Ivy Mix is one of those women who comes to mind when you think of the phrase “powerhouse.” She is an artist, in addition to owning one cocktail bar, tending another one and co-founding an international women’s bartending competition called Speedrack, which raises money for breast cancer research. Mix talked to AWT about achieving the right balance of work, play and YOLO.
Interview: Whitney Seiler
Editor: Jackie Zimmermann
Illustration: NatalieAnn Rich
You do many different things. How do you introduce yourself?
I can be a little modest; I don’t particularly like a ton of attention. So I tend to just say I’m a bartender, but usually the next question people ask is, “What else do you do?” Like, “Oh, you’re just a bartender. You’re a failure at life.” So I used to say, well I’m a bartender, and an artist, and I’d say all these things to justify my work. Now, I’ll say I’m a bar owner. If I’m invested in knowing you, I’ll tell you my whole life story. If not, I’ll say “I’m just a bartender.”
Right. People think of bartending as a fallback, instead of imagining that you truly love what you do. They would rather see you struggle at something they understand.
Totally. I’m a struggling artist. Is that better?
I went to Bennington College and graduated with a dual degree in Fine Art and Philosophy. I’m still friends with the two professors who oversaw my theses, but when I talk to them and they ask what I’m doing now I get so self-conscious. Then recently, my philosophy professor said she was trying to get the alumni magazine to write an article about me and I thought—why? I was so astounded. I was supposed to go to grad school. I was supposed to get my Ph.D. in philosophy. And she said, “Well, you’re really doing what the whole liberal arts education is about. You’re taking what you learned and making something else.” That was a big moment for me. I thought, wow, okay, if you don’t think I’m a failure, then maybe I’m not.
Tell me about Speed Rack.
The idea came to me in 2010. Lynette Marrero from LUPEC and I started chatting at the Super Bowl in 2011 and that’s when we decided to do it. The first event was in June 2011. When we started out we did 10 cities in the U.S. plus the Finals, so 11 events per season. The city lineup changes every year and we now have a scholarship available, so if we aren’t coming to your city, you don’t have to miss out. Now it’s international.
One hundred percent of proceeds go to charity. How does that work?
The way we organize our business is in two tiers. We use sponsored grants just like someone would organize the “well” in a bar. We know we need certain spirits—vodka, gin, etc.—and brands pay us at certain sponsorship levels. With that money we put on all the events. We pay the film crew, the photographer, the venues, travel expenses, all of that. And the reason they sponsor us is so that at the door, every dollar people spend, every ticket and t-shirt sale, donation, 100 percent of that goes to breast cancer research.
How do you pick the charities you partner with?
When we pick a charity, we look at their budgets and their political stance to make sure they’re in line with our sentiments. We partner with a few different not-for-profits. One of them is SHARE, a network of breast and ovarian cancer survivors. They’re a big community-based support system, including a hotline. They also do a lot of reintegration work for survivors. It’s all about empowering women.
And then we donate to a bunch of scientific projects. For example, the Dr. Susan Love Research foundation’s Army of Women initiative. They’re trying to recruit one million women to participate in research studies to end breast cancer. We fund them. We also fund the National Breast Cancer Foundation. For every $500 we give them, they’ll fund a mammogram for someone.
How did you choose breast cancer as the cause? Do you have a personal connection to it?
I don’t have any personal connection to breast cancer. When I originally came up with the idea I was really focused on empowering women. At first I was just thinking I could put on this event and it would make some money and that would be it. But then I thought, brands sponsor things like this all the time, so why not make it for a cause? Speed Rack is about women and female empowerment. Obviously there’s the double entendre in the name [The “well” behind a bar, where the house spirits are stored, is sometimes referred to as the “speed rack.” We’re sure you can guess the other part of the joke]. Fighting breast cancer has a natural connection to that.
It strikes me that Speed Rack is such a fun, exciting event, yet is tied to such a heavy concept.
At every event I have survivors approach me to say, this is great, none of the other breast cancer events are fun. All of the charity walks can be important bonding but they’re not fun like this. Sometimes I get paranoid that the breast cancer thing is getting lost in the mix, but I think people understand that we’re here to support women and to try to stop cancer. Or at least bring more awareness to it. Especially to young people. Most people who are bartenders are under 40. Most people who attend these events are under 50. So these are young people, and that’s a huge subset of society that might not be taking breast cancer risk seriously enough.
Do you ever have participants who are survivors?
Yeah. A few participants who are survivors and quite a few participants whose mothers are survivors. There’s this girl Elisabeth Forsythe, who lives in San Antonio. I met her three years ago and her mom was there. She did this interview for Speed Rack talking about her mom being a survivor and I just thought, “Yes! That’s what this is all about.”
Speed Rack has gone to London twice and went to Canada for the first time in May. You are also considering going to France, right?
France is taking a back seat. I just don’t have enough time in my day. Between opening a bar, doing Speed Rack and bartending, I can’t do any more. But Paris will happen, probably June of 2016.
You’re working on a ton of things right now. What are they?
So I’m working on Speed Rack. I’m working on opening my new bar Leyenda, which I’ll co-own with Julie Reiner, Susan Fedroff, Christine Williams and Tom Macy. I’ve had to make some sacrifices to do all of these things. I just had to get rid of my art studio, which is kind of a bummer. But, these things come and go and I’m sure I’ll get another one day. At this point I was just shelling out cash for a place I never go to.
Mostly it’s Speed Rack, opening the bar, and bartending at Clover Club. All that and trying to keep my life the way I like it to be. I’ve managed to construct my life so that I can do what I want when I want. I can travel the world, I can do all of this amazing stuff. And personally, I think that bartending is a way to do all of these things. As much as I want to do it all, it’s also about making choices.
Within the coming six weeks or so, I will have gone to Boston, Denver, Canada, Chicago and Ireland—all for Speed Rack. I’m also opening my bar and doing training stuff for a week. Then I’m supposed to go Spain, which is kind of my home away from home. I try to go to the running of the bulls every year and I missed it last year.
Also, I have a table saw I’m trying to sell [laughs]. I think I buy power tools when I’m depressed.
So it’s about juggling all of this and making sure that I can really do it. Because, you know, YOLO. As stupid as it is, it’s a real thing. You only get one chance at this, so you might as well see as much as possible.
Is it still fun?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes I’m just running with the carpet like in cartoons, you know? But when I’m not like that, I get antsy. I prefer to be busy. I just took my first actual vacation, my first non-work related trip in four years. So, yeah I still have fun. Sometimes I get really burnt out. I flew 100,000 miles last year. Sometimes I’m on an airplane and I’m like, fuck, what am I doing to myself? Sometimes I love it, and sometimes I think I would love to just go back to Vermont. Go train horses and have a little barn and a little bar and mellow out … but I think that’s for the next portion of my life.
Do you ever have a moment when it becomes clear why you’re doing all of this?
Oh yeah. All of the time. At Speed Rack it happens, especially if I can take a moment and look out at the crowd. We had 700 people come to Speed Rack in San Francisco. In New York, we sold out Music Hall of Williamsburg, which is nuts. So you look out and these people are going ballistic, going totally crazy over bartending. And sometimes I think, woah, this was my idea and it’s happening. And a good idea is just a good idea, right? So it’s the execution that really matters. And that’s where Lynette, my business partner, makes all of this possible. So, moments like that, for sure.
Do you have any advice for young women deciding what to do next?
I think it depends a lot on where you come from. I come from a tiny town, my parents are liberal, I went to a liberal arts college, I live in Brooklyn. Also, this is post economic collapse. I started bartending because I had to, but I realized I loved it. And I thought okay, I’m just going to do this. I met all my best friends that way. And with Speed Rack, I wanted to do something for the ladies that weren’t getting hired in the cocktail industry.
Now, I enjoy the fact that I am working with the upper echelon in my industry. I’m very proud of that. But my goals were not to get where I am. My goals were to do something fun and do something good.
Everything I’ve ever been interested in has been a trade. Women are so often pushed away from trades. But a trade skill is really knowledge that you can take and apply anywhere in the world. Bartending is the same way. Speed Rack is the same way, now. So, yeah, I guess for advice, it would just be YOLO [laughs]. This is your one chance. Make your own agenda. People wait too long for things to happen to them and they don’t realize that if they make their own shit happen, it could happen exactly the way they want it to. And sometimes you’ll have to sacrifice other things in order to prioritize fun in your life, but you’ll have a killer Instagram feed, so who cares?
This interview originally appeared in the Play issue. For more inspiring stories around Play, check out Look Ma, No Hands! Risky Playground Design and Upping the Ante: Jessica Walsh on Creative Play.