Award-winning bartender brings his mixology skills to downtown Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor residents now have the opportunity to try cocktails made by David Martinez, the winner of best garnish in the 2013 Shake it Up Cocktail Competition.
Martinez has attended the Nightclub and Bar Convention and Trade Show in Las Vegas every year as a manager at The Torch Bar and Grill in downtown Flint, where he worked until coming to work at the Alley Bar in Ann Arbor in early May.
It wasn’t until this year that he decided to submit an original cocktail recipe for competition.
More than 800 people from all over the country submitted drinks for the contest. Martinez was one of the 30 selected to compete live at the convention.
“I was so surprised,” Martinez said. “My initial reaction was excitement and then I was nervous. I emailed the company holding the competition constantly asking questions. It was my first cocktail competition and I didn’t know what to expect.”
Contestants were given 15 minutes to prep and then 7 minutes to complete the drink on stage. Although Martinez did not win for his cocktail recipe, he did win for best garnish — a candied orange peel rose resting on a bed of fresh mint sprigs, which took around 8 hours to produce.
“The competition is a lot of fun, but it’s nerve racking at the same time,” Martinez said. “I’m definitely going to submit a drink again next year. It would be cool if I could get in to the competition again.”
The award-winning bartender left his position as manager in Flint to work in Ann Arbor.
“I came to Ann Arbor because I heard there was a better cocktail scene,” Martinez said. “It’s a faster pace with a lot more people coming in. I had strayed away from interacting with the people and being able to make the drinks when I was managing at The Torch. A big part of why I left was to get back to bartending.”
Alley Bar owner Robbie Shulz said the award was impressive, but not the main factor in hiring Martinez.
“We hired David because of his excitement to learn more about the industry,” Shulz said. “His energy is just amazing and contagious. That’s what we always look for when we’re hiring new workers. He’s been doing great here. He has a lot to learn still, but he has a lot to share too. For that reason he’s been a great addition to the staff.”
Martinez will be moving to The Last Word, also owened by Shulz, within the next few weeks.
“We’re changing our hours at The Last Word and opening a little earlier now,” Shulz said. “We were looking for someone we felt comfortable with running a new program and I think in the long term it will be a good fit for him. We will be able to see the creative side in him because he will have access to a kitchen at The Last Word. He’ll be able to help us drive the program forward and he’ll have more room to grow.”
The Last Word will be launching ‘Green Hour’ from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, featuring traditional absinthe drips and cocktails.
“I’m excited to make the move,” Martinez said. “I like Alley Bar because it was an easy transition for me. It reminded me of The Torch with its comfortable, casual atmosphere, but a place like The Last Word is where I have always wanted to end up.”
Martinez describes The Last Word as a dark, speakeasy-style bar with a more formal feel.
“It’s what I have pictured in my head since I started bartending,” Martinez said. “Everything is handmade and crazy fresh. This is a step in the right direction for me.”
The cocktail Martinez submitted for competition is still being served at The Torch. It’s a mix of Jameson, Patron XO Cafe, orange peel-infused simple syrup and Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters.
You can test out Martinez’s skills at the Alley Bar or The Last Word, where he will be working in a few weeks.
Chelsea Hoedl is an intern reporter for AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.