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What’s next in Spirits - with Ivy Mix

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20/01/2021 “When this is over, people are going to want celebratory drinks, they’ll want fun cocktails. They’ll seek fanfare and excitement”. Ivy Mix, author & owner of much-loved Brooklyn bar Leyenda, believes when COVID-19 ends America will be ready to party.

January is not a good time of year for New York’s cocktail bars, but for Leyenda, a Brooklyn space that majors on Latin American flavors, it’s worse still. New Yorkers, it appears, don’t want drinks that evoke the languorous joys south of the border when it’s minus-10 outside. Add in COVID-19, and you might imagine that Leyenda’s co-owner, Ivy Mix, would be in a state of intense gloom as she contemplates what comes next for her and for cocktail bars in the city.

Not a bit of it. Ivy Mix, the author of ‘Spirits of Latin America’, remains optimistic despite 2020 having been “the worst year” for her and Leyenda, which she co-owns with the team behind nearby cocktail bar The Clover Club. “We were on track to have our best year ever, but we had our worst year ever,” she says. “We shut down the day before [NY mayor] Cuomo told us that we had to, and we thought that we were going to be shut for a few weeks. As it turned out, we were shut down for a few months.”

How did you respond to 2020’s unique challenges?

“At first, we did what we called ‘Contactless Cocktails’. We encouraged people to place orders and twice a week, they could come and pick them up. It was all alcohol, and it was great because it was pre-order, so there was no waste. Then, about May, we opened up for more to-go; firstly four days a week, and then seven, for cocktails and food. We opened up for outdoor food in the summer. We built a little patio thing.

“Our summer actually wasn't so bad, it was decent. New Yorkers were excited to get outside and drink, so it was actually a busier summer than maybe it would have been normally. The problem was that we didn't have enough capacity because we were only able to seat people outside. Then we got indoor seating for about two months, then it was taken away and now we're in winter again.

“What stuff did we do that was thinking outside the box? We started selling sweatshirts and t-shirts and tote bags and merch, stuff that doesn't go bad that we can just order and that people will buy. But now we're sitting on a shitload of sweatshirts, and who knows what's going to happen with that?

“When everything first got started, back in March and April, we really encouraged people to buy gift cards so we could pay our bills, but people don't really get the hint that a gift card was more like a donation. They kept on using their gift cards. They are meant to be used, but it is a bit of a kick in the pants ... use it when we're afloat!

“We created an online checkout portal for to-go, so people can order online and come and pick it up. Then over the holidays, we started doing cocktail gift bags and cocktail catering. So basically, since people couldn't come to us, we would take the holiday party to them. So If you were like, "Hey, I'm having 12 people at my house," we'd be like, "Cool, here's the menu." It was like if you were booking a private party in a bar. So we would bring iced pre-diluted cocktails, a specialty menu, glassware, garnish, everything - and just drop it at your house, walk away, and pick it up in the morning.

“I thought it was a really good idea, but not that many people did it - but we sold a bunch of gift baskets. They are kind of the same, but smaller. Now it's January, and we're open for outdoor seating only. The first week of January is dismal, no matter what year it is. The second, third, and fourth weeks aren’t much better either, especially when you can't sit inside.”

How is it serving cocktails outside?

“It is difficult, but that was something we realized when we first opened up. We were like, ‘Oh.’ Even in holiday times when most people have the best month ever, we were not. We were actually doing pretty poorly. Not many people are like, "Ooh, sweater weather. Hanukkah, Christmas, I'm going to go have a margarita." People don't think that way.

“So during Christmas, we started doing a pop-up, like a holiday pop-up, and we almost tripled our sales. Obviously, it didn't happen in 2020. Luckily, we have really good food. I've got a chef who just does everything and he's a saint. We're lucky that we have food that makes people come in because they like our food - but also sitting outside in 20 degrees Fahrenheit weather and eating a taco is not a super enjoyable experience.”

How did takeaway cocktails do for you? Were there any surprises?

“Initially, we were just trying to go through our inventory, because we had a pretty massive inventory. The bar has been open for five years and we’ve ended up with all sorts of random shit. You're like, "Well, how am I ever going to get rid of this?" You know? So we pretty much just did a rotating menu at first. We had eight drinks on the menu.

“We had margaritas as well, which if you would've told me that I would be offering frozen margaritas with different flavoring options a year ago, I would be like, "I'm never going to do that." But in COVID times, I was like, "Well, we've got a shitload of puree and we're doing frozen margaritas if that's what the people want." That's what we were doing. I cringed every single time. It was like margarita with strawberry, passion fruit, mango, another, but people liked it. We got rid of all this inventory that we were sitting on. So that was good.

“Some of the things that really surprised me were these drinks that we made ... I call it batch-ology, it's like making a giant soup. You're just like glug, glug, glug this thing, glug, glug, glug that thing. What makes it taste good? It was literally just trying to go through things. I made this drink that was literally ‘everything in the kitchen sink’ drink. It had rum and Irish whiskey, then I had two different types of sherry, it had vanilla, Creme de Banana … it was unbelievably popular and people still come back and ask for it. I'm like, "That was a one-time thing. I just threw all this stuff into a bucket!”

Are you optimistic about the year ahead?

“I've got to be optimistic, right? My hope is that we're going to get through January and February. It's not going to be easy. I'm optimistic that at least, we'll have another spring/summer. Winter only lasts so long.

“But I don't think that we're going to be back to normal until maybe this time 2022 if that. I'm optimistic that more stuff will start happening again - that the bar will be better, that people are going to want to be out and social in the bars and restaurants that they love. If nothing else, 2020 taught me that people really love Leyenda. The notes of support, from people who are not regulars by any means. They're like, "We just want to let you know that we love your place, and that we really want you to continue."

Do you have any thoughts on what people will want to drink when this is all over?

“I think people are going to want some celebratory drinks; they’re going to want to drink fun drinks. In the 1920s, you had lots of drinks that were very celebratory, and I think we're going to have our own version of the Roaring Twenties. I think that Leyenda is actually perfectly poised because we represent south of the border and the Caribbean and Latin America, and our drinks are vibrant. They're alive.

“I think that's what people miss - being alive. I think that sparkling wine sales will go through the roof, I think that you'll see a lot more tropical drinks. I think that low-ABV and no-ABV, it will probably have a death. I think that people are still very health-conscious, but I think that when people go out, it's going to be an event again. That calls for fanfare and excitement.

Do you think that the pandemic will affect how spirits evolve in the States?

“Yes, I do. I think people are looking at new things now really because a lot of people are stuck inside their apartments. People are a little bit bored. So you get people who are looking outside their norm: "Okay, well, if I like gin, what else might I like out there?" Oh, so you like gin, you like a clear spirit, maybe you want to try Pisco or maybe you want to try Aquavite? I think you're going to get people who are more adventurous.

“Latin spirits have been climbing steadily for a long time. I think that they will continue to rise. The fact that Pisco is so unknown and Singani is so unknown outside of their realm. They're the most delicious, most palatable things. People are all stoked about Mezcal, and I love Mezcal to the end of the earth, but it's intense. Then you get to something like a Pisco and you're like, ‘Oh, my God, it's light. It's airy. It's delicious.’

“You'll be seeing more people branching out. People have been able to experiment in the comfort of their own homes, and they will use that knowledge and we'll get some maybe even more delicious, weird spirits out there. That would be my goal.”

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