Leyenda head bartender Ivy Mix served her first drink in Guatemala at 19 years old. She had traveled there during her studies at Bennington College and decided to stay put for years — with the exception of getaways to Mexico, where she’d frequent to smuggle back special mezcals and tequilas. Upon arriving in NYC she started cocktail waitressing at Mayahuel, where she discovered the convergence bartending could offer for her passion for spirits and her artistic background. That realization had good timing: In 2010, Mix crossed paths with legendary cocktail maven Julie Reiner, who brought her on to open Lani Kai and step behind the bar at Clover Club in Cobble Hill. It’s just across the street where you can find the duo’s latest project: Leyenda, a Latin cocktail bar that opened its doors this May. Here, the Vermont native chats about why Latin-inspired drinking takes the cake, the biggest lesson she’s gained from Reiner, and what it’s like to be the recipient of the Tales of the Cocktail American Bartender of the Year Award.
BoozeMenus: What research went into creating the menu at Leyenda?
Ivy Mix: A lot. I knew I wanted to tackle and pinpoint different parts of Latin American. There were different ties I wanted to make. I've traveled extensively down there, so a lot of the "research" was done years ago via my travels. But I read a lot of Latin American cookbooks, looking for drink inspiration and flavor pairings.
BM: What drink on the menu has your name written all over it in terms of style and taste?
IM: I think the whole menu does. But the one that is really "me" is probably the Tia Mia, with mezcal, rum, curacao, orgeat, and lime. It's a twist on a Mai Tai and smoky delicious.
BM: Which cocktail proved the most challenging to perfect for this menu?
IM: Probably the Shadow Boxer or the Hey Suze. I had ideas for both of them that I didn't want to stray from, but there were a million different angles to take getting there. There were hours of research and development and finally an end result. So those, or my cola syrup. I worked on it with Jelani Johnson from Clover Club for many, many, many hours. I am super proud of the result.
BM: What's your favorite story behind one of the drinks?
IM: I'm not sure if I have a favorite. They've all had their own inspiration. A lot of them are inspired by people who regularly drink at my bar, who I love and want to come in and drink there. The Arinato is this way, for my friend Ari who loves mezcal.
BM: Congrats on the 'American Bartender of the Year Award' — what does such an accolade mean for you?
IM: Ooooff! What does it not mean? To me it means the most because my friends and peers and mentors in this industry collectively decided on me to win this award. This is not a cocktail competition; it is a recognition of doing well and good in our industry. That meant the most in the world.
BM: What makes Latin-inspired drinking so dang fun?
IM: Latin America is fun, so why wouldn't its drinking be so? It is lively and rambunctious and spicy. I hope you get a pep in your step just from that first sip. It's not the cold drinking of whiskey and gin (not that I don't love that). It's a little more close to the equator — a little more alive.
BM: Where do you find inspiration?
IM: Pastry books, my regulars, my sister, and my co-workers.
BM: What's one of the biggest lessons you've learned from Julie Reiner?
IM: To be strong and persevere. She's all about hard work and getting it done, but she also knows how to disconnect to be with her family and loved ones. This is so important! Work hard to play hard. That's the key.
By Nicole Schnitzler
(Photos courtesy of Leyenda | From Left: Cocktail; Ivy Mix; Interior)