Rafael Martinez is proud to be this year's tbt* Ultimate Bartender.
He's quick to talk up the table service at Hyde Park Cafe, the swanky South Tampa bar where he's worked for eight years. He grins when describing his signature drink, the Roofie — a potent mix of peach schnapps, Chambord, pineapple juice and sour mix garnished with cherries. ("It makes a woman real giddy," Martinez says.)
He'll tell you about serving Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter, and about the time when wrestler Dave Batista ordered two drinks and left a $200 tip. And he's already staked out a spot for the trophy near the entrance of his East Tampa home.
But if you really want to see this single dad's eyes light up, ask him about his 12-year-old son, Rafael Martinez Jr.
"He's made the principal's honor roll the entire year, his sixth-grade year. I just bought him a PlayStation 3," says Martinez, 31, who likes to ride roller coasters with his son. "I don't think I'm the Ultimate Bartender, I honest to God think I'm the Ultimate Father." He says being a dad makes him a better bartender because he can dish out fatherly advice to customers.
Martinez, a graduate of Tampa Bay Tech High School, tended bar for five years at La Cueva in Ybor City before coming to Hyde Park Cafe. In addition to serving drinks, he's also a dental hygienist by day. In his spare time, he works out at LA Fitness in Brandon, dances salsa and merengue at Mirage nightclub and spends time with — sorry, ladies — his girlfriend.
Earlier this week, tbt* pulled up a stool to chat with Martinez.
What makes you so ultimate?
I really, really try to get in people's heads and figure out what they want, what's going on. Just make them laugh. Because a lot of people when they come here, they just want to forget about everything. They don't want to hear about your problems. ... When I'm grabbing bottles, flipping the bottles, making people laugh, making jokes, doing whatever, it's a complete show.
How does being a father make you a better bartender?
I'm actually coming here to work. ... I'm not coming here to meet girls. When I was younger, that was a different story. (laughs)
If I come in and have no idea what I want, how will you figure it out?
You have to be able to connect with people fast. ... I'll just ask you, "Do you have a sweet tooth? Do you like sweet drinks, sour drinks or hard drinks?" Basically, sweet or sour? It's really, really quick and to the point, especially here at Hyde Park. Tuesday and Thursday, we always have a thousand-plus people. So it has to be really, really quick. It's not like Cheers where you sit there and you have an hourlong conversation with people. No, it's not like that. I have maybe 60 seconds to communicate with these people, find out what they want and go on to the next person.
What else do you do for fun?
I like to snowboard.
Where do you do that?
Actually, my boss here, Tommy Ortiz, he took me to Aspen last year.
Does he take all his bartenders to Aspen?
So you're the favorite.
One of them. (laughs)
You seem kind of shy. Does bartending bring out a different side of you?
Yeah, 'cause I'm a different person when I'm behind the bar. It's like I'm on stage. It's just different, and I know people. Especially when I know people, I'm not shy at all. In an introduction, yeah, I'm kind of shy. But once I get to know people, I'm like the life of the party.