It may be early on a Saturday night, but Leyenda, one of the newest additions to Smith Street’s row of restaurants and bars, is bustling. Bar stools have long been claimed, and tables are well on their way to full. Every few minutes, a fresh group of patrons step through the door, and Ivy Mix, playing host tonight instead of bartender, breezes over and whisks them to seats. Leyenda is busy, I tell her–but Mix begs to differ.
And she may be right. After all, if anyone knows busy, it’s her.
Leyenda is Mix’s brainchild, a warm and lively Cobble Hill joint devoted to her love of Latin American spirits — think everything from vegetal cachaça to smoky mezcal — which she’d developed after years of living on and off in Guatemala. With her spot’s opening, the Vermont-born 29-year-old joins a growing legion of bartenders who’ve stepped out from behind the stick to open watering holes of their own. Opening a bar is a challenge in its own right, but when it came to a launch date, the initial issues were compounded by a seemingly impossible timetable.
“[Clover Club’s Julie Reiner and I] decided upon the concept and hashed out what I wanted to achieve with Leyenda’s identity while doing build-out,” Mix says later by email. “The whole thing took less than five months, which is insane. It was a whirlwind.”
Though Leyenda opened nearly two months ago, that whirlwind hasn’t ceased for Mix. That particular busy Saturday, she was fresh off a trip to Pamplona, Spain, but she’d already begun gearing up for a trek to New Orleans the following Wednesday to attend Tales of the Cocktail, where she’s one of four people (the only woman) on the short list for the coveted title of American Bartender of the Year at the event’s Spirited Awards. It’s the fourth time she’s received the nod, though her first as a finalist.
Mix’s nomination should come as no surprise to those in the industry. For four years, before she left to open Leyenda, she was a bold-faced name at Reiner’s Clover Club; prior to that, she tended bar at now-closed Reiner spot Lani Kai and, before that, Fort Defiance–and she’s put her status to good use, co-founding the multi-city, all-female speed bartending competition Speed Rack, which raises money for breast cancer research. On top of that, the event also serves to highlight the talents of the many women in the spirits business–something Mix hopes her potential American Bartender of the Year title would do as well.
“To win would … hopefully get a lot more ladies who are totally deserving to be seen in that category,” Mix says.
Should she take the title, Mix would be the first woman to do so since Pegu Club’s Audrey Saunders claimed a best bartender win at Tales in 2007, the first year an award of this kind was offered there. Since then, Mix points out, the industry has seen scores of women–Death & Co.’s Eryn Reece, Harvard & Stone’s Jill Webster, The Spare Room’s Yael Vengroff, and Trick Dog’s Caitlin Laman, to name a few —take charge of beverage programs across the country. Even so, women in recent years haven’t gotten much representation in this particular category: In the four years Mix has made the nomination long list (composed of 10 individuals), she’s been the sole woman for two until being joined by Seamstress’ Pam Wiznitzer.
“To me, it is a big deal to have a woman represented,” Mix says, adding, “That being said, I hope that I was not selected because … I am a woman. I hope I was selected because of how hard I’ve worked in this industry and because people like to sit at my bar and watch me bartend.”
Given her success over the years, it’s fair to say people do. For more proof? Her dance card at Tales, where Mix will work brand events for Jägermeister and tag along with Chivas, for whom she also recently judged a cocktail competition. Since the nights are long and the mornings are early (-ish–“9 a.m. is early when you’re out ’til 5!”), she’ll also get very little sleep in the process.
And once Tales is over, there may be even more–or less, in terms of sleep — coming down the pike for her. Mix mentions she’d like to eventually open a few bars and that she may revisit a now-tabled project “one day in the future.” Just a few more irons in the fire, but, luckily, Ivy can do busy.
Leyenda, 221 Smith Street; Carroll Gardens