Kocktails? Sounds cool 

click to enlarge From left, Will Cornfield and Chuck Cerankosky. - MIKE MARTINEZ.
  • From left, Will Cornfield and Chuck Cerankosky.

The story goes a little something like this.

In mid-June, Chuck Cerankosky had just gotten the keys to the former Solera & Cheshire space at 647 South Ave. He was working on demo alone one evening when a man in his 70s came to the door.

“He introduced himself as ‘Caleb’ and asked what we were doing with the place,” said Cerankosky. “Then, he told me he used to own a bar in this space, which his father had owned before and given him.”

click to enlarge The renovated first floor of Martine, formerly Solera Wine Bar, at 647 South Avenue. - MIKE MARTINEZ.
  • The renovated first floor of Martine, formerly Solera Wine Bar, at 647 South Avenue.

Cerankosky had never heard of another bar in the space before Solera, but the timeline was well before he landed in Rochester. Caleb had a difficult childhood; his mother died while his father was fighting in Vietnam, and years later his father returned with a Vietnamese woman, ‘Miss Martine,’ who became Caleb’s stepmother. The bar was passed on to Caleb with the condition that it remain named ‘Martine.’

“Upon further research, I discovered 'martine' was the seminal name for 'martini,'” said Cerankosky. “Seemed like a heavy coincidence and a great name for a bar, so here we are.”

Is Caleb real? Allegedly. Is the story factual? Perhaps anecdotal. But for a new bar in an old space, it’s fun to have some local lore — and a memorable name.

click to enlarge From left, Chuck Cerankosky and Will Cornfield. - MIKE MARTINEZ.
  • From left, Chuck Cerankosky and Will Cornfield.
Martine is Chuck Cerankosky’s seventh hospitality project. It’s been 15 years since the Ohio native opened Good Luck, one of the area’s first farm-to-table restaurants, with partners Mike Calabrese and Dan Martello. Following that were the group’s other projects — Cure, Lucky’s, and Jackrabbit Club — and his side projects Bar Bantam and Radio Social (the latter of which he is now part-owner).

However, Cerankosky has never opened something on his own, and never a strictly cocktail bar, even though he’s spent time cheerleading the industry as founder and director of the annual Rochester Cocktail Revival, a weeklong spirits festival.

“I see this like being part of a band that has had a lot of success,” he said, “but as with some of the greatest bands, members go out and do side or solo projects.”

Though Cerankosky is the sole proprietor, his bar manager, Will Cornfield, helped with the concept and construction. If business goes well, Cornfield will eventually become a partner in Martine.

“I didn’t have plans to open another project, but when the opportunity came up, it was a good time in my life,” said Cerankosky. “I’d had some recent conversations with Will, so it lined up in a very serendipitous way.”

Cornfield, a Corning native who came to Rochester to attend Roberts Wesleyan College for marketing, is a successful local photographer who’s worked in hospitality since 2017, when Cerankosky hired him at Radio Social. He’s also done short stints at Good Luck and Cure as a bartender.

But after six years behind the pine, Cornfield was ready for his next step.

“I was trying to decide whether I would stay in the restaurant industry, which I love, or pursue photography or something else,” he said. “I knew I wanted to stay in Rochester — I love it here — but I wanted to have a bigger impact in the city.”

click to enlarge Will Cornfield spent time behind the pine at Radio Social, Cure., and Good Luck before helping Chuck Cerankosky open Martine. - MIKE MARTINEZ.
  • Will Cornfield spent time behind the pine at Radio Social, Cure., and Good Luck before helping Chuck Cerankosky open Martine.
He started talking to Cerankosky, and the script wrote itself from there.

“What I know about Will is that he’s talented, he wants to be a bartender, and he has a magnetism about him,” said Cerankosky. “It’s quite unique to spend the entire summer working every day to build a bar. I don’t know that I could do that with another person, especially at this speed.”

The duo spent June through October renovating, transforming the moody former wine bar into an airy, open space with green walls, custom wood countertops and benches (hickory, a nod to the building’s corner street) by Entrada Woodworking, and fiber materials. They carved out a DJ booth above the stairs with a window that looks out onto both floors.

“We came to a blank canvas and didn’t have a master plan,” said Cerankosky, who has an industrial design degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology. “It was synergistic, it evolved to have an organic feel.”

Ideas came from Cerankosky’s wife, Allie, and other friends; along with the custom builds from Entrada, metal bar shelving from Weld Works, and furniture pieces from Rayton Wooden Traditions. Cerankosky’s daughter, Sofie, did all the textiles, curtains and cushions. (She also works at the bar several days a week.) Wall art came from flea markets, and some fixtures were ordered from a Belgian electric supply website.

click to enlarge The second floor bar at Martine. - MIKE MARTINEZ.
  • The second floor bar at Martine.
“It’s not so much an aesthetic as a feel,” said Cornfield. “We wanted a European-New York type vibe, but some place comfortable and approachable.”

Cerankosky agreed.

“In all of my spaces, it’s important to me that once you park your car and walk inside, you forget you’re in Rochester. Not because we want you to forget about Rochester,” he said, “It’s that once you’re here, you’re here. This is its own environment.”

click to enlarge MIKE MARTINEZ.
On a Wednesday in mid-October, Martine had officially been open about eight days, and two large cardboard boxes containing chest freezers had just been delivered, taking up most of the first floor. Cerankosky and Cornfield sat side-by-side, troubleshooting a payroll issue on a laptop. The two have almost identical ice blue eyes and a similar energy. As the interview progressed, Cerankosky stepped away to answer two calls from a helpful payroll employee. Cornfield poured water into a shot glass nearby and took a swig before running to the kitchen to check on a cocktail he was batching.

Ah yes, the cocktails, er — kocktails.

“We thought about the beverage program from a design standpoint as well,” said Cerankosky. “If we’re opening a cocktail bar in Rochester in 2023, what does that look like? What are the trends? Will is 29, and I'm 42, both years older than those entering the cocktail market.”

click to enlarge MIKE MARTINEZ.
They landed on two things: draft cocktails and feelings over flavor. At Martine, gone are   the days of listening to a bewhiskered, suspender-wearing bartender wax poetic about a drink’s place in history.

“We wanted the flavors to be like tones, paint chips, feelings,” said Cerankosky. “What if a cocktail bar was like an ice cream parlor or a soda shop?”

They also wanted to offer different price points, which led to their “fun-size” cocktails, half portions at just $7 (also great for those who want to imbibe less, another trend they’ve seen). The half portions are possible because the cocktails are batched and then put into kegs; a process Cornfield originally pitched to Cerankosky at Radio Social because they often had to produce cocktails for large events.

“There’s places all over the world doing this, but Rochester hasn’t started to tap into it yet, so we wanted to focus on that,” said Cornfield. “Cocktails that are not only good, but custom, on draft. It’s not just a negroni or margarita.”

For those skeptical of the cocktails losing their ‘craft,’ it’s not quite that easy.

click to enlarge MIKE MARTINEZ.
“We retain those elements of craft bartending that we value so highly,” said Cerankosky. “These are not just coming out of a tap. They’re batched full-strength, so the bartenders are shaking or stirring after and the cocktail is aerated.”

As for the spelling, they’ve gotten several social media comments and texts about listing ‘kocktails’ on the menu. But it's on purpose, and was inspired by Cerankosky’s travels to Croatia over the summer.

“In Eastern Europe, the word is ‘koktel,’” he said, “and there was something about serving cocktails out of a keg that presented a fun opportunity to spell it with a ‘k.’”

There’s a limited food menu as well, with ingredients supplied by several of Cerankosky’s other concepts and prepared onsite by a solo chef in the small kitchen. Martine is open until 2 a.m. Thursday through Monday, spearheading a refreshing return to normal bar hours post-pandemic.

“You can get a cocktail here after midnight,” said Cornfield. ”In fact, we want to make you cocktails until 2 a.m.” martine-rochester.com

Leah Stacy is CITY's editor. She can be reached at [email protected].
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