Profiles in Pourage Volume I Jim Meehan
A Singani63 Edition
63 West Hudson Street
New York, N.Y.
SS: So I saw you ride your bike to work, is that normal?
IM: Yeah, yeah. Check this out. [laughs, presents large scrape on leg]
IM: –yeah, epic wipeout last Monday.
SS: What happened?
IM: I was just riding home from work on Monday night, and Mondays are my long day, I get in here at noon, and I will probably be here until 2 or 3, so it’s just an exceptionally long day, and it wasn’t a very good shift. So I was like, grrr, biking home, it’s hot out, so I wanted to take off my helmet and ride just 2 blocks with my hair down with the wind, and have a zen moment because I’d just had a bad day. So I do that, and I live in Crown Heights–which is the fastest gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn, it’s insane, I’ve lived there for eight years–and there are these two high-rises 2 blocks away from my house, and there was debris in the road, I’m like, Oh shit, I gotta scooch around it, and I overcompensated trying to grab the brake lever my helmet was over, so in my effort to do that, I just like totally phfft–
SS: Wiped out–
IM: And I stood up, horribly embarrassed, like what kind of idiot takes their helmet off and then immediately crashes their bike? It was 2:30 in the morning, so no one was there, thank God [laughs].
SS: Are you kind of Brooklyn-centric in terms of where you’ve been working?
IM: Yeah. I mean, I try to be. When I first moved to New York, I worked in Manhattan and that’s how I started getting into cocktails. I had a whole slew of Tequila and Mezcal knowledge from when I lived in Latin America, and when I moved to the city, I got a telephone call from a friend of mine in Oaxaca saying, “Hey, there’s a Tequila and Mezcal bar opening up in New York, you should totally go get a job there, you’re a bartender.” So I went, and it was Mayahuel. I’d been living here for six months or a year, something, and I wanted a job, but they’re saying, No, you can’t get a job, because I knew nothing about cocktails. I was a bartender, I knew a lot about Tequila and Mezcal, I just didn’t know how to do what was being done. Fast forward two weeks later, after they’d opened, someone quit and I had to drop off some Mezcal for a friend to the bar, and there’s only a few Ivys, you know, that could be contacting them about Mezcal, I get a call like, “Oh, we want to hire you as a cocktail waitress.” So I worked–that’s how I got into cocktails, ‘cause I was working at this place, and Mayahuel, and seeing all these cocktails being made, and I have an art theory background, that’s what I went to school for, and I always loved bartending and the economy had just collapsed, I was working at Gagosian Gallery, I hated it, and I was like, “What am I DOING?” [laughs] and with this other thing I was like, Whoa, this is amazing, you can be creative, you can bartend, be social, which I already like doing, and I was like, I want to do this, I want to put more energy into this. So I did two years in Manhattan–cocktail waitressing–at Mayahuel, but then I was trying to find someone to like let me bartend, cocktail bartend, and at the time, the response I got was, “No, you’re a cocktail waitress,” and I was like, “No, I’m a bartender,” like I really wanted to bartend, I’d been bartending for years, why not this type of bartending, and there’s a place called Fort Defiance in Red Hook–which you guys should bring Singani to, ‘cause St. John is the man, and I love him so much, but he–
SS: St. John–is this the guy I met in New Orleans?
IM: Has to be. St. John Frizell?
SS: Yeah. He was great.
IM: He’s fucking awesome. And he let me cut my teeth as a cocktail bartender. I go down there, we geeked out, the Saints had just–
SS, IM [in unison]: –won the Super Bowl! Yeah.
IM: Or maybe it wasn’t the Super Bowl, it was the playoff game, I can’t even remember, but we got hammered drinking Mezcal, and I was just like, blah blah blah, this was like Mezcal talk, ‘cause I knew a lot about it, and he’s like, “How do you know so much? Yeah, you should just bartend here, go ahead.” So I bartended in Red Hook off and on for 2-1/2 years, and then I worked in SoHo with Julie at a place called Lani Kai, this Hawaiian bar she opened up, and then I moved back to Brooklyn and she said, “Want to come to work at Clover Club?” and I was like, “Yes!” I’m much more Brooklyn-centric, I try to kind of avoid Manhattan if I can, I just like the pace here more, you know, like when you guys came out I was like, I hate Vegas, there’s like too much bright lights and zoom zoom zoom, and that’s like kind of like all of Manhattan, I’m like you guys stay there and I’ll stay here. I purposely live next to Prospect Park so I can get a little bit of nature and I ride my bike everywhere, so–
SS: Is that sort of residual Vermont upbringing?
IM: I think so. I mean, it has to be. I’m still really good friends with all the kids that I grew up with. I’m from a town of 750 people, like really small, I went to a Waldorf school a town over with a bunch of like-minded parents’ kids. Our school was so small, we had a combined class, like 3rd and 4th grade, 4th and 5th grade, all the way up, and I’m still really good friends, all these kids I went to school with since I was 3, and we all get away a lot. Nature’s important, I need to just–
SS: Get away from concrete.
IM: Yeah, exactly [laughs], exactly.
SS: When did you have your first drink ever?
IM: First drink? Well, I come from a family that drinks. Like, not necessarily in a bad way, but my family drinks.
SS: So they had stuff at home, they could entertain and make things.
IM: Right. Mostly my dad just drank beer and my mom just drank wine, but starting from a really young age, really young, like I had to be like 9, we would have a toast at dinner, here’s a little splash, we’re making a toast, you know, to a recently-deceased relative or something. And I also was kind of a bad kid, growing up in the middle of nowhere, I just naturally started drinking at a young age. I have memories of coming to New York at 14, 15 years old and going to restaurants, and my mom would be ordering my sister and I drinks [laughs], and if the server wouldn’t give them to her, she’d be like, “I’m their mother, it’s fine!” and I’m thinking This is the coolest thing ever. But if anyone did that to me now, I’d be like, “What the hell are you doing, you’re gonna make me lose my liquor license!”
SS: Right! So when did spirits start to enter your consciousness as something other than going out and ordering a drink and having fun?
IM: I came to it from a very weird entry point. Lots of people in the cocktail industry start learning about booze because of cocktails. I started learning about booze because I like to travel. And it was this “whoops” thing that happened, like, oh, I get to travel because I have to go get this booze somewhere, great, I’m gonna learn about it because I’m traveling, and when you travel you learn new things. I was a freshman in at Bennington College in southern Vermont, super uber-liberal–
SS: Majoring in–or do they have majors?
IM: They have focuses. Focuses.
IM: I was a freshman, so I didn’t have a focus.
SS: You didn’t want to be boxed like that.
IM: No, no, no, didn’t want to be boxed in, didn’t want to be boxed in, so I actuallu ended up finishing with actually a triple, what would be called a major, except–
SS: Triple focus?
IM: Triple focus, yeah. I had enough credits to graduate in Spanish philosophy and fine art, but they wouldn’t let me write my philosophy thesis in Spanish for some reason. For a liberal school it was not very liberal, if you ask me–
IM: –so I had to drop Spanish, ‘cause I tried to write three theses, and it was just impossible. So I graduated with a degree in fine art, basically in photography, and I wrote my thesis in art theory. So, like any school, they have a fall term and a spring term, but then they also have a winter term, called a “field work” term, where they were like, go do something. Everyone I know went to some random place around the world to an organic farm for 2-1/2 months. I really wanted to leave the country, so I talked to my mom, and I ended up going to Guatemala because her business’s financial adviser’s wife’s cousin lived down there, so like, I know a guy, friend of a friend, type of thing, and I called him up–
SS: Sounds very tenuous…
IM: It was! Well, my mother, I mean, my dad has a story of her, where we were in a boat in Jamaica and there was a really bad storm coming, and they had to get another boat to come rescue the boat we were all on. There was like 6-7 foot swells, and my mom just puts little water wings on me and my sister–I’m an identical twin–and just throws us off the boat, and tells us to swim to the next one.
IM: Yeah. So, she was like, go to Guatemala. I show up and I think I’m gonna be in this rural town, but I’m in this amazing little bustling place called Antigua, it’s like a colonial city, it’s the center of the country, it’s a lot easier to get to. It’s kind of like a hub, ‘cause Guatemala City’s so dangerous, you go an hour to Antigua and it’s really beautiful, surrounded by volcanoes, and from there you go to the big tourists’ destinations via bus. Anyway, so I fall in love there, like I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe where I was, all these ex-pats, all these tourists, all these young people traveling, back-packers, like-minded individuals, and I walked into a bar and fell in love with the bar culture, I was 19, I couldn’t drink in the United States, so I was like, “Oh, this is great!” so I started going to this bar every day, hanging out with all these people who are you know hanging out in this bar, and the bar was a Tequila and Mezcal bar. So, long story short, I ended up racking up such a tab there–they had a tab system–that after 2-1/2 months of living in Guatemala I had to start working to pay off my tab.
SS: I think that’s a very kind way for them to insist on being paid back.
IM: Yeah. So John Rexer, who owned the bar, is now one of my dearest friends on the entire planet, and I just love him more than anybody, I just think he’s the greatest, so I went back to New York for school, then ended up going back to Guatemala like a month later, ‘cause tickets at that point were $200 bucks round-trip, it was ridiculously cheap. Moved back during the summer, you know, there was like love and romance all the way, but since the bar was a Tequila and Mezcal bar, John liked to go to Mexico and smuggle Mezcal over the border, ‘cause you couldn’t it in Guatemala. You couldn’t really get it here in the States either.
SS: Wow, why?
IM: There wasn’t paperwork to bring it in, and even in the United States, getting Mezcal here was a whole thing, which is why in 2008, when I first showed up to New York and everyone was like, “Mezcal’s crazy, have you ever heard of this shit?” and I’d been working with it for 4-5 years, so I’d say, “Yeah, I know all about it, like let me tell you about it.” So, the brand John ended up making–
SS: He was making it then, or he subsequently got into it?
IM: First we started smuggling all this booze, right? We would do pretty ornate missions, like he did a little priest’s outfit, and he’d have Libros Para Los Niños on the thing and I dressed up as a missionary–
IM: [laughs] I’m not kidding, I’m not kidding. We would like go to the checkpoint, and they’d be like, “Hola Padre!” you know, like, the whole thing, it was horrible. I mean, we’re probably going to hell, but the stories are so funny. So we’d go to these different distilleries and we’d get it in 5 gallon gas tanks–
SS: –gas tanks?
IM: Yeah, and we’d bring them back, or we’d put them in bottles.
SS: How much?
IM: It depends, sometimes we’d do small runs and sometimes big runs–
SS: What’s a big run?
IM: A big run was when we couldn’t bring it over the border ourselves, and we had to pay a guy to put on a little lancha across the–
SS: What’s a lancha?
IM: A lancha is a little boat.
SS: Oh, okay.
IM: –a little lancha from the Mexican side to the Guatemalan side, which is the border at Tapachula, Mexico, which is hell, if you want to actually go to hell [laughs], it’s Tapachula, Mexico. The funny thing about the border there is this is a really low, shitty, gross river, and there’s this bridge, that’s the border, and you’re going up and over the bridge to go through Customs to get into Guatemala, and you look over to your left and there’s this like all this traffic going on, on the river–
SS: Under the bridge.
IM: Clear as day.
SS: While you’re being asked for documents.
IM: Yeah, yeah. So John started this brand called Ilegal Mezcal…
SS: Rael was talking about this.
IM: Yeah. And it’s great, he’s great, I love him, but it’s because of my travels with him going up to Oaxaca that I started to really understand about spirits. I was more interested in it culturally than I was necessarily about the booze, I mean I could tell,
“Oh, this is good booze, this is bad booze,” but that was less important to me than, “Look at this cool guy making this booze!” or, “Look at all these amazing places I’m going because of this booze!” That was kind of the thing. And then, because of this haphazard knowledge I acquired, when I got into cocktails, I started realizing that there was a whole world to know about alcohol, infinite amounts to know, I mean, just pick a category and dive into it, like distillation.
SS: Right. So was Red Hook your first full-on bartending gig?
IM: Yeah. For cocktails, it was there, and then I worked at this little place called The Counting Room which is still open in Williamsburg for awhile…
SS: How did you get jobs, word of mouth?
IM: Kind of, yeah. I mean, it took perseverance, and then people who were nice, like St. John, who said, “Yeah, I will totally hire you, read these books.”
IM: And I said, great. [laughs] So I did. St. John’s from like the Audrey Saunders/Pegu lineage, and so people who knew his stuff, but very few people made the trek to Red Hook. Still, I met a lot of people there bartending, it was the only cocktail bar down there at the time–I think it still is?–and so people would just come and visit and stay for hours, and I started to make a bit of a name for myself, enough so that when Julie opened Lani Kai, I was, “Hey, I work here, can I work for you?” and she said yeah, sure. Slowly you work your way up the ladder. Sometimes I see people really struggling to get their foot in the door, ‘cause it was a lot easier when I was starting, there were just not that many people trying to do it.
SS: Right. So talk to me about the process of looking at the spirit world as a whole.
IM: Getting a job at Fort Defiance, I started to taste more, realize the differences of all these things, like okay, gin is gin, but London dry gin is different type of gin than a Old Tom gin, and you’re trying to figure out how and why these things taste differently.
SS: Do you do that by being in the bar when nobody’s there and just experimenting and tasting things?
IM: Tasting everything.
IM: That’s the thing, you just gotta taste everything, and to me it was also really fun because it was really interesting to hone in on a different sensory aspect of creativity, ‘cause I was a visual artist for so long, but I was incredibly, boringly conceptual in my work, everyone always said it was much more interesting to think about than to look at, and it was really fun for me to think about something that was so concrete as a flavor–
SS: –but still subjective.
IM: –still subjective, but concrete, like, okay, I can take tasting notes on this thing, and I can take tasting notes on that thing, and I can figure out how to bring out different things, to bring out the more subtle-tasting notes, and that was really interesting to me, to work in such a way that was both very creative, also not so cerebral.
SS: Right. And while you’re working your way through the different types of spirits, I would imagine you’re versing yourself in all the classics–
IM: Right. Exactly. People will ask, “Oh, how do you get good at making cocktails?” and you can’t teach creativity, you either have that or you don’t, and if you do, good for you, but anyone can learn a formula, and if you look at classic cocktails, you’ll start to realize after a time there’s a formula that is followed, a martini is a Rob Roy is a Manhattan, and on and on, and you start to understand all of these structures, and then you can build things on top of that, so when I first started doing it, it was a ton of knowledge all at once, was like, you know, synapses firing–
SS: And how long a period of education are we talking about?
IM: For the cocktail thing, it was probably a year of this really intense work. I remember working at Fort Defiance, and people would come in and ask for classic cocktails, and I would just be full of anxiety like, Holy shit, I don’t know, you know, like running–
SS: What would you do?
IM: I would run to the back and open a book.
SS: Oh, shit!
IM: Yeah. St. John also is a bit of a cocktail historian, so his books are excellent, and I read a lot that I don’t think lots of people get to read, books that are pretty obscure, books you should read if you want to make drinks.
IM: So yeah, so I did that, and then when I started working at Clover Club, that’s a bar that if you don’t know the classics, you’re gonna learn real quick, because people don’t order on-menu a lot there, they’re like, “Oh, you know how to make a blah blah blah—“
IM: And I also started Speed Rack, my breast cancer charity, which is a female bartending competition. I started that 5 years ago, because of the difficulties I had becoming a bartender as a woman, the whole like, “Oh, you’re a cocktail waitress,” this was when every cocktail bar was a speakeasy and everyone was trying to be Jerry Thomas, and there wasn’t room for a woman, everyone wanted to be the mixologist. It’s a buzzword now, but back then it was like, Yeah, I want to be that guy with the arm garter and the moustache and the suspenders and the hat, and there was no room for a woman in that meme, you know, so I wanted to create a cocktail competition to raise women up and be like, “Hey, I’m right behind that guy with the moustache, you need to hire me,” you know, and just because there weren’t women bartending speakeasies back then, doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be now, and the whole competition is based off of speed and efficiency, but it’s a classic cocktail competition, because Lynnette, my business partner, and I were like, if you’re good at your job, not only do you know how to make that raspberry-pineapple mojito on your menu or whatever the fuck it is, but you should also know how to make a Bensonhurst or a Singapore Sling. I’m a big fan of the classics. It took a long time. It takes a long time.
IM: Like, how many drinks do you have in your head? I mean, I’ve gone through how many menus in how many places and I still remember them, it’s crazy.
SS: Well, talk about the gender stuff. Apart from the hiring standpoint, what are the issues day-to-day, practically speaking?
SS: –or in a place like Brooklyn, is it fairly manageable?
IM: It’s manageable, I mean, I feel like the idea was, men didn’t want women behind the bar, because that somehow cheapened the experience.
SS: You mean, this sort of hardcore mixology experience?
IM: Right, or…no, more like if there are women bartending, it is supposed to be about sex rather than the drinks, like is this supposed to be a sexy time, like tip me, tip me, tip me, not we really have respect for our craft.
IM: Which obviously is fucking stupid, and I don’t think that anyone did this from a conscious I’m gonna be a misogynistic asshole place, I think it just happened, but sometimes when I’m bartending alone, here, I get jerks. I mean, men and women can be jerks, and then it’s like, Okay, sometimes it’s easier, I guess, to be a jerk to a woman than to a man.
SS: Why, because you’re not going to punch them in the face?
IM: Right, right, yeah, exactly. Precisely. “What’s she gonna do?” So, yeah, sometimes you just get people who are disrespectful, you know, the whole sweetie, grabby bullshit, and we’re in the hospitality industry, so there’s a big thing of being like, “Oh, I don’t want to have to tell you that you’re being a fucking asshole, because I’m in the hospitality industry, and I really want your 20 percent tip.” That’s a horrible way to go about your life.
SS: How pervasive is it?
IM: Not that pervasive, and honestly it’s less so in Brooklyn than I think it is in Manhattan.
SS: Have you ever dated a guest, like a customer?
IM: Date a customer? Have I dated a customer? I’ve dated a lot of bartenders [laughs]. Well, you stick with your kind, you know.
SS: That’s crossing a line?
IM: Yes. It is crossing a line. I think I have, actually, gone on dates. I actually just got asked out on a date by my customer the other day, but technically I was his customer first, he works at a bike shop.
SS: Oh, okay. So, do you get full sometimes, like too much human contact?
IM: Yes, I mean, when people ask, What’s the worst part of bartending, or what’s your favorite part, to me the definition of bartending, is just suffering humanity. That’s what you’re doing. Alcohol just amplifies whatever you are, and sometimes it’s really, really great, and sometimes it’s really, really bad. It’s becoming less so in the age of cell phones, no one can get off their magic box, no one wants to talk to you anymore, but my favorite thing is to be around people and not say anything, like when I’m not at work, I like being busy and I like going and doing other things or, you know, if I have a millisecond I’ll go to a museum, which, usually I don’t have any time because of all the stuff, but–
SS: The impression I’m getting talking to people in your field is that they all seem generally activated, not just by their primary job, but in general they seem to like having a lot of stuff going on. They’re just very, very mentally and physically active.
IM: Well, it’s funny because, you know, it’s athletic, it’s creative, I mean, there’s no mistake that the cocktail industry started booming when the economy collapsed, because you got all these highly qualified, intelligent people with nowhere to work, nothing to do, and they need to make some money, and bars always boom in economic declines, and all of a sudden these cocktail bars started thriving, and you know, all these people were motivated. If the economy hadn’t collapsed, I would probably still be in a gallery somewhere, but it did, and I couldn’t work at Gagosian for free, and you had a lot of people who would have perhaps been on other career paths had the economy not made this the best option. Which I think is awesome, you know, that that was the result.
SS: Yeah, right. So walk me through when you were first in a situation in which you were responsible for the business aspect of where you worked.
IM: Okay. Well, it’s kind of tricky because I never took on a bar management position before I opened my own bar. I would help do things, but I knew that I didn’t want to do that officially until I did my own place. I had started the Speed Rack thing, so I had started my own business already. And I was, you know, learning about what it is to own a business, but on a not-for-profit scale, and more of like an event thing, but I started to learn how you run your own business, and then I was like, “I want to open up my own bar,” so I started doing things at the bars where I was working to learn and help, like, “Oh, I’ll help you do inventory,”…
SS: So you weren’t really being nice, so much as…
IM: Ah, no. [laughs] I mean, every nice act has like a backhanded approach, right? And then Julie approached me about opening a bar in this space. But similar to becoming a bartender in New York, or perhaps doing anything in New York, you can’t do it until you’ve done it.
IM: But it is funny, dealing with things I never had to deal with like, the bottom line. [laughs]
SS: Yeah. Margins.
IM: Margins, like how much this bottle costs, or this cocktail. When you own a place, it’s like the idea of buybacks is incredibly frustrating, that this is how our culture thinks you show appreciation to someone buying something, I think it’s just annoying. But that being said, I still do it, ‘cause I want people to know that I’m so happy that they’re here.
SS: How long have you been open?
IM: 3-1/2 months.
SS: Oh Jesus.
IM: Yeah. So when you’re still working your way out of these holes, like paying back the investors, everything matters. Everything matters.
SS: Can you walk into any place with a bar and not analyze it, break it down?
IM: No. No.
SS: So it’s ruined?
IM: Yeah, no, it’s totally ruined. I mean, I can try not to, but I’ll be like, “Wow, you’re putting what in that cocktail?”
SS: You can’t turn it off.
IM: I can’t turn off, and it’s funny, because I know other people are like that too, and when people come in here, I’m very self-conscious–
IM: –I’m like, Oh fuck, they don’t like it–
SS: “Do they hate the lighting?”
IM: Exactly, [laughs] exactly, shit, what is it that they don’t, and I also see things that other people don’t see about this place because I’m in here 80 hours a week, so I’m like, fuck, I hate that exit sign so much, but it’s against the law to take it off! [laughs] But when I go to places now, people genuinely want my opinion. Like I went to Vegas, which I hate, but then again, I go up, and everyone’s like, Check out my whole menu, and it is cool that they care.
IM: And it is cool that I can walk into all these bars and work in them if I want to. I mean, the only other job I’ve really had besides bartending–well, I’ve had two, I did freelance photography for a hot second when I moved to New York and I hated it–and when I was younger I trained horses for a long time. It’s still the end goal to go train horses again.
SS: A lot of money in that!
IM: Yeah, well, you know, I just love it so much, and I realized after a time that one of the things I love so much about horseback riding is that it’s a trade, and I’m very kind of a transient person, like for a long time I could fit my whole life in two suitcases that weighed less than 50 pounds each and I could just go anywhere. And I appreciate that fact about horseback riding, I horseback rode all over the world. Look, when I was in Argentina I trained horses, when I was in Guatemala I trained horses, that’s what I did, and then I realized that bartending was the same thing, like I can–especially now, the level I’m at now–I can go anywhere in the world and get a job, and I can probably go anywhere in the world and get a visa, if I wanted to, and that’s invaluable.
SS: We had an animal intuitive come and talk to our cats and–
SS: –she let it be known that, in her experience, and this is her quote, “horses are assholes.”
IM: [laughs] Shut up!
SS: She said they’re fucking arrogant assholes–
SS: –who they think they’re the shit.
IM: Well, they do think they’re the shit.
SS: Horses terrify me. People ask me, “Why don’t you want to make a Western?” I’m like fucking terrified of them.
IM: Oh God, they’re so great. They’re the most like people. I mean, my pie-in-the-sky dream i, move to upstate New York, open a cocktail bar in Hudson that’s seasonal, and ride horses again.
SS: Wow. So let’s talk about this place specifically, what do people come here for, so far?
IM: Well, the nice thing about Leyenda is that it’s thematic, but it’s not kitschy.
SS: In your face.
IM: Right, exactly, it’s like you’re still in Brooklyn in this bar. But there’s a clear, you’re gonna get Latin, and you’re gonna get cocktails [laughs]. And you’re gonna get food. And it’s good. And that’s very important. One thing I’m happy about is that worldwide, cocktails are becoming so prevalent, it’s no longer enough to open a bar and be a cocktail bar and have that be your identity. Like, the age of the speakeasy is gone. I mean, maybe you could open a speakeasy in some random town somewhere and probably have it be kind of successful–
SS: If it was the only one.
IM: If it was the only one, you’d feel like, “Oh, cool, this is exciting, I’ve heard about this in New York City!” but now people are having to more than just make cocktails. Cocktails are fun, I like cocktails a lot, it’s my whole life, but the experience, what you get when you’re drinking the cocktail, that to me is the really fun part, and bars are becoming more fun, which is good. I think things are becoming more casual, like fine casual, like a new level of eating and drinking that hasn’t really existed before, where you can get exceptional food and drink and not have to be in a ball gown. Like, this is a casual place, but also people come in and they’re dressed up, and I think that’s a real interesting way to be, that, and the fact that you have to now have food. Everyone has food.
SS: Good food.
IM: But no one has good food, so slowly but surely, people are making better food in cocktail bars and food places are making better cocktails in their establishments, you hope. I think that if you don’t have both pretty soon, you will have nothing.
IM: So that horrible crappy martini you got the other day, they can only do that for so long before people will be like, “What the fuck? The steak is delicious, why does your martini suck?” That’s one of the things I’m really proud about Leyenda, the food here is excellent and the drinks here are really good.
SS: What do you wear to work?
IM: Well, when people first started working here, they were asking, “What do I wear?” and I was like, you know, just don’t wear fucking flannel, this is Latin, don’t wear flannel.
IM: I mean, I know we’re in Brooklyn, but stop.
SS: No flip-flops!
IM: Flip-flops [laughs]–man, flip-flops–I mean, my whole thing is the fucking strollers, I’m like get the fuck out of here with the strollers–
SS: Oh [laughs] in a bar?
IM: Oh my God, it happens all the time–
IM: It’s nuts. The other day, this woman’s coming inside, and she can’t get her double-decker, extreme multi-tundra, off-road whatever-the-fuck-it-is through the door, and I’m never happy to see them, ‘cause they’ve got a crying fucking baby and I don’t want it in here, ‘cause people come to bars to not be around crying fucking babies.
SS: I didn’t think that was even legal.
IM: Well, if you serve food, anyone can come in.
SS: Really. Okay…
IM: So–exactly. I’m so glad we’re on the same page. So I come over here, and I’m like, “Oh, this is a pretty big stroller,” and in my head I’m saying it like, “What the FUCK are you doing here?” but I thought I was being like, “Here, let me open this up for you,” and this woman goes, “Well, your doors just aren’t big enough for a stroller!” and I’m like, Well, we’re a BAR–
SS: [laughs] We’re not a day care center–
IM: –yeah, but let me just try to help you out here, I’m gonna open the door, and she goes, “Well, don’t worry, I’ll only be here for a drink.” And some people come in here and they have like their baby swaddled to them like this little nugget hugged onto their body, and I’m like, okay, that’s okay, I don’t mind, you’re not bringing a limousine that doesn’t even collapse! I don’t even bring my bike in here–
IM: Tie that shit up outside, get a bike lock. [laughs] Seriously.
SS: Is Ivy Mix your real name?
IM: Ivy Mix? Yes. Well, it’s funny. Mix is my last name.
IM: I’m sure you know Tom Mix, the cowboy–
IM: –so he’s like my great-great uncle–
SS: You’re related to him?
IM: Mm hmm.
SS: Oh shit.
IM: [laughs] Mm hmm. Great-great-great uncle, like once removed. Anyway, distant relative, but we’re related. I’ll give you the abridged version, ‘cause you guys have to go and so do I at some point–but my great–where are you from?
IM: Okay. Have you ever heard of Hamm’s Beer?
IM: It’s big in the Midwest, BIG big in the Midwest. Land of sky blue waters, it’s worse than Schlitz, worse than Budweiser, but back in the day, it was quite popular. My great-great grandfather started a beer company called Hamm’s Beer, and he had two identical twin girls who were alive when my sister and I were born. Identical twins are not hereditary, they’re just a mutation of a cell and they’re an accident, so the fact that these identical twin girls were alive when my sister and I were alive was a big, big deal.
IM: These two women also sold this beer company during the Depression and made quite a sum of money for the time. And they were named Theodora and Marie Hamm, who went by the nicknames Pinkie and Jimmie their entire lives, like they were never Theodora and Marie, they were Pinkie and Jimmie Hamm, they got married, and everyone in the Midwest–‘cause they’re Midwest–breeds like bunnies, I have an insanely extended side of the family through my grandmother’s side, like thirty second cousins or something, it’s insane. My mother gets pregnant, and the Hamm sisters are like, “You guys should name your kids after us, because what are the chances?” and my dad’s like, “Uh, I don’t really want to name my daughters Theodora and Marie Hamm,” but they were like, “Well, we could start a fund to send your kids to college, ‘cause we’re not dead yet, and we still have money, but when we die, there’s gonna be no money left because there’s a billion kids,” and my dad was like, that’s okay, that’s a good idea, we’ll do that, name the kids Theodora and Marie, so my full name is Marie Hamm–that’s my great-grandmother, Dollenmaier, which is my mother’s last name–Mix, which is my father’s last name. Ivy is not part of my legal name. Everyone’s excited about that Mix part of my name–
IM: –like “Is this your real name?” and I’m like, “Yes, Mix is my real last name,” but my mom didn’t want to call us Theodora and Marie, so Ivy is actually an English name, but it’s very popular, or somewhat popular, in Jamaica. I grew up part-time as a child in Jamaica, and some woman told my mom when she was pregnant that Ivy would be a good name. So Ivy Mix is what I’m known as [laughs], but my full name is much longer–
SS: But everybody calls you Ivy and you introduce yourself as Ivy.
IM: Yeah, I mean, if you call Marie, I will keep on walking, I won’t even know you’re talking to me. It’s a problem when I’m in customs or something and people are asking me questions of my legal name, I’m always like, “Oh, right,” and they’re like, “What? You don’t know your name?”
SS: Yeah, right. So are you like Stalin, do you think in terms of 5-year plans?
IM: Mm hmm. I mean, one thing opening up this bar made clear to me is I don’t want to live in Brooklyn full-time forever, I need to live somewhere that has a little bit more nature, at least part-time, so I hope to be able to work something out where I can come here part-time. I love Brooklyn so much, but it’s also like am I gonna have babies, like all these things that people talk about when they’re 30. I don’t know–
IM: [laughs] I know–who knows, right? And I don’t want to be bartending forever, because it’s really hard on your body, I have all this medical tape stuff on because I’ve got such bad carpal tunnel and things, you know–
IM: –but one day. [laughs]
SS: How do you address when somebody comes in however many times a week with something that they want you to carry? What’s your criteria, or do you just take them as they come? You’ve only got a certain amount of space–
IM: –which I really appreciate about this bar, that I can’t just take everything, which is a good thing. I mean, there’s a lot of different things, it’s multi-fold, like I was telling you this story about the guy who came in who just didn’t fucking get it, even if I liked his juice, I would be hard-pressed to pick up that product because he pissed me off.
IM: I mean, if I really liked the juice, I would sit him down and say, “Let me tell you what you’re doing for your brand, ‘cause it’s not good.”
IM: I have to like the juice, first of all, and since I won this award at Tales, I’m constantly getting asked to do a bunch of stuff and a lot of it’s just not good. And the difficult thing for me is to be able to give a reason why I can’t do it.
IM: You know, I don’t want to be mean.
SS: How often do you take in a new thing?
IM: Not frequently.
IM: Luckily, I really trust my distributors, and I work in a very personal business. If I like you, I’ll probably work with you, even if it’s not the greatest thing on earth. I won’t work with anything I think is bad, but if it has potential, I’m like, Okay, let’s do something, let’s try to work this out.
SS: You have a filter–
IM: –yeah, I trust you, let’s try it. I mean, I try not to be bitchy to people [laughs], especially with things that have a more interesting story, I mean you guys are blessed that Singani has an interesting story, that’s a really lucky thing, ‘cause a story half the time sells it, that’s why these little boutique brands that make shit spirits are doing so well, ‘cause they’ve got a story: “Mom and Dad went out, and they made it in their barn and they burned it down one time and then the cat died,” and, you know, that’s why Mezcal’s so popular, it’s got a great story. I try to be nice and I try to taste, ‘cause sometimes someone comes in, and they don’t know any better, and it’s like a Friday night, and they’re going, “Can you taste this?” and I’m like, “What are you thinking? No. I can’t. Here’s my card, come back.” My mother always said I don’t suffer fools gladly, and I don’t, it makes me mad, I’m like, “How could you be so stupid? What do you think, I’m gonna stop in the middle of service on a Friday night–I’m not gonna do that!” But I’ve missed out on some stuff because of that, but still, like I said, even if the spirit’s good and the people are not good, I will be hard-pressed, ‘cause I just can’t support idiocy or bad people, that’s the thing, I just don’t want to be involved in that at all [laughs].
A Singani63 Edition
63 West Hudson Street
New York, N.Y.
A Singani63 Edition
63 West Hudson Street
New York, N.Y.
A Singani63 Edition
63 West Hudson Street
New York, N.Y.
A Singani63 Edition
63 West Hudson Street
New York, N.Y.
A Singani63 Edition
63 West Hudson Street
New York, N.Y.