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Ivy Mix on championing women in the on-trade

Bartender Ivy Mix runs Brooklyn hotspot Leyenda and champions women in the industry with her Speed Rack competition. She speaks to SB about driving change in the on-trade.

*This feature was originally published in the November 2019 issue of The Spirits Business

Through her work to highlight inequality in the on‐trade and raise funds to support breast cancer research and recovery, Ivy Mix has become part‐ bartender, part‐activist.

The day of my interview with the American bartender, she says she has been caught up in a spot of “patriarchy smashing”, following The World’s 50 Best Bars’ decision to name Germany’s Charles Schumann as its industry icon. The awards faced intense public backlash due to Schumann’s past comment that “a bar is no place for a woman”.

“The comments Charles Schumann made about how the woman is never the important figure in the bar, I think he still needs to make an actual sincere apology for that,” she says.

“But one thing I will say, it certainly has galvanised the troops against the patriarchy, and Speed Rack, for better or for worse, is a catalyst of that.”

Speed Rack is the women‐only bartending competition Mix founded with Lynnette Marrero. The duo wanted to create a fun cocktail competition that showcased talented female bartenders from the US. The contest has since expanded, with events taking place in London, Australia and Hong Kong.

“For the longest time, whenever I was working my way up in the industry and when I was going out and drinking in bars there weren’t many female bartenders. People would always say to me ‘oh we just don’t know any’, and I would be like ‘OK, that’s crazy’,” Mix says.

As a result of this, Mix and Marrero began hosting competitions in the US, with the first Speed Rack event taking place in New York in June 2011.

“I wanted to create a really fun event, not to say that other bartending competitions aren’t fun – but once you’ve been to a handful of them sometimes they just aren’t,” says Mix. “At Speed Rack it is a little bit more rock and roll; we have a DJ playing, we have a stage with bars on that the women compete from, we have judges on stage and there is music playing. It is like a party.”

Mix says she hopes the competition can act as a platform for talented women in the on‐trade and that entering the contest can lead to career progression and job offers. Countless bar owners and managers have been spotted scouting out their next head bartender or bar manager at her events, which she says has been fantastic to see.

In the eight years since the competition started, Mix says she has seen the image of a bartender change and that she no longer finds herself asking why venues don’t have more women behind the bar. But the work that has been done in recent years may be under threat as a result of the current turbulent political climate.

“Everything was going good, then when Trump got elected there was a real sense of ‘oh no’,” she says. “Now, we have this man who got elected after publicly saying he was going to grab a woman by the pussy. What does that mean for women? It’s not good. The fact that it’s acceptable to say ‘women shouldn’t be behind the bar past three’ or ‘I’m going to grab that woman by the pussy’ is crazy.”

2018 Speed Rack winner LaurenDarnell (centre)


In spite of such worrying attitudes, Mix remains hopeful that equality for women in the on‐trade can one day be achieved, but this wouldn’t necessarily spell the end for Speed Rack. “I don’t know if there will ever be a time where women don’t need a space to get together and feel powerful,” says Mix. “I hope that one day equality is achieved, but I have no idea when we will stop Speed Rack. Once you go to a Speed Rack event it is so awesome – the love and the heart‐warming and uplifting positivity is pretty spectacular.”

Since its launch, Speed Rack has also focused on raising money for various breast cancer research and recovery charities, and has so far raised more than US$1 million for the cause.

Mix said: “Breast cancer, while it doesn’t affect 100% of women, is the number one form of ailment that affects women worldwide, and it was kind of the obvious choice, for lack of a better phrase, to raise money for.”

As Speed Rack has grown and expanded, so too has Mix’s bartending career. She started out in the industry in 2005 while living in Guatemala and working at Café no Sé, the venue synonymous with the origins of Ilegal Mezcal. After spending four years there learning the secrets of Latin American spirits, Mix moved to New York where she has worked since.

“I moved to New York and I didn’t have any money so I started working as a waitress and also working the graveyard shift as a bartender at this awful bar in the West Village,” Mix says. “Then I discovered cocktails and I was like ‘OK I want to do cocktails’ but nobody would hire me because they thought I was a cocktail waitress.”

It was while working at various bars in New York that Mix heard renowned bartender Julie Reiner was planning to open a new venue in the city, and Mix wanted in.

“I was considering moving to San Francisco because I was offered jobs there, but in New York it was a struggle,” explains Mix. “Then I found out Julie Reiner was opening a bar in Soho and the West Village area and I applied. I got the job and now I get to work with Julie. I worked with her at Lani Kai and at Clover Club, then I opened Leyenda with her.”


Leyenda is Mix’s Brooklyn bar, which she opened in 2015. The Latin spirits‐focused venue was designed, built and opened in just over six months, a process Mix says was much like having a baby. “Opening Leyenda was definitely the hardest thing,” she says. “I was asked if I wanted to open it in November 2014. We signed the lease over the holidays then we opened in May 2015. I think this is how people must feel when they have a baby, but it seemed to happen much quicker and it’s probably a little less intense – but it was crazy.”

Leyenda has become a hotspot for locals, with regular customers returning often. Its position as a neighbourhood drinking den is something Mix says is “the biggest accomplishment. We’ve had people have their weddings here, we’ve had people meet their significant others here, we’ve had all these things happen in this spot. Bars are supposed to be a community hub, they’re for the community and for your neighbourhood.”

With a successful bar, a world‐renowned cocktail competition and a position as a spokesperson for equality in the on‐trade, it’s a wonder Mix finds enough hours in the week. But, she is also somehow finding time to write her book, due to be published next year. “I’m writing a book about Latin spirits,” she says. “That has been a very long process. So I’ll publish that, go on a book tour then who knows? I recently became an aunt so being at home has become more important to me. We’ll just have to see what happens.”

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