“What’s in a name?” asks Shakespeare’s Juliet.
Surprisingly, the historical answer is sometimes, quite a lot. The mega-point Scrabble word used to define the concept of nominative determinism – when a person’s given name very aptly describes who they are or what they do – is euonym. Walter Russell Brain, British neurologist; Storm Field, retired meteorologist; Lance Bass, bass singer for N’SYNC; Anthony Weiner, U.S. Congressman whose crotch selfie ruined his political career.
Whether our names actually influence our destinies is a question best left to the Sigmund Freuds and Carl Jungs of psychology, but for now, through divine intervention or happy coincidence, be glad Ivy Mix chose mixology as her profession.
How did you begin as a bartender?
I moved to Guatemala when I was in college at about the age of 19. I couldn’t obviously drink in this country, so I started hanging out in that country where I could drink legally and really fell in love with bar culture. I worked at a place that allowed you to rack up a tab if they trusted you (as a patron). I racked up a bill that was so large over subsequent months that I had to start working to help pay it off. So, I ended up moving to Guatemala part-time, living there about four years off and on, bartending, hanging out and just really liked the bartending aspect of it all.
Then, I moved back to New York. The bar I worked at in Guatemala was a tequila/mezcal bar. When I moved here in 2008, tequila/mezcal was all the rage and I had a pretty good knowledge base. I basically tried to get a few bartending jobs, was told no by a whole bunch of people and then a bar opened up in the East Village called Mayahuel. I asked for a job there, was also told no, but then I dropped off some bottles of mezcal for a friend and then I got a call from them asking if I’d like to cocktail waitress. All I really wanted was money at that point. I was working in the art world, they were doing all these amazing cocktails with the stuff that I love, and I was like, ‘oh, I can be creative, I can make cocktails, which seems really cool and creative, and I can bartend, which I love.’
So, I decided to make the hop from one thing to the other. I got out of the art world and into the cocktail world and started working at a few different places around the city. In Brooklyn, St. John Frizell at Fort Defiance was the first person that let me cut my cocktail bartending teeth. He let me behind the stick rather than just be on the floor as a cocktail waitress. I worked at Fort Defiance for a while, skipped around the city to a few places, started working for Julie Reiner at a bar called Lani Kai in Manhattan and then moved to Clover Club. I worked with Julie and then after four years was trying to open up my own bar…
Was it just by happenstance that you fell into working with Julie?
Well, it’s all a family. You’re in a lineage here. Phil Ward started working for Julie as a barback. He moved his way up the ranks and became the owner of Mayahuel. I always knew Julie in the scene but when she opened up Lani Kai, I wrote here and was like, ‘I would like to work here.’ I’d served her cocktails once or twice because she’d gone in to see Phil. And I knew her because of St. John, who I worked with at Fort Defiance.
I started working for her at Lani Kai and we really got along. About that time, I started something called Speed Rack, an all female bartending competition and breast cancer charity. I think because of that, she respected my work ethic. We kind of had a mutually beneficial relationship in the fact that I was travelling across the country doing Speed Rack, but everywhere I went I was ‘Ivy Mix from Clover Club’. About a year and half ago, a venue became available across the street from Clover Club with the same landlord and Julie asked me if I’d be interested in opening up a bar with her. I was like, ‘Yeah.’ So, now I run Speed Rack, which has been going on for five years. And I run Leyenda.
Why do you think it was a bit difficult for you in the beginning to find a job bartending when you moved back?
The whole bartender thing was just starting to boom. If you weren’t in the family, you weren’t going to get in, basically.
So you were specifically looking for a bar with a stellar cocktail program?
Yeah, I had bartended in New York, but I wanted to do cocktail bartending. Also, I was a really good cocktail waitress, so I think that once you have someone who’s really good at a job, you don’t want to lose that person. There’re a lot of reasons why I wasn’t asked to bartend or why it was a harder time. Most of which are, all these new bars opening were speakeasies and all the speakeasies were trying to be Pre-Prohibition era when there were just bar wenches and prostitutes and all the men were the regal socialite bartenders.
There was just no place for a woman in the image of what a cocktail bar was at that point. Now it’s changed a lot because ‘cocktail’ is no longer synonymous with ‘speakeasy’. It wasn’t that much of a struggle for me though. I was met with a bit of opposition, but that’s almost to be expected in this industry where you should really have some clout. You have to work in this industry. You’re not just going to fall into it and if you do then you’re lucky.
What else do you think contributed to women’s progress in the industry?
I think Speed Rack probably had something to do with it. Women were hiding underneath a rock for a long time or so people thought. And now, it’s really easy to go find a good bartender. You just go watch a Speed Rack video. It’s like, ‘Oh, look, there’s one.’
So, Ivy Mix…you’re real name?
It’s my real name. No, I’m not an asshole who changed my name to ‘Mix’, ha.
Who would you recommend as an up-and-coming bartender?
A woman who’s worked for me for a while who I actually discovered through Speed Rack; her name is Shannon Ponche. We just promoted her at Leyenda to part-time manager. She’s just fantastic. Matt Chavez who moved here from San Francisco. The second he gets an opportunity to work in a bar he’s just going to blow up. I think he could be one of the better bartenders around. Finally, Sam Johnson. He works at Clover Club and Pouring Ribbons, so he picks up shifts here at Leyanda. Sean Kenyon in Denver trained him. He is the future.
And what do you see for yourself in the future?
Um, breathe? Speed Rack is a full-time job. We’re expecting 750 people at our event on Sunday. I’ve got two full-time jobs. I’d love a vacation. I definitely foresee myself opening up bars in other parts of the world. Maybe Spain.