Restaurant. Venue. Creative music video set. Alea and I visited El Cortez and were introduced to Chloe Gartner and General Manager Dustin Maschmeyer who were happy to talk with us about the space, the food, and the impact of El Cortez on Edmonton’s food, arts, and culture scene. When asked to describe the space, Dustin showed a profound excitement that personified the atmosphere and vision of the space. As a restaurant manager operating in Canada for the past 10+ years, Dustin claims he has never worked somewhere so diverse. “We don’t have one type of customer” as he explained the goal of the space. Dustin and El Cortez seek to provide East L.A. inspired, Latin and Mexican fusion cuisine held to an extremely high standard along with an artistic venue designed for creativity and expression.
Dustin also talked about owner Michael Maxxis, award winning director known for his work with many Canadian bands such as Billy Talent and City and Colour. His influence is everywhere in the space, particularly in the details. The interesting array of music, antique furniture, neon lights, handmade menus and plates, and interesting video clips playing in the space are all designed to inspire creativity. El Cortez is a collaboration with artists from around the world, including Los Angeles street artist Leba who was involved with some of the mural work in El Cortez itself, as well as some of the work in the upstairs southern bar, Have Mercy. Dustin quoted one of the owners as saying ” I don’t care how much Bomba beer costs, it will always be $5 here. I want people to come in and feel comfortable ordering a beer.”
Dustin went on to describe the community focus of El Cortez. It serves as a venue for the Edmonton Fringe Festival, provides a venue for photoshoots, wedding photos, and student projects, as well as working with local charities such as HART’s Society and Youth Organizations. Although these initiatives seemed important to Dustin, he seemed particularly excited about El Cortez’s involvement with Edmonton Pride. He talked about his personal goal of having El Cortez become the #1 Pride spot in Edmonton, and how proud he is of the LGBTQ friendly events they put on.
In addition to all of these great initiatives and features, El Cortez boasts an impressive menu made up of high quality, fresh ingredients. Dustin walked us through the processes needed to be able to boast this. They make 1200-1500 tortilla shells in house per week, as well as having prep staff juice 200 lbs of limes per week. One of the tenants of El Cortez is to not sacrifice quality for labour costs. We asked Dustin what difficulties associated with running a restaurant in Edmonton, and he discussed the main issue of geography. Mexicali has a heavy influence on seafood and fruits that simply cannot be grown near land locked Edmonton, but they strive to still provide fresh and high quality ingredients even at higher cost. Dustin spoke of El Cortez’s knowledge based hiring policy, particularly for their bartenders, who compete in global competitions. El Cortez proudly boasts a massive selection of tequila, and has multiple distinctions because of it. He also discussed how they frequently have representatives from various tequila brands visit the restaurant for education and training, such as Patron and Cabo Wabo. Ensuring the restaurant is staffed by knowledgeable and skilled people results in an environment that is not only artistic but efficient.
El Cortez is an definitely an excellent place to visit, especially for those who are interested in the arts and quality food. They put on comedy shows as a part of their El Comedy promotion and occasional secret concerts that are free to the first X amount of people. These secret shows have boasted big name performers such as the Sheepdogs, and the comedy shows often have touring comedians. This atmosphere is conducive to a community vibe that encourages inclusiveness. The intimate basement venue is also converted into a dance floor on weekends after 9:00. El Cortez also puts on a quarterly event, such as an EDM show or sweat party with a community focus. Even for those who are not as into the night club scene El Cortez offers something for everyone, even those who are just looking for casual dining or drinks with friends.
Compared to other restaurants, El Cortez focuses on arts, culture, as well as high quality drinks and food. There is no arbitrary feature in the space, each one serving to achieve the vision of the owners and managers. This trend of advanced concept restaurant is definitely welcome in Edmonton, and El Cortez is a front runner. Michael Maxxis is a huge part of this, being a co-owner of both El Cortez, Have Mercy, and a third project that Dustin hinted at but couldn’t give us many details. This is the sort of restaurant that we would like to support, locally owned, with a focus on arts, culture, and high quality food. Big thanks to Dustin, Chloe, and El Cortez for being so open and accommodating.
Thomas and Alea