Meet Bartending Speed Demons Mony Bunni, Anna Wingfield and Jacyara de Oliveira
For a long time, women almost exclusively attended bartending competitions as friends and coworkers of those competing; cheerleaders and promo-girls for contestants and sponsoring spirits. They were at the competitions, but — as research has found — rarely in them.
That is, until 2011 when cocktail world icons Lynnette Marrero, current beverage director of Brooklyn’s Llama Inn and brand ambassador for Perrier, and Ivy Mix, now owner and head bartender of Leyenda (also in Brooklyn), came together and founded Speed Rack.
Today, with Speed Rack in its sixth season and the difficulty of preliminary rounds at an all-time high, crowds are being awed by the speed and skill of the women on stage as they go shaker-to-shaker to crank out cocktails as fast as possible for a panel of four judges.
Here’s a look at the inspiring, fast-as-lightning women who've taken home top honors in this season’s regional competitions thus far.
Miss Speed Rack Midwest: Mony Bunni — Boleo and The Kimpton Gray Hotel (Chicago), Lustau Sherry Brand Ambassador, Chicago
Mony Bunni, 28, a Chicago native and third time Speed Rack competitor, started bartending almost five years ago.
“I was a cocktail server at Sable when it opened, and one day Mike Ryan [then head bartender of Sable and now in a national education position with Kimpton Hotels, Sable’s parent company], was like, ‘you’re going to start staging,’” Bunni says. “That’s how it started, I just picked up shifts. When I graduated from college I realized this is not an industry I’m in just to make money. I loved it, and I wanted to see where it goes, and I’m so glad I did. It’s been amazing.”
Bunni’s loyalty to the industry stems from the spirit of hospitality that infuses her work week.
“Making cocktails and coming up with new recipes, that’s a fun little treat. My favorite part is when I get to make those insane guest experiences, when I get to turn their night around and make things better,” she says.
But it’s not just that Bunni is able to improve a guest’s perspective, she often finds herself inspired by the guests.
“In almost every single night you get that guest that restores your faith in humanity,” she says. “That’s my favorite part.”
Bunni’s go-to cocktail recommendation is a daiquiri, and her favorite variation is splitting rum bases. “There’s 100 different variables that can make one rum completely different from another. Doing your own rum blend in a daiquiri can make a simple drink so interesting,” she says.
Other favorite flavors are green cardamom and tahini, reflecting on her Middle Eastern heritage and, true to her brand, “I put sherry in almost anything,” she says.
When she is out for a cocktail, Bunni goes for a Tuxedo or a 50/50 cocktail. “I like to keep my life as low proof as I can,” she says.
When she’s not at work, Bunni cooks and goes through her Netflix queue. “I don’t make drinks at home,” she says. “All I wanted for my birthday was an immersion circulator. I put on a show and make a bunch of food.”
Miss Speed Rack New York: Anna Wingfield, Mother’s Ruin (NYC) and Ba’sik (Brooklyn)
Anna Wingfield, 26, three-time Speed Rack contestant and last season’s competition’s New York Wild Card, walked into a bar in London in 2010 and walked out with a job.
“That first summer hooked me on bartending forever,” she says. “What really made me fall in love was being part of the community. The people you work with become your family, your regulars become your family. You have this great, social job that you get to do and make money, but you also get to meet people, know them, make them laugh.”
After London, Wingfield tended bar in Baltimore before moving to New York, where she first came behind the bar at Mother’s Ruin, one of the city’s celebrated high volume craft cocktail bars, in 2014.
“Being at Mother’s Ruin definitely helped me train for Speed Rack,” Wingfield says. “You’re making cocktails all night, really fast, and you’re selling them for $13 to $16 they have to be on point.”
When she’s not at work, Wingfield puts her degree in printmaking to work by crafting copper plate etchings.
Her drink of choice is a 50/50 Manhattan, a glass of wine or a blanc vermouth. Agave spirits are her favorite to play with, and a tequila gimlet is her go-to cocktail for guests wanting something citrusy.
Miss Speed Rack Northwest: Jacyara de Oliveira, Rob Roy and The Hideout, Seattle
Jacyara de Oliveira, 27, Chicago-born and raised, former Miss Speed Rack Chicago, and now Seattle resident, has competed in Speed Rack since its inception in 2011, making it to the top eight for five consecutive years.
“My first year at Speed Rack was my first year as a bartender,” de Oliveira says. “It was a mess of a prelim round, but it was incredible.”
De Oliveira came to the industry as a host after moving back to the U.S. after spending a year in her family’s native Brazil. She started barbacking at Chicago’s The Drawing Room when she turned 21.
Folk Lore, also in Chicago, was de Oliveira’s first bartending job and from there she moved to Belly Q, helped open Nico’s, and then Sportsman’s, where she quickly moved into a management position and built their bar program and events.
“My work is like hosting a party,” she says. “You’re constantly in motion but those moments of having your friends and family arrive and greeting them is always good, I like to see people feel at home.”
On her days off, de Oliveira practices Capoeira Angola, a Brazilian martial art, and takes spin classes. She and her boyfriend biked from New York to Seattle this past summer.