Hop on the rug with us - and get to know how bar-owner and mixologist Ivy Mix lives life well.
When she was 19, Ivy Mix went to Guatemala. It was the first time she’d ever left her small town home in Central Vermont. The first time she’d been out of the country. The first time she’d ever been on her own.
“Everything was bright and so vibrant. I was really struck with the culture and the people,” she says. The head bartender and co-owner of Leyenda in Brooklyn, had been in her freshman year at the time, studying fine art. The school encouraged a period of time doing an internship or traveling, and so Mix (yes, that’s her real name) decided to head to the South American country, at the suggestion of a friend of a friend, to teach photography at a girls’ orphanage.
“I’d never been anywhere before in my life,” she says. “It was just such a beautiful place, there were so many beautiful woven fabrics everywhere. You know the phrase ‘mi casa es su casa’ - my house is your house? I really felt that there. I was alone, extremely naive and sheltered, and when I got there, they were like, ‘we’re going to take you in.’ It was very warm and welcoming.”
It’s this embracing ethos that Mix would carry with her and come to imbue into her own bar, years later. And it’s this same kind of ethos that’s been behind her drive to help women feel more welcome in the bartending scene.
From Guatemala to Carroll Gardens
Mix didn’t always want to be in the hospitality industry. After finishing her studies -- and many more trips back to Guatemala -- she interned at one of New York’s most well-known galleries. But she became disillusioned with the art world and how much it would cost to continue her studies.
In 2008, when the economy collapsed, she began bartending and cocktail waitressing to pay her bills. Mix found that she loved making up drink creations, and getting paid for it was an added bonus. In Guatemala, she had bar-tended, too, to pay off the tab she racked up. In New York, she’d infuse her ideas with flavors she’d picked up on her travels. She was getting to make art in a different way.
“I love designing bars and doing the build-out, how does it work and look?’ It’s a total creative outlet for me,” she says. “There are so many things you get to do and create - plus the food and the drinks.” It was only a matter of time before she opened up her own space. In 2015, she partnered with her mentor Julie Reiner to open the pan-Latin, Mezcal-centric cocktail bar Leyenda Cocteleria in Carroll Gardens.
The bar has become a favorite amongst locals and, in spite of the hardships thrown its way by the pandemic, continues to be considered one of the world’s preeminent cocktail bars.
This is a woman’s world
Mix, too, is a well-known figure in the cocktail world, having also authored the book, Spirits of Latin America, and, in 2015, being named Best American Bartender at the popular Tales of the Cocktail conference.
But she has also lifted up others along the way. While she can be found most days at Leyenda, Mix also travels the country, staging Speed Rack, the annual competition that shines a spotlight on women mixologists and also raises money for breast cancer research and education. She started the event in 2011, with her friend Lynnette Marrero. “We wanted it to be a platform for women to stand out in a male-dominated industry. To say, ‘Yooo hooo, I’m over here, you should hire me, even though I don’t look like your mixologist with the suspenders and mustache but I can still do this job.’
Since it began, Speed Rack has raised over a million dollars for charities that fight breast cancer and the industry has improved the way it sees women. “When we first started people were still opening up bars and only hiring men. On purpose. And not because they were mean or evil; they were trying to fit an image of a 1920s speakeasy, and in the 1900s if you were a woman bartending you were probably in a whore house or something. It was not the image that people wanted to portray. They wanted everyone to look like Jerry Thomas [the swashbuckling saloon-owner of the 1800s who’s considered to be the father of American mixology].
Once Speed Rack was up and running, the scene started to change. “Women were being hired as the head bartenders at some of the best bars in the world, and women were managing them too,” says Mix. Nowadays, the event acts as a kind of job fair where people can go to hire good bartenders for their bars. “That to me is a great success,” adds Mix.
She’s come a long way from when she first started out — and told her mom she was quitting the art world. “She was pissed!” recalls Mix. “She said, ‘Well, if you’re going to do that, you’ve got to be the best bartender you can be.’ And I took it to heart, and was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to do the best that I can. And I think I did a pretty good job. I didn’t have to be the best, just my best.”
Cheers to that!
Header image by Shannon Sturgis Photography