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Catching Up with Ivy Mix

Woman with drink, leaning against brick wall
Ivy Mix, the newly minted (and very busy) American Bartender of the Year. Photo courtesy of Zandy Mangold.

Lately, the days have been running into each other for Brooklyn bartender Ivy Mix. If you missed the news, Mix took home the coveted Spirited Award for Best American Bartender of the Year at last month’s Tales of the Cocktail Festival, and she’s doing her damnedest just to keep up.

“[It’s] literally like having a baby,” Mix said, of opening Leyenda in May. We spoke via phone while she was headed upstate for some much needed downtime. “I’m not sleeping at all.”

Leyenda, a coctelería in Carroll Gardens, is located right across the street from Mix’s former bar home, Clover Club, where she worked under the mentorship of Julie Reiner (Flatiron Lounge). Mix, a Vermont native, lived and bartended in Guatemala for several years, after earning a BA in photography and fine art at Bennington College. Her time in the Central American country, plus travels throughout Argentina, Peru and Mexico (perhaps the lore of her mezcal smuggling across the border is just as well-known as she is) exposed her to a world of tequila, rum, pisco and pan-Latin traditions that would eventually shape her craft.

In New York, Mix paid her dues around town, at Mayahuel with Phil Ward, Fort Defiance with St. John Frizell and Lani Kai in 2010, where she would meet and impress Reiner. By the time Reiner approached Mix about moving forward with a place of her own, Mix had worked ten years in the industry and helped secure Clover Club’s 2013 Spirited Awards for Best High Volume Bar and Best American Bar. For Mix, the opportunity to plant her own flag was clear. The daily behind-the-scenes struggle, however, was maybe not so obvious.

Officially, Mix is co-owner and head bartender, or “cantinera,” of the bar and restaurant that tips its hat to the diverse Latin American diaspora. She authored the 18 recipes currently available on Leyenda’s menu, focusing on familiar spirits from Spanish-speaking countries, in addition to liquors less familiar to the average American drinker: cachaça, sotol, and raicilla.

Her variation of the Mai Tai, the mezcal-based Tia Mia, has been a huge hit. So too for the full-flavored Palo Negro (reposado tequila and Palo Cortado sherry, rounded out with blackstrap rum, Grand Marnier and Demerara syrup). Mix works behind the bar, and helps to manage the business. But she has also become familiar with the duties required of an owner even when there’s no time in the day for them—because, well, the buck doesn’t have any place else to go.

Food runner quits with no notice? Figure out a replacement. Basement is flooded? Haha! It’s on you, sister. But the hiccups and frustrations of small business ownership come with pretty high-ranking rewards, too.

“I see people I’ve hired who really love working here,” Mix says, her voice relaxing. “We have people who’ve been regulars since the day we opened. It’s great that we created that.”

Most of Mix’s inspiration comes from the energy and exchange of bartending. But her work with Leyenda chef Sue Torres (“she’s phenomenal”) brings a certain spark to the table—take, for example, her Puerto Rican roast pork shoulder hailing from a family recipe, or her introduction of the Mexican herb hoja santa, a new flavor to Mix’s palate. “It’s unique and interesting,” Mix said. “Similar to oregano. I might do something with that.”

Pero, cuando? In addition to manning the bar, Mix fills her time working on Speed Rack, the international cocktail competition now in its fifth season. She, along with Lynnette Marrero, founded the organization, which highlights women in the industry, and sends proceeds to support breast cancer research. So far, the organization has donated more than $300,000 to the cause. This fall they’ll expand to London, and they are also considering New Zealand, Paris, and Asia for future events.

Though Leyenda has Mix rooted in Brooklyn, the bartender who was inspired by travel hasn’t lost her wanderlust. She contemplates a future bringing the cocktail culture to places that have yet to be bitten by the bug—Madrid, she said, or cities in Argentina. That’s later. For now, she’s focused on getting her baby Leyenda through its infancy stage. And she’s going to enjoy this rare mini-vacay upstate. Cheers to that.

Tales of the Cocktail 2017
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