Sri Lanka native Rushan Perera, 44, didn't know Taos or much about the American Southwest, for that matter. It wasn't until he was traveling through the Middle East and Spain about 19 years ago that he learned of this place.
While in Syria, he met U.S. diplomats. They took a shine to each other and before Perera knew it, he had accepted the pair's offer to come to the U.S. to temporarily work for them. The couple had a home in Taos and after his employment ended, here he stayed. His 18-year-old American-born daughter, Nadeeka, lives with him.
For the past 15 years, Perera has been the quintessential bartender – he's got a smile a mile wide, engages everyone with sincere pleasure and knows how to mix a good cocktail. This winter, he can be found pouring at the historic Taos Inn, the KTAOS Solar Center and at The Martini Tree Bar in Taos Ski Valley.
Tending bar comes easily to him because, quite simply, he likes people.
"That's why I feel I make a good bartender," he said. "And I like being a good friend."
Speaking of friends, he makes new ones nearly every day. As far as he's concerned, he could never have too many compadres.
Over the last three years, Perera has been a member of the Taos Ski Valley Volunteer Fire Department, as well as emergency medical services and search and rescue organizations. Neither his accent nor where he's from have ever been a hindrance to making a new life in Taos. "I've never felt like an outsider," he said without hesitation. "I'm so welcomed here. I wanted to give back, and that's why I am a volunteer firefighter. I feel very supported by the Taos community."
He really needed that support four years ago when he was jumping through the painstaking hoops on the path to citizenship.
"It was long and hard," he shared. "It's a big deal."
Before becoming a citizen, he admits he was here illegally for a few years. But since then, he has been able to breathe a sigh of relief and continue to enjoy his job, volunteerism, fishing, skiing and organizing volleyball games at KTAOS Solar Center during the summer.
And if you are lucky enough to belly up to his bar this winter, consider ordering his favorite cocktail to make – the "flirtini" – made with vodka, cranberry juice and topped off with champagne.