On the corner of Cedar Springs and Reagan Street, in the heart of the gayborhood's dining and nightlife core, is a sunny, bright space where Michael Martensen is trying again.
"I have an affinity for Mexico and those ingredients and the beverages and everything," Martensen says. "I've always been that passionate of Mexican cuisine, so I was like, I'm gonna keep on. Keep slaying that dead horse."
Martensen, co-founder of Proof + Pantry in the Arts District, recently shuttered the Oak Lawn restaurant Madrina, a hybrid French/Mexican restaurant he co-founded in the Shops at Highland Park. The restaurant closed abruptly in January after just over a year in business. After Madrina ended, he was approached by Quesa owners Patricia and Francisco Cabrera, who wanted to take their Cedar Springs Mexican restaurant Quesa in a new direction. The space recently reopened as Q Tacos at Macho's Cantina, a combination cocktail bar and late-night taco window that specializes in house-made tortillas and light, summery cocktails made with fresh juices.
"If I like something, I'm gonna keep doing it until people like it," he says. "I don't want to say I've created trends, but I'm not afraid to do something different."
At Macho's Cantina, patrons order food and alcohol separately, sidling up to the taco window for al pastor and barbacoa and hitting up the bar for cocktails. On weekend nights, the taco window will stay open until 4 a.m. serving grab-and-go food to the crowds leaving Cedar Springs bars. The tacos, served on fresh house-made tortillas, run the gamut from al pastor with spit-roasted pork to a cauliflower-brown butter taco with beautiful bites of sweetness and brine from golden raisins and capers.
On the cocktail menu, Martensen emphasizes tequila, mezcal and fresh juices that give the drinks a lightness that should prove popular in the summer months.
"To me, this is what a standard bar should be — fresh juice, quality booze," he says. "There's nothing complicated about it. Just a good fresh juice cocktail menu."
Q Tacos at Macho's Cantina is a much smaller footprint than Madrina, and the food and drink are compartmentalized, the fast-casual model allowing for less overhead.
"They make tacos and just let me run a bar. I can run a bar," Martensen says. "This model is business-effective, labor-effective."
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He also throws in a few touches, aside from the late-night aspect, that could prove popular on Cedar Springs. Martensen uses the margarita machine to make frozen Red Bull-vodkas, a frozen cocktail that tastes — acts — exactly as a Red Bull-vodka is intended. The cocktail menu was created to churn out fresh-tasting cocktails in a speed bar setting, catering to the bar-hoppers who populate the street every evening.
"I want someone to be able to walk in and order a four-ingredient cocktail and get it in under a minute," Martensen says. "There's something very special about that."
Q Tacos at Macho's Cantina, 3900 Cedar Springs Road