Featured bartender: Joe Meleski of Le Reve
Once again, OnMilwaukee.com writers "College Dave" Mikolajek and Molly Snyder teamed up to interview a local bartender. This time, Joe Meleski of Le Reve got the gang up.
Molly Snyder: How long have you worked here?
Joe Meleski: Just over a year. The restaurant has been here four years, but the bar just opened last March. I always say "I came with the bar" or "bartender included" because I have been here since the beginning. It has been awesome.
MS: Where did you work prior to Le Reve?
JM: I worked at Balistreri's Bluemound Inn – with Dave.
Dave Mikolajek: Didn't I train you?
JM: Yeah. I started at Balistreri's as a busboy when I was 15. Over the years, I have worked at Rolling Hills, Seven Seas, Third Street Pier. Fine dining mostly. I had a brief stint at a beer-and-shot bar in Waukesha but it wasn't for me.
MS: What do you like about bartending?
JM: I find it satisfying to take care of everything. For customers not to have to worry about anything. I particularly like it here because Tosa is a little community. I live three blocks away, so many of my customers' kids go to school with my kids. I like that.
MS: How old are your kids?
JM: 11, 8 and one on the way.
MS: Congratulations. When is the baby due?
JM: In July. I'm so excited. We have a boy and a girl already, and we didn't find out the sex, so it's going to be a big surprise. The biggest surprise of my life.
DM: Joe got snatched up by a cougar. You can't tell, though. She's hot.
JM: She's beauitful.
MS: Awww. So how does your career as a bartender fit into family life?
JM: It can be hard, but it makes my time with them very valuable. I make a point to see them every morning, even though I often work late. I make this shake with my son every morning – we make it with all of these berries. He loves it.
DM: Now that you're married, would you rather be hit on by a man, because it's not as tempting?
JM: No. And regardless of the ring, people still hit on you.
MS: What do you like to do when you're not bartending or doing stuff with the family?
JM: I have three gardens. I'm into recycling, composting. And I make my own bitters.
DM: When it comes to sports, do you prefer playing them, watching them or betting on them?
JM: Watching them. I don't bet.
MS: Did you grow up in Milwaukee?
JM: I grew up in Tosa. I've spent my whole life here. Milwaukee is the best city I have ever experienced. There's always so much to do. The people here are awesome; they're so friendly. This is not always the case when you go other places.
MS: What is your favorite drink to make?
JM: Throughout the years, I have gone on various martini and cocktail kicks, but currently, since I've started working here, I've enjoyed getting into French liqueurs and French spirits in general. My favorite right now is Lillet, a French apertif wine that's classified as a vermouth. It' awesome with gin. Grand Marnier is really fun to play with, too. It goes well with everything.
MS: Have you ever been to France?
JM: I have not. I would like to go there someday. But Spain is at the top of my list.
DM: When it comes to alcohol, do you prefer the drinking and tasting or the feeling it gives you afterward?
JM: Drinking and tasting for sure. I set up events for employees to do tastings and tours so they can learn more about the industry. We've done the tour at the Milwaukee Brewing Co. And I plan to set something up at Anodyne soon – we use their coffee here. The more you know in this industry, the more people trust you and seek out your opinion – and the more money you can make.
MS: Are you a mixologist at home, too, or just at work?
JM: At home I'm a beer guy. I love beer: drinking beer, educating myself about beer. And I'm also the guy who cooks.
MS: What do you like to cook?
JM: Whatever my wife wants to eat. I cook a lot of meat, sausages. I consider myself a good cook, but not a chef.
MS: Have you ever thought about working in the kitchen instead of behind the bar?
JM: No, I never considered it. My wife's brother is the sous chef here and he said anytime I want to try it out, I can, but I really like dealing with people. I like every aspect of beverages and etiquette. You don't meet new people in the kitchen. I would miss that.
DM: If Le Reve closed tomorrow, where would you work?
JM: I love to work outside doing yard work, weeding, gardening. Being an arborist has piqued my interest. But if I were to stay a bartender, I would always want to work at an upscale bar and restaurant. I'm really into professional places and providing top service. And it doesn't hurt that I make good money doing this.
MS: I can see some ink peeking out of your cuff. Do you have a lot of tattoos and if so, do you feel the need to stay "covered up" when working in upscale bars and restaurants?
JM: I have been in the business for 13 years, and over that time, the stigma of tattoos has faded. I do keep mine covered, but it's not to hide them, but because I take my uniform seriously. People, when they see them, ask a lot of questions. I don't mind, I tell them the truth: they all signify a time in my life. I want to get one – from shoulder to shoulder – before the baby is born.
MS: Do people ever get rowdy here?
JM: No. That's one of the things I love about it here. You don't have to deal with that. I rarely even pour shots. It's not that I don't go to that type of place, but I like not having to deal with (rowdiness) at work. The bar here is a dining spot, too. A lot of people opt to eat at the bar.
DM: Every time I come to see Joe and have a drink I wind up having a sandwich.
MS: What's the best item on the menu?
JM: The scallops with the manchego and rock shrimp risotto. And the sandwich Dave's eating is considered the best in the city. It's the Monsieur, made with house-baked ham, gruyere cheese and a marsala bechamel sauce. It also comes with an egg on it.
DM: I said no to the egg. I'm in training.
MS: What are you in training for?
MS: Buy me another drink, Dave. So Joe, do you want to own your own bar someday?
JM: I don't think so. I've always been OK with someone else having the control. But my environment is very important to me. I like working in a stable environment. The most important thing to me is happiness.
Post a comment / write a review.
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.