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Bar Talk: The Artist

Posted on  | June 5, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Perez Klebahn of Rain’s Fun House in Baltimore, MD

Visitors don’t flock to the American Visionary Art Museum just to scope out wacky exhibitions like All Things Round: Galaxies, Eyeballs & Karma. They are also compelled to dine at the equally playful Mr. Rain’s Fun House, where Perez Klebahn serves offbeat wines and makes dynamic cocktails that are as much a draw as chef Bill Buszinski’s food.

THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: I don’t think we can talk about Mr. Rain’s Fun House without delving into the theme of art. How do you think the museum setting influences you?

PEREZ KLEBAHN: There certainly is an undeniable energy being housed in an art museum. Everything from the décor to the restaurant’s name is influenced by the museum. I’ve always appreciated whimsy as an approach to a menu, and my surroundings certainly beckon for that.

TBN: This would be a good time to discover your take on cocktails as an art form.

PK: I believe what we do behind the bar is a craft, an application of knowledge and convention fueled by the excitement of breaking that convention or reapplying that knowledge. In the end I want to tell a story, whether in the construction of a classic recipe, by a combination of exotic spirits or via a completely new method. It all depends. But in the end every bar patron deserves a good story, whether from the bartender or in the glass. Unfortunately, I’ve never kept a supply of good jokes.

TBN: You are also extremely passionate and knowledgeable about wine. How do you think it impacts your vision of spirits and vice versa?

PK: Wine asks me to be the disciplined student while cocktails are my garage band. However, both worlds are completely vital to our beverage program. When I build any wine list I am looking for terroir-driven wines and their application to the chef’s menu. When we produce a cocktail, it follows suit. I look for flavor profiles that complement or contrast, and I consider the textures and origins of the ingredients going into the recipe. My checklist is certainly anchored in wine appreciation. That being said, there are numerous craft spirits best appreciated solo and not manipulated into a recipe, very befitting of fine wines.

TBN: You spent many years in New York. What has been the biggest challenge adjusting to Baltimore’s cocktail scene?

PK: When we opened in 2009, I was slightly apprehensive about how the market would respond. I opened with what I thought was a very approachable menu, consisting of infused spirits, classic renditions and a variety of bitters—pretty staple components of a good bar and only a seed of what we’re doing now. Some of our guests were perplexed (if not angry) why we served our cocktails in coupe glasses as opposed to oversized martini glasses, why we used jiggers and why we were mixing their beer into a cocktail shaker.

Baltimore considers itself a great drinking city. However, the biggest hurdle is that so many patrons have not had the opportunity to drink well because the market has been limited for so long. My thrill is to provide that exposure. Most patrons are open to discussing what’s in their glass once given the chance.

TBN: What new cocktails are you making right now that have you particularly smitten?

PK: We are about to launch our first barrel-aged cocktails from original recipes featuring mezcal, infused grappa and vermouth, and have a series of bottled cocktails slated for the summer menu. What I’m really excited about is our breakfast cereal–infused Ramos Gin Fizz; takes us right back to our Saturday morning cartoons, minus the booze.

TBN: I hear you throw events where you pair cocktails with Chef Buszinski’s food. Do tell.

PK: When Chef Buszinski and I discuss upcoming menus, the conversation usually ends with me raiding his walk-in or him behind my bar. In the past we have collaborated on event menus featuring Prohibition-era fare and libations, pork and American whiskey and most recently a Latin-influenced menu and mezcal cocktails. Truthfully, these events are a chance for us to take what we do every day only with more delineated parameters.


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