What’s Speed Rack? A Look Into a Boss Lady Bar Competition

By Loren Bornstein


Loren Bornstein

February 28, 2017

Posted in Restaurant Management, Industry & Culture

Beating cancer, empowering women, and educating the masses…

Speed Rack, the high speed, extremely technical, cancer-fighting cocktail competition is the brainchild of Ivy Mix and Lynnette Marrero, veteran service industry goddesses and modern mixology legends doing incredible work in front of and behind the stick. If it wasn’t already evident, I’m fanboying a bit hard over these two, and believe me, you will too when we’re done.

Getting to know Speed Rack means getting to know who Ivy and Lynnette are. To do that, let’s go back to 2008.

The Women Who Shake Up Revolution

Speed Rack starts in 2008 with Ivy Mix: a soon-to-be well-known bartender whose attempts at breaking into the cocktail bartending world of New York City were often hindered by critics of her lack of technical bar skill despite incredible liquor knowledge from jobs and life spent in multiple countries. (Try asking her about mezcal.)

She actively sought out places where women had space to learn and thrive in the (still) male-dominated craft cocktail world. Cue St. John Frizzell of Fort Defiance giving Ivy her first craft bartending gig.

Lynnette Marrero and Ivy Mix

Along a similar timeline, Lynnette Marrero was already an established part of the modern cocktail revolution alongside cocktail savant Julie Reiner at The Flatiron Lounge.

She won a James Beard award in 2009 for mixology, and was president of LUPEC NYC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails) when her and Ivy made acquaintance. Leading up to that, Lynnette had hopped out of the bar and into brand work and started to really notice men were being promoted even though she was seeing women bartenders. That’s when she decided to become more involved and met with Boston local legend, Misty Kalkofen of Boston’s LUPEC and brought it to NYC. They created the “lady network” of NYC bartenders through LUPEC NYC—a network which Ivy Mix soon joined.

Jump ahead to Ivy and Lynnette’s 2010 meetup at Mulholland’s in Williamsburg and further brainstorming at Mayahuel, and we’re at July 2011 with the first Speed Rack competition where 60-100 people were there and ready to cheer on the first ever competitors.

Competitors were/are given four classic cocktails selected by judges from within the industry and must create the cocktails with proper form, speed, and accuracy. If you think making four classic cocktails in under two minutes is easy, think again. Stirring ice needs time to dilute a cocktail, and over or under shaking a drink can throw it off too.


The Need For Speed (Rack)

Beyond the craft cocktails and raising money to combat breast cancer, Speed Rack is stirring up something even bigger: it’s keeping the conversation about sexism at the forefront by creating a platform for women of various intersections (think gender, sex, race, etc.) to speak out about their realities within and outside of the service industry.

Ivy said to me, “It’s a good time to be a woman in our industry. Maybe Speed Rack helped with that, but now, it’s like if you don’t have a woman behind your bar, what’s going on there? It is a very charged time in our world. We just did Speed Rack in Atlanta. Atlanta is a majority African American city, and we had lots of African American women competing. We do this thing with Del Maguey and The 86 Co. called The Sisterhood Project. The day after Speed Rack Atlanta, they had an open panel and conversation. One woman, she’s 40, she’s black, a mother of two children, and single, and bartending 5 nights a week, and she said, ‘Straight up. I’m not going to get the opportunities of 90% of the women in this room.’”

Lynnette echoed similar thoughts, “Our industry has always been more progressive. In the wars, women had to take over the bars. Hence to Ivy’s point, we can be an example of what can work and what can be. We are dealing with, more vocally, a lot of issues that a lot of industries haven’t gotten to yet. I believe as a unit we will be stronger for it. I hope that we will be an example to other industries.”


The Success of Speed Rack

For a competition that started out with 60-100 people, Speed Rack venues are seeing up to 700 people now. Lynnette mused, “We didn’t think we’d be doing this 6 years later. Maybe it’s because of the last year and a half leading up to the election that a lot has been poured into the women’s community, and the mission. We’ve had probably over 800 women compete and raised over $500,000.”

But money doesn’t define success for Speed Rack’s creators.

Lynette explained, “At the end of the day, what we did was built a company dedicated to the advancement of women and we are doing so many things more so. We worked with brands to incorporate education for women. It’s not about profit. It’s about achieving your mission and your vision.”

Ivy chimed in, “Yes, our careers grew exponentially because of Speed Rack. But that wasn’t the reason behind this.”

Clearly, as Ivy was voted Best American Bartender at the 2015 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards (think the Oscars of the service industry), and is a proud partner of hotspot Leyenda in Brooklyn. A 2009 James Beard winner, Lynnette Marrero consults with Diageo, Zacapa Rum, and Perrier among others, and is part of the mind behind some of the best cocktail programs in NYC as well as an influencer behind other cocktail competitions. On the rare occasion Ivy and Lynnette aren’t traveling, you’ll find them at home somewhere around NYC.

I couldn’t help but wonder how they find the time to do all that they do. Turns out, great mentorship (both have a mentor in the aforementioned Julie Reiner) and a good work ethic combine into terrific talent. Also, finding that spare time to take care of oneself: Ivy does yoga while Lynnette found kettlebells. Even when the world wants your attention at every given moment, they prioritize self care.

Lynnette explained, “For some people, they just want their bar. Ivy and I both enjoy travel. We love seeing what is happening all over this world. I think that’s what is driving us. The passion of seeing a community being built. A global ambassador job is 3 weeks on the road. Our schedules are pretty insane, but it just depends on where you want to be and how you want to do it. I’ve been married 13 years, and my career has changed, but it’s about straight entrepreneurship and what you want to do for yourself. It’s waking up 30 minutes earlier than you think you have to. Check your emails, respond, and if you need to go back to sleep, go back to sleep.”

“You need to have a good work ethic. We like working. I’m not daunted by a new project. If you don’t have a strong work ethic in any industry, you’re not going to get anywhere,” Ivy added.


The Future of Speed Rack

We all shared in Ivy’s laughter when she said this about Speed Rack:

“It’s like a child. We are just following and seeing where it goes. We can’t stop. Women need us. We’re raising money for breast cancer. Our business is successful, finally. *laugh* We want to have more synergy globally. We’re seeing a lot of talk about sexual harassment. We need to educate and train about these conversations.”

When you go to Speed Rack competitions (if you happen to be in Boston, our region’s Speed Rack competition is happening this-coming Sunday March 5th—register!), raise a glass to the women in the industry, to the fight against breast cancer, and to continuing to fight gender inequality. We can all drink to this.



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