There’s no shortage of energy when it comes to the award winning “Best American Bartender of the Year” mixologist and Leyenda co-owner, Ivy Mix (yep, that’s her god-given name). She’s had a whirlwind of press coverage upon opening Leyenda, and is notorious within the bartending scene. Not only has she developed a reputation for her work as a top mixtress, but she’s also a forerunner for all women bartenders as co-founder of Speed Rack; an all-female speed bartending competition, that’s similar to what you would see on Top Chef.
Rounding out its one-year anniversary, the Latin American inspired Leyenda has caused quite the disturbance to Brooklyn’s Smith Street’s bustling row of restaurants and bars. A major portion of that success can be attributed to Ivy’s sheer knowledge and passion for mixing and spirits. She authored most of the recipes currently available on Leyenda’s menu, and whipped up her “Say Anything” cocktail for us with such speed and finesse, we could have blinked and missed it. When asked what her specialty drink was, she replied with a bright smile, and quick wink: “everything.”
Can you start by telling us what led you to bartending?
I started bartending because of my wanderlust. I left the country when I was going to Bennington College to do a “Field Work Term” (A fancy term for the annual winter term done away from campus). I went to Guatemala and while there, I discovered bar culture and loved it. This was pre cell phone obsession, so it was harder to be in touch with everyone constantly. Facebook wasn’t a thing yet. The bar was the one place you knew where to find people. I racked up a huge tab and then had to start bartending to work it off. When I made the realization that I could be MAKING money where I had been SPENDING so much of it, I was like BINGO! Then I moved to NYC and discovered cocktail bartending, and I was like: win win; Art + Creativity + Bartending all in one.
“I started bartending because of my wanderlust. I went to Guatemala and I discovered bar culture and loved it.”
When did you realize you wanted to jump from working at different spots in NYC to opening your own bar?
There was really only one option. Unlike other career paths where you get health insurance, a 401K and a future, bartending doesn’t leave you with any of that. I knew I wanted some stability in the future and I knew I didn’t want to work for any other brand but my own. This was the only option. It had to be done!
It must’ve been insane opening a bar for the first time. What was the process like?
It was madness, of course. We (me and my partners), opened up Leyenda from lease signing to opening date in 5 months and a few days. We also conceived its identity at the same time. It was a whirlwind, but very rewarding.
We’ve heard you have a close relationship with Mezcal and it’s a key component to a lot of your cocktails. Can you tell us how you learned so much about the spirit?
My first bartending job was in Guatemala, and it was a tequila and mezcal bar called Cafe No Sé. Due to my time there, I traveled a lot to Mexico to get new spirits for the bar, because we couldn’t get them in Guatemala. Now, I just love the taste. It’s a genuine spirit and varies so much depending on type of agave and where it is made.
Leyenda has become quite popular for being so young. What ways do you think it stands out from other Brooklyn bars?
The benefit I have of opening Leyenda is that I had worked in the neighborhood for 4 years at Clover Club before opening across the street. I had lived in Brooklyn for nearly 8 years before opening as well and had worked at various spots throughout Brooklyn. Leyenda was needed on a national scale as well, but what makes Leyenda successful is that this neighborhood needed us. It’s good food, good drink and not in your normal way. We’re ALL Latin, not just tequila, taco sombrero Mexican. We also have good food AND good drink, not just one or the other. It was needed, and luckily, we’re a neighborhood staple at this point.
What would you recommend for someone’s first visit?
Drink a Tia Mia and a Sonambula and eat the Steak and Panuchos. Right now, we have Lobster Tacos that are RIDICULOUS. So I’d get that too!
You also co-founded the all-female speed bartending competition, Speed Rack – what was the inspiration behind that?
Basically, there weren’t a lot of women at the tippy top of the biz in the best bars in the world and I was like, WHY?! So I started Speed Rack to create a platform for women to stand on to show how amazing they are at their jobs. The goal was to be be like: HERE THEY ARE! Hire them! And it’s worked. We’ve had over 700 women compete in the last 6 years and have raised more nearly $500K for breast cancer charities.
Can you recommend a few of the talented women Speed Rack has shined a spotlight on?
Sure! Lacy Hawkins who won the national title this year. Elisabeth Forsythe who has competed in TX and has gotten jobs because of it. In London, there is a girl named Kelsey Ramage who competed, having been brand new into town from Canada, and now she works at Dandelyon which is arguably the best bar in London right now.
It’s clear that you’re incredibly busy and always on the go, if you were to describe your perfect day off – What would it be?
OH man…. A perfect day off would be by the water. Either on a boat or by a stream or on the beach. Reading, drinking Rosé and maybe riding a horse or two. Or, I guess, the best would be going to see some art at a museum or something in the AM, and then transporting to the water, whether it be a tropical beach, east coast river or a big lake.
Last but not least, what’s next for you? Do you plan on expanding, opening new venues, or are you just going to relax for a bit?
You know, for now, I am doing Leyenda and Speed Rack. I certainly have stuff I am fantasizing about but for now, this is enough. 2 full time jobs is enough!
Ivy’s “Say Anything”
We couldn’t leave Leyenda’s without getting the recipe to one of Ivy’s handcrafted cocktails. Below are the ingredients for her “Say Anything”. A simple, spicy, yet refreshing mix for your next summer soiree.
1 oz Jalapeno Tequila
1 oz Novorol**
1 oz Watermelon syrup
.75 oz Lime
Pinch mint leaves
Just shake, coupe, and add a salted rim if it’s preferred. Garnish with mint leaf.
** Novorol = 1 part Novo Fogo + 1 part Aperol