Q&A: Erick Martinez, a South Lake Tahoe bartender, shares his experiences
Riva Grill bartender Erick Martinez gained the spotlight at Barton Foundation’s sixth annual Signature Cocktail Contest on Sept. 23.
A veteran bartender, Martinez received “Best Cocktail” for his Blue Linen drink and earned the “Most Congenial Bartender” title. His cocktail, which includes Tahoe Blue Vodka, will be the signature drink at Barton Foundation’s Dec. 5 fundraiser gala during the Festival of Trees and Lights.
Martinez participated in two previous Barton Foundation cocktail contests. One earned him best cocktail and the second “Most Congenial Bartender.”
Martinez joined Riva Grill four years ago and knows how to mix a drink. He recently shared his experiences with Tahoe Daily Tribune.
How did you get involved as a bartender?
I’ve been bartending for 10 years. When I moved to Nantucket, Mass., in 2005, I got a job as a barback when I was 21. I began to get familiar with the easy cocktails like your Greyhounds and Cape Cods. One of the places where I was barbacking had a bartender short in the middle of the season, and they gave me the opportunity. I learned a lot because my coworkers showed me the ropes.
What do you enjoy as a bartender?
I like the interaction with customers. I love talking to and meeting new people. People who sit at the bar are a lot more relaxed and not as needy, so it makes it easier to spark conversation.
How would customers describe your drinks?
I think well-balanced. Sometimes a bartender might just want to make a drink stronger to compensate for lack of flavor. I try to balance my drinks so people don’t feel they are constantly taking a shot.
Describe your signature drink from the Signature Cocktail Contest.
I wanted to experiment infusing vodkas because people are always talking about infusing teas. I infused the vodka for about six or seven days, and then started messing around with what would go well with the lavender. Cucumber and mint was a good combination and then squeezed fresh lemon juice. Adding St. Germain tied everything together.
What trends have you noticed in cocktails?
A lot of the classics, like your Old Fashioned and Manhattans, are starting to make a comeback. I feel that with the whole hipster movement, a lot of people are trying to resurrect the old drinks.
What was the most unusual cocktail you had to make?
I won’t forget the first time I had to make a Ramos Fizz. It involved egg whites, sugar, orange juice and lots of gin, then shaking it and making it frothy. I thought it was very strange-looking cocktail.
What’s changed in the bartending scene?
I think bartenders have it easier today because of smartphone technology. If you’re not quite sure of what’s in a drink, you can pull it up on your phone. In the past it was harder because bartenders had to literally know every drink by heart.
What makes a good bar scene?
Making the place feel safe and secure, especially for the woman crowd. Live music goes a long way, as do good drinks and good service.
People say bartenders make good confidants? How accurate is that?
It’s fairly accurate. People can strike up conversations a lot easier at the bar and sometimes vent to the bartender. People like to open up to us a little more, but if it’s pretty serious I tend to keep it private. I feel almost privileged for them to open up.
Where are you originally from?
I was born in Tahoe before we moved to Mexico when I was 1-1/2 years old. I moved back to Lake Tahoe when I was 13 and have been here ever since.
Any tips for potential bartenders?
It’s a fun job and people who want to do it should pursue it. But it’s not for everyone. You have to have a thick skin because you can encounter a lot of rude people. One thing you can ask yourself is what that person’s day was like.
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