Ivy Mix, the “head
cantinera” at Brooklyn’s Leyenda and the co-founder of the philanthropic bartending competition Speed Rack, began tending bar as a 19-year-old Bennington College student. To be clear, she wasn’t pouring drinks near the school’s Vermont campus, but rather while spending a term abroad in Guatemala. “I was very nomadic,” Mix says. “The whole time I was in college, I was living in Guatemala, Argentina, Peru, going to Mexico.” Her restless scholarship led to an obsession with the Latin American spirits that are the focus at Leyenda, which boasts a smashing selection of tequila, mezcal, pisco, and singani on its back bar and a memorably tasty, bottled paloma on its welcoming menu.
She opened Leyenda with Julie Reiner in 2015, following tenures at the Red Hook stalwart Fort Defiance, the erstwhile tiki bar Lani Kai, and the heralded Clover Club. (Mix was also named
Tales of the Cocktail’s best American bartender that year.) When she is not behind the bar or traveling the Spanish-speaking world, she is to be found at her apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, settling in with a great Manhattan.
Ivy Mix moved to New York after graduating college and still lives in the same apartment she settled into back in 2008. “Not only was it my first apartment in New York, it was the first apartment I ever
looked at in New York,” she says, claiming a feat exceedingly rare in the annals of local real estate. The bar cart in her living room holds an unopened bottle of rye whiskey from Lock Stock & Barrel. A bottle of Templeton rye and one of Teeling Irish whiskey sit on an adjacent table. “I have a bunch of whiskey here because it’s what I like to drink when I’m home. I hardly ever drink whiskey out—probably because I can’t drink that much of it. If you ever see me out, and it’s 1 a.m. and I order a whiskey, you should just tell me to go home.”
The bar trolley is hers in every sense. Mix designed it, last year, at the invitation of Switzerland’s
USM. “USM does modular furniture, so imagine expensive Ikea. It’s kind of their shtick. But it’s all very clean lines. I was limited in what I was able to do. It wasn’t like I got to design things my way; it was kind of like: Design it—but with Legos. The one I designed was meant to be for a New York City apartment. It’s very shallow. It’s tall; I wanted mine at bar height because I’m a bartender. There’s space for storage. ... And it’s bright, that’s the other thing. So frequently, you go into New York City apartments and there’s no light, and everything’s dark, and everyone dresses in black because we’re in New York, and OK, let’s lighten it up a little bit. It also matches the Latin culture I’m so obsessed with.”
Mix’s 80-bottle liquor pantry is a pared-down version of her earlier collections. “Some of my booze is in storage, but most of it is here,” in the kitchen. For a bartender sufficiently prominent that brands are perpetually pressing product on her, this is minimalism. “I used to have
cases. Long ago, I stopped doing the whole, sure, I’ll take this and that bottle, because my whole house was overcome with miscellaneous bottles of booze that I wasn’t really gonna drink. Like, OK, why do I have three bottles of Finlandia vodka?... The stuff I have in my apartment, I’m either experimenting with for cocktails for the bar—I do some R&D here—or I’m gonna drink it because I like it.” And then there’s stuff that’s “rare or different or strange”: A bottle of mead made by a friend of her mother’s, a flask of Swedish punch she meant to give to the writer David Wondrich two years ago, a personally engraved bottle of Jägermeister. The bottom shelf is heavy with the bottles—orange curaçao, Luxardo maraschino, Pernod, and so on—that are familiar weapons in the arsenal of any serious drink-slinger. The Edinburgh’s Christmas gin on her trolley awaits transformation into a Yuletide cocktail combining gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Mix, a former art student, submits that “as bartenders, we’re all designing drinks.” Some of her eye for design is inherited from her father, Robin. “My father’s a glass blower, so I’ve always been obsessed with glassware. Lots of my antique-y stuff is in storage, but my dad made this [red] mixing glass.” He also made the yellow tumblers at left,
among other practical barware, including pilsner glasses and punch bowls. The dotted Martini shaker was a Christmas present from him.
“I love drinking, believe me, but I don’t drink that, that, that much when I’m home, and when I do, I want the best. I want to make a really good Manhattan, or I want to make a really good Negroni. It’s rare that I shake up cocktails at home. It’s the labor, and usually when I drink at home, I just want to sit. When I’m drinking daiquiris, I’m like, 'Wooooo! Daiquiris!' At home, I want to read a book and have a Manhattan.” She suggests a substitution for the Angostura (and/or orange) bitters traditionally used in a Manhattan. “Ever just use Fernet instead of bitters? It’s the way to go.”
“I keep all of my tools here. I’ve got way, way, way, way, way too much stuff. ... This [mixing spoon] has, like, a thermometer on it? Look at this thing! Why do I need this? Half this stuff, I keep so I can give gifts to people for Christmas: 'Here you go. Here’s a starter set.'”
Some of the implements in Mix’s collection are her regular tools of the trade, others are more like
objets d’art. “Do you know Masa [Urushido] from Saxon + Parole? He made this really beautiful ice-chiseling thing with Chivas. It’s the most beautiful piece of equipment. That’s his signature on it. ... Bartenders like to geek out about ice. I’m not quite that geeky, but I think this piece of material is just so well made.”
Mix uses her living room bar trolley as her base of spirituous operations only on special occasions. “If I’m making a drink for one person, I’ll do it in the kitchen, but if it’s a party, I’ll do it out here, and the guests will make drinks, too. Everyone loves to do it. They’re like, 'This is so great and fun!' I’m like, 'Eh.'”
Who’s the gent in the photograph? “That’s my friend, Noel Chandler. He passed away a little while ago. He’s Welsh, but I knew him from Spain. I mean, he essentially drank himself to death, which is just the reality of it, but he’s my old-man drinking buddy, and I loved the s--- out of him. So I keep it on the bar because that’s where he’d want to be.”
“I don’t have any citrus, or else I’d put a twist on it,” Mix said of this
venerable Manhattan variation, which is properly called:
2 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. sweet vermouth
.25 oz. Fernet-Branca
Stir well with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Don’t get hung up if you lack a lemon for garnish.