Drinking is easy. Finding the right bar, not so easy. We’re here to help. As a public service to all of you thirsty explorers, every week we highlight the best bars in America and tell you what makes them so damn great. This week we’ve got a pan-Latin bar run by a couple of cocktail legends in Brooklyn.
LOCATION: Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
ON THE JUKEBOX: El Gran Combo, Los Masters Plus, The Candela All-Stars
WHAT TO ORDER (NEWBIES): La Sonambula cocktail: jalapeño-infused blanco tequila, lemon, chamomile, mole and Peychaud’s bitters
WHAT TO ORDER (REGULARS): The Mexican Outliers spirit flight: Sotol Por Siempre, Cielo Rojo Bacanora, La Venenosa Sierra de Jalisco
WHY WE LOVE IT: The shadow box cabinets known as escaperates traditionally hold carved wooden deities in Latin American homes. At Leyenda, a new pan-Latin bar in Brooklyn, escaperates hold the alcohol. “Bottles of booze are saints in their own way,” says co-owner and head bartender Ivy Mix. Leyenda—“legend” in Spanish, as in mythical or the finest quality—specializes in unusual Latin American spirits such as raicilla and cachaça. It’s a curious specialty, but Mix, who was recently named American Bartender of the Year at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, says she was born for it. “I always joke that the stork got messed up.”
Mix grew up in Vermont and got her first taste of Latin American culture—and Latin American bar culture—when she studied abroad in Guatemala as a college student. She fell in love and moved there part time, bartending and traveling through Latin America for the next few years. When she departed for New York after graduation, she had to make a decision. “My options were to either move back to that part of the world or to open up a bar that brings part of there to here,” she says.
She decided to stay in New York, but before she really thought about opening her own bar, she made a name for herself in the city, co-founded an all-women mixology competition known as Speed Rack and became cocktail guru Julie Reiner’s protégé. In May she and Reiner teamed up to open Leyenda in Carroll Gardens, across the street from Reiner’s Clover Club. “I think what’s happening in Carroll Gardens right now is what happened in the East Village back in the day when Death & Co, PDT and Mayahuel were all opening,” Mix says. “The people here are educated about what they’re eating and drinking. It’s funny because I have people coming into my bar who aren’t asking me what mezcal is; they’re asking, ‘what kind of mezcal do you have?’”
Mix’s eclectic drink menu features drinks with chile infusions, mole bitters and tropical fruits. There are also 10 different flights of Latin spirits. “I made my name on cocktails and people come to a cocktail bar to drink cocktails, so for a lot of people, it doesn’t really occur to them to look at the spirits list,” she says. “I’ve got no hate on vodka, but when someone expands their horizons and drinks some pisco, I’m like sweet. I’m trying to educate people. It’s like expanding the knowledge of your mouth.” The fall drink menu, which will be released at Leyenda next week, will feature more robust, stirred drinks and heavier brown spirits to help drinkers hunker down for winter.
As far as being named American Bartender of the Year, Mix says the win was an acknowledgement of the success of Leyenda and what she’s accomplished with the five-year-old Speed Rack, which now has competitions around the world. “I also like to think that I’m a pretty good bartender,” she says. “What’s amazing is how many people know about it and care. Random people come in off the street and say congratulations.” Her dream is to one day open cocktail bars across Latin America, including Spain. “That part of the world really resonates with me. I want to take what I do here to other places, to people who haven’t been exposed to it yet. I want to push the boundaries even more.”
Alyson Sheppard is the resident hangover specialist at Playboy.com. Find her on Twitter: @amshep
BARTENDER IVY MIX HAS HEARD SOME BAD PICK-UP LINES IN HER DAY