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Martin of Martin's Off Madison
Martin of Martin's Off Madison
by John Griffin - SGN Contributing Writer

Martin's Off Madison is a comfortable, welcoming place for people to find food drink and music. The owner, Martin Palmer, is exactly the kind of guy you would expect to be in charge of such a place. As warm and friendly as the atmosphere he has created, I was as immediately at ease with him personally, as I have always felt in Martin's.

Martin is a fifth-generation Washingtonian. His parents, and all of his grandparents, attended college, and most also did post-graduate work. Although his parents divorced, he continued to have a good relationship with both his parents and stepparents, he remembers them all very fondly, and feels very close to his step-siblings, as well as his own brother and sister. He remembers, "My stepfather, when he discovered that Gay male couples had one of the highest deposable incomes, was immediately inclined to open a Gay bar."

He attended Gonzaga Prep at his own expense, believing that a private school would be better able to give him the education he needed. He was very active in high school, participating in choir, drama, and even playing soccer. It was there that he got involved in two diverse activities which later combined with his academic background to evolve into his career. He started working in restaurants at age 14 to pay for his high school tuition. In school he met some German exchange students and became involved in the foreign exchange program. He was subsequently nominated for foreign exchange assignment and later found himself living in a restaurant in rural Japan. "It was a lovely trip," he says. "I had a great, great year there, and I did make lifelong friends at that point."

When he came to Seattle to attend the University of Washington, the pattern of his life began to emerge. "The U Dub had one of the strongest Japanese language programs in the country, second & only to Yale," he says. "I had lived in a very rural part of the country [Japan], so [I] had made great progress in learning the language, but without any proper grammar or instruction. & I majored in Japanese in college and studied business and got into international trade. Subsequently, I [made] maybe 30 more trips to Japan, and had a great exposure there. Basically, I was selling food products. I was in the periphery of the food service industry again. They took me around to promote products we were taking from the U.S. and distributing to & the company I worked for in Japan, basically running their U.S. operations, which lasted until they closed their office over here. I continued to do export to a couple of clients over there for years afterward. I still do a very minor amount of business over there. I don't get to travel over quite as often."

"While I was doing my export business out of my home, I had a lot of spare time," Martin says. "I started bartending & at C. C.[Attle]'s. I was there about three years. It was fun; I'd always been social and enjoyed interaction with folks." Martin continued in the food industry when he was completing his MBA, working at Ray's Downtown and the Red Robin.

"The unique set of circumstances that came to open this place were: my cousin - who is a chef - [and] my uncles & sold the family farm and were investing in commercial property. I always figured I could run a place if I put my mind to it," Martin says. "With that partnership we got & a nice little bistro/neighborhood place."

"It was not strictly a Gay bar we were after, but a nice place. & My partner at home plays the piano, so we had a strong avenue to talent there."

Martin's life has given him a personal commitment to the Gay community. He lost a lover to AIDS. That fact, and just the concern that we all feel, has kept him involved, hosting bachelor auctions and other types of fundraisers for Chicken Soup (Lifelong AIDS), Bailey-Boushay House, Dunshee House, and others, and also helping groups that raise money for the cause, such as the Knights of Malta and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. "We're good citizens; if we can, we try to spread a little bit of wealth," he says. "I think more than donating directly myself, facilitating in creating these opportunities so that other people can donate [is important]. & I got a dozen restaurants around town to donate dinners for two. That sort of facilitating is every bit as valuable as the actual dollars that come in, I think."

Martin's also supports many other types of organizations and events in the Gay community, especially in the Gay and Lesbian music movement. Numerous charity auctions enjoy the support of Martin's. Their own patrons enjoy their support, too, whether it's in the bar, at the piano - where patrons get the opportunity to perform - or through sponsorship of bowling and softball teams.

Martin is pleased to say that his staff seems to be happy there; 12 of 17 employees have been there a year or more, and four have been there since the first year. "I try to be a good boss," he says. "It's more than just a business, it is a social gathering place. & [We] just try to provide the right environment, whether it's good music, good food, [or] good service." Expansion is a possibility, but not in the physical sense. We may be able to enjoy breakfast at Martin's in the future, and he's aiming for a superior comfort level as well.

Martin wants to thank the community for their support, the musical talent for making Martin's more inviting, and the staff for their dedication and hard work. He also wants to invite everyone to help them celebrate their third anniversary, and promises to keep trying to improve for the future.

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