Drinks on the Move: Chatting With The Ladies of Speed Rack

Not that Speed Rack founders Lynnette Marrero and Ivy Mix timed their charity and booze event to ease your guilt for not going out to Staten Island or Queens to volunteer, but it sure works out well. For the second year, these cocktail mavens have whipped together the best women in the drink making business to compete for the title of Miss Speed Rack NYC and subsequently, raise money for breast cancer research.

To win the crown, the ladies participating must impress judges with their speed and dexterity in a round-robin style, timed competition. The event takes place from 6 to 10pm on Monday, December 10 at Santos Party House, and costs $25 at the door. I caught up with Marrero and Mix and chatted about how they started and what it means for ladies in the world of bartending.

This is your second year doing Speed Rack, right?
Yes we began in New York City on June 12, 2011. Ivy and I approached industry friends and got brands to sponsor us. It was a crazy time to do any industry event between Manhattan Cocktail Classic and Tales [of the Cocktail]. However, we did it.

We sent out notices to NYC’s LUPEC [Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails] ladies to compete. Our great friends and mentors, Julie Reiner, Dale DeGroff, Audrey Saunders, and Jordana Rothman, volunteered to judge and the result was an exciting, nail-biting event that energized a movement.

What made you decide to do it again?
Frankly, it is an obligation. We had so much fun traveling the country and meeting so many amazing women that we knew that our mission was not finished. People were begging Speed Rack to visit their towns and it’s our vocation now.

IM: We decided to do it again for two reasons. One, because there are still so many female bartenders out there that can benefit from a platform like Speed Rack. And two, There is never an end to the amount of money to be raised for breast cancer charities. This year we are working with SHARE, a great organization that offers a support network to women, and sometimes men, who have been affected.

How did you come up with the idea?
Speed Rack started first as an idea that stemmed from a project a friend and I were asked to do that was about bartending. We were begged to participate in a project because we were female bartenders and there were no ladies around to do it, or so it seemed. I started to think about how odd it was that this project had no women.

I was a female bartender and I knew so many female bartenders. But, it didn’t seem like the food and beverage community knew that, like we were all living under a rock somewhere. So, I decided it would be great to create an event that created a platform for female bartenders to stand on to show the world just how awesome we can be. Then, I have always thought that people will pay for a drink no matter what, so why not make this double entendre go a bit further and have it be a breast cancer charity.

Lynnette Marrero and I became partners after we sat next to each other at a football game in April 2011. I had a slight idea of what I wanted and since Lynnette is the president of LUPEC NYC, she was the perfect pro-women partner. We talked, and then together we shaped Speed Rack into what it is today.

What, exactly, does the competition entail? 
It is the roller derby of cocktail competitions. Women are challenged to recreate the work they do on the busiest night of their lives working in a cocktail bar. Oh, and people who you completely admire walk in and want a round.

IM: It is like the March Madness of boobies and booze. The competition entails a preliminary qualifying round that the girls have known for about two weeks before the event. In this round, they make four drinks as quickly as possible and are competing against everyone. The top eight fastest move on to the bracketed girl-on-girl, round-robin-style competition that is open to the public. Then, we have the two girls, in two bars, in front of an all-star panel of judges. These judges select four classic cocktails at random and the girls go head-to-head making them.

Do you think women are making more waves in the bartending world?
I think women have always been making waves in the bartending world, you may just not have known their names. Women took to the bars during prohibition in Europe, during World War II, and in the 1970s and early 1980s. They fought extremely hard for their right to bartend and by 1980, bartending was the occupation in which women had the most liberating gains.

I happened to start in this industry when there were so few people in the cocktail world. Julie Reiner trained me at the Flatiron lounge in 2005, at that point, Audrey [Saunders] and Julie were some of the few American women in the small craft bartender world. I was promoted to bartender because I was willing to work hard, put in the time learning drinks, and I had a good palate. It was gender blind. You did, and still do, work long hours in cocktail bars. You need to be tough, have stamina, be able to make recommendations, and be ready to be tested on your knowledge. 

Who are some of the ladies that are pushing the boundaries in the bar and where do they work?
If we are looking at the current Speed Rack competition, we have Jillian Vose and Eryn Reece who both work at Death and Co., and Eryn also works at Mayahuel. Both women are leaders in the cocktail community in NYC. I have to say, because I can, that my partner Ivy Mix is pushing the boundaries. She is incredibly hard working and brings so many of her talents to the job. Her passion, business savvy, and tenacity are why she has achieved such accomplishments as 30 Under 30 for Zagat in 2012.

IM: There are so many, to single them out is hard, the list just goes on and on.

Tour de Brooklyn: A Borough Grub Crawl

Last weekend Bon Appetit magazine teamed up with Belvedere Vodka and Chase Sapphire to take a tour of the ever-expanding Brooklyn Food scene. Focusing on three key neighborhoods, Cobble Hill, Williamsburg, and Red Hook, the tours worked to really highlight some of the areas’ best food options, while making it walker-friendly.

I was lucky enough to join Friday’s Cobble Hill grub crawl and started out at Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli’s Italian inspired restaurant Frankies 457 Spuntino. The joint was packed inside, but luckily we ducked out into the garden to sip a berry-ripe lambrusco and nibble on seasonal crostini. The way the tour worked was that they had four groups of people intermittently going to one of the four spots where we stayed for about 45 minutes. Frankies proved a good place to start, but our next stop felt a little awkward.

Dessert before dinner, anyone? Not that I am actually complaining. Given our tour took us to Kim Ima’s brick-and-mortar location of Treats Truck and to a pile of luscious peanut butter and chocolate sandwich cookies, it was a win-win situation. We followed that up with Clover Club and had a lovely punch by cocktail goddess Julie Reiner, who was actually there explaining her drink, giving us a recipe, and then pouring up their house drink comprised of raspberries and Dorothy Parker gin. We ended the night at Seersucker and sampled chef Robert Newton’s sinful fried chicken, fluffy biscuits, pimento cheese, and the Thirsty Owl Riesling that they have on tap. All together, the tour did highlight some of the hottest spots in the neighborhood right now.

On Saturday they covered Williamsburg and smartly chose Rye for cocktails, Maison Premiere for oysters, and Brooklyn Winery for a tour and wine tasting. The other two places I was less impressed with and would have skipped, one of which was Allswell because, frankly, it’s not anything special. Same for the jaunt to the Meatball Shop; while it’s delicious, there’s nothing Brooklyn about it given its two other locations in Manhattan. Sunday’s food crawl took place in Red Hook and did the neighborhood well by hitting up Stumptown Coffee Roasters, trying St. John Frizell’s southern-style Fort Defiance, eating Korean breakfast at The Good Fork, filling up on smoked meat at Mile End, and dancing at the historical bar Sunny’s.

Overall, the folks behind the tour did well to give a broad sampling of the neighborhoods that you can easily walk around in. The only other location I would have included is Prospect Heights where you can easily indulge in seasonal nibbles from The Vanderbilt, cocktails at Weather Up, ramen at Chuko, and oysters at Cornelius—but I guess that’s a good excuse to do that one on my own. 

Dark Design: The Clover Club

imageThe original pub (short for “public”) leveled society’s strata of intelligentsia, wealthy, witty, and common … hence its popularity. One thousand years of common drinking history supported conversation from the substantive to the flippant. Oft kept quiet from meddling community outsiders, however, have been the “secondary pubs”: spaces — containing the local riffraff and rarified — positioned down the rabbit hole. Brooklyn’s beauty, the Clover Club, offers just such a “back parlor,” a lap of intimacy, velvet, and fire for educated drinking and communication. (See our gallery of the space.) This secondary space draws the daring and self-selected trouble-making crew crying out to communicate salacious stories. Behind the curtains and down the steps, a husky cast-iron fireplace covered in marble stimulates curious conversation.

The Clover Club nominally deceives; the bar contains no members and welcomes the Smith Street community, one rich in the self-celebrated culture class of the city. “Work is the curse of the drinking classes,” Oscar Wilde stressed. The Clover Club invites a melting of class distinction and a mingling over sophisticated alcoholic concoctions from owner Julie Reiner. Surely, the Victorian-inspired interior would have drawn Wilde on a midafternoon young buck hunt.

With the pub analogy, we do not imply the aesthetics of such; indeed the tin ceilings, lanterns (bell jar fixtures), intricate, tiling, dark mahogany wood, and antique sconces all speak to a unique Northeastern American response to the English-of-origin watering hole. Keen to mount an historical authenticity, owner and design director Michael Brais showcases a late-19th-century mahogany bar shipped from an American hardscrabble mining town. The historically common exterior vertical signage and interior mosaic floors recreate many an American public venue, most now downed by bulldozer.

The Clover Club lights low; in the rear, a careful play between flame and chandelier soothes the synapses. The walls lined with a silk-ish material soften the reflective floor sheen of fire-to-wood. With such calm, one wishes that the massively glazed storefront were transposed with colored stained glass, and that exhaled corrosive mist would fill the lungs. But wait, this is not a pub! On the contrary, one visually engages the streetscape ebb and flow in a “thank you for not smoking” California sunny way, while the frothy barstools are, as the owners say, “designed for guest to stay awhile.”

Named after a bygone lounge of literary libations in Philadelphia, Clover promotes a centuries-old tradition of warmth, openness, community, and a dash of the dodgy secondary “pub,” producing a true public destination. Brooklyn celebrates and cherishes its openness to the underworked cultured masses, which allots masses of daydream time to lie about in the clover.