A Man for all Spirits

By Gina Ginsberg

He is former beer journalist who became a local celebrity.

An alcohol connoisseur, knife thrower, radio DJ, resident liquorist, chief, Whiteaker community event planner; Elliot Martinez has many skills and affiliations. His specific job title may be uncertain, but he has succeeded at being commonly known and loved in Eugene.  Get him in any quasi-public place in the city and many people address him by name. He is small in stature, but has a large presence. He speaks slowly and deliberately in an understated way, but thrives on attention. He is someone everyone feels they know. Every town has at least one personality like this, but what makes someone a local celebrity? Martinez has gone through a lot to create his persona. His real name isn’t even Martinez.

Photo provided by Elliot Martinez.

Photo provided by Elliot Martinez.

“It is a stout, so it has some bitterness, but the coffee flavor makes it sweeter and less hoppy,” said Martinez as he delicately sipped his espresso stout, carefully, as to not get foam on his thick mustache. He didn’t know that his BA in psychology from the University of Oregon would put him in the position of the public psychologist; a bartender at Izakaya Meiji.

As a younger person, Martinez thought that he was going to be a dentist, although it seems he is a pretty damn good bartender. He has booze knowledge credentials from home brewing, and publishing his own beer-based publication. However, he only makes the list as Eugene’s third best bartender according to Eugene Weekly. His radio show Thirsty Thursday on KWVA also comes in third place. A talented man like him could probably get third in another category if you give him more time.

The bar at Meiji is crowded for being 11:00 on a Tuesday night. A group of three attractive women in their mid twenties dressed alike in vintage clothes and large earrings flirt and banter with Martinez as he makes a Flak 36, his signature beer cocktail, or shandy. Another bar tender that just ended his shift sits down at the bar and explains in detail why the large ice cubes used at Meiji are superior to other bar ice made by Coca-Cola ice machines.

The women leave to participate in Karaoke in the other room as someone is singing Achy Breaky Heart badly. Two men in their young thirties sit down and ask Martinez which dishes he would recommend for this hour of the night. Martinez plays the role perfectly as he shmoozes with customers with a casual ease and a warm, confident smile.

  “It’s like being the host of a party everyday. Guests come in and I want to make sure they have a good time,” said Martinez.

Other patrons walk through the front door and head to tables, but greet Martinez as they pass the bar. If there were a style that would fit the image of an old-fashioned Japanese Whiskey bar, it is Martinez. His tailored mustache matches the other employees; steam punk-style facial hair is possibly a job requirement. He is the archetype for everything hipster. His ponytail comes to the collar of his navy, western-style button up shirt with white trim that is tucked into his bar apron.“Hiring me was a business decision. [My boss thought] ‘Here is someone everyone already knows and respects, and we want him behind the bar.’”

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Elliot Martinez behind the bar at Izakaya Meiji in the Whiteaker.

Martinez got his name out there in the booze world when he created a popular quarter-monthly publication about alcohol and drinking related events for the microbrewery-lovers in the Eugene/Portland area. He traveled the world to write about beer in far corners of the planet. Rough life.

It started off as a joke when his last name was still Hartlerode, and when his band was still together. He wrote a review for his own album as a joke but not really. The positive review of the album was written by Elliot Martinez, Martinez is his mother’s maiden name, from BoozeWeek magazine, a spoof on Newsweek. Turned out both the fake name the and the fake magazine were good ideas.

BoozeWeek became a reality when a copier did not sell on Craigslist. Martinez got it for free giving him the ability to print BoozeWeek for no cost. He started distributing it around town to businesses that believed in booze and free speech.

The magazine was sophisticated in content, but at the same time, made fun of itself and the industry for being highbrow. How ironic. “I am a humorist. People like to get technical but when it comes down to it, it’s just alcohol. It made people laugh,” said Martinez. Occasionally the publication got political. BoozeWeek exposed bars that used “false pints”, or “shints”; glasses that charged pint premium, but were shorter, and with a glass chunk at the bottom, making them noticeably ounces smaller. This caused commotion amongst the bar scene. Legislation was proposed but not passed. However, the scrutiny motivated many bar owners to either sell honest pints, or charge less.

The economy went sour, and Boozeweek’s advertisers either bailed or went out of business. Boozeweek was no longer profitable and the last issue was printed more than a year ago. Martinez applied his creativity and new celebrity status to other endeavors, and being a bartender is just his night job.

Photo provided by Elliot Martinez.

Photo provided by Elliot Martinez.

Knowing the right person at KWVA got him grandfathered into a prime time slot for his Thirsty Thursday afternoon radio show of music and improv skits. His voice and personality then become recognizable and he was sought after to host weekly Bingo night at Sam Bonds Garage, and Trivia night at 16 Tons. He organized the annual Mr. And Ms. Whiteaker pageants. He participates in The last Friday Art Walk and the Whiteaker Block Party.

A friend and resident of “Whiteaker adjacent”, Joshua Isaac Finch said, “Elliot might be the unofficial mascot of the Whiteaker. He has a public persona. I have never been to a community event where his face isn’t everywhere.”

Martinez is from everywhere in Oregon. He attributes moving around a lot as a kid to him being the community character that he is today. He said that before high school, he never stayed in one town for more than a year and a half. Growing up, he had to make people like him, and make friends quickly. “I am genuine with people. I make it easy for people to know what I am about,” said Martinez. But knowing an entire city comes with tradeoffs. It is hard to have a personal relationship with everyone and also keep in touch with people that have moved on. “I don’t have one friend that I have known my whole life, most of my friends now are people I have met in the last few years,” said Martinez.

Martinez only planned on spending four years in Eugene for school, and after 14 years in Eugene, he has built a name and community for himself that may be hard to leave. However it may be time for him to move along to the next town. He has big entrepreneurial plans to start a charcutére a fancy smoked and cured meat shop that would pair meat with specialty wines. He has the street credentials to start a business, but Eugene may not have the specific clientele for this sort of an establishment. He has his sights set on New Zealand. With a smaller-scale economy and a growing wine industry that his sister is already a part of, the Kiwis might be ready for a charcutére

However, it seems that Eugene and Whiteaker in particular, might have a hold on Martinez. He admits to wanting to run for mayor in 2020.

 “I am a medium sized fish in a medium pond,” said Martinez. “Am I happy? It depends on how you measure success. It’s all relative. I have a defunct magazine, a desirable job, but not something I want to do my whole life. Some days I feel like I bring smiles to enough people…and it is good that they think it is good.”

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