On the Line: Alejandro Ibanez, Dilworth Tasting Room Bar Manager
He brings a New York sensibility to Charlotte’s cocktails
Hometown: I was born in Colombia and moved to New York when I was 18.
Currently lives: Indian Land, S.C.
Favorite sports teams: I follow Real Madrid Soccer Club and my local team in Colombia.
How did you get started in the hospitality industry? My main goal when I started was to be a server. I started washing dishes because of the language barrier. Then I took English classes and got moved to front of house. My uncle was a chef at Employees Only (a Prohibition-style cocktail bar and restaurant in the West Village), and they were looking for a food runner, so I started there when I was 19.
Where does your interest in cocktails come from? After a few years at Employees Only, they put me behind the bar, and I had no idea what to do (laughs). I just followed whatever the bar manager said. But I slowly started getting up to speed. I was surprised by the way they executed drinks. Everything was just eyeballing, but they were so precise. I started tasting all the cocktails and read Bartending 101 to learn all the techniques and recipes.
What brought you to Charlotte? I was in New York until the pandemic hit. I worked for a few months after we reopened, but realized I needed to move on. I chose Charlotte because my oldest brother lives here, and I saw a lot of potential with the cocktail scene.
How did you land at Dilworth Tasting Room? I was getting unemployment benefits in New York, and I needed to prove I had income to get a lease. My brother told me DTR was looking for bartenders, so he talked to the owner. Jaffer (Kovic) gave me that letter of employment, and I started work the day after I moved here.
Tell me about your cocktail program. They had a pretty good drink menu when I got there, but a lot of them were overly sweet. In New York, they’d say, “make me something not too sweet.” But I listened to people about the Southern palate and how they like sweet tea and sweet drinks. So I started making sweet drinks, and people loved it. I try to stay away from too much sugar and use fresh juices like beets, which are very sweet. But it’s a new palate down here.
What do you think is an underappreciated flavor? Lemongrass.
What’s your favorite food and cocktail pairing? I’ve been a vegetarian for 16 years and recently started incorporating chicken again. So a roasted chicken with a classic daiquiri. The citrus cuts through the juicy, garlicky oils of the chicken.
What’s the most creative cocktail you’ve ever made? It’s called “The Cleanse,” with rosemary and beet cordial, rye whiskey, ginger, and lemon juice. Once you say beets, people are skeptical. But it was a really good summer cocktail.
Any drink trends you’re watching? Molecular bartending.
What’s your adult beverage of choice? Negroni.
Any drinks you won’t touch? A White Russian—or anything with cream.
What do you like to do outside of work? I just visited the Whitewater Center. I get bored at the gym, so outdoor things like extreme sports, I’m into.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Charlotte other than your own? Stagioni.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure? Chocolate.
Any rules to live by in a bar? If you’re not smiling, you’re not doing your job.
THE TOUGH STUFF
Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate
Beer or wine? Beer
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Cake or pie? Cake
Manhattan or mojito? Manhattan
Charcuterie board or glazed nuts? Charcuterie
Lobster roll or egg roll? Lobster roll
Comedy or drama? Comedy
Street eats or sit-down? Sit-down
More money or more free time? More money
Facebook or Instagram? Instagram