’s floor. So I would raise that up. Definitely take out the carpet and the carpeted walls.
OMC: How about the front entrance? Because it’s pretty hidden, and you have to kind of seek this place out. Is that a part of the allure?
TM: I think so. Actually, there used to not be a front door here. I mean, now we have a flag outside as our sign and the colored brick to identify where we are. But a lot of people like the fact that we’re like a little hidden gem here in Milwaukee.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.