The History of Speed Rack, a Three-Year-Old Lady Bartender Competition
Some serious stirring and shaking is about to arrive in New York with the third annual Speed Rack competition. This Sunday, December 15, female bartenders go head-to-head for the elite award of cocktail champion. This kicks off a whirlwind tour, Lynnette Marrero and Ivy Mix will host eight Speed Rack challenges around the country -- with stops in Miami, Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, and Kansas -- before returning to New York for the finals in May 2014.
Speed Rack via Flickr
Participants in Speed Rack go through a grueling selection process; after an online application and preliminary in-person cocktail battles, 20 semi-finalists per city are whittled down to eight. Then the true fight begins, and that's what goes down on Sunday.
We talked with Marrero and Mix about how Speed Rack began and what the tournament is like, and we asked them if they would ever get on stage themselves to face a shaken and stirred battle.
Speed Rack via Flickr
Can you tell me how Speed Rack began?
Mix: Speed Rack started in 2011. I was a bartender and cocktail waitress in New York when I realized there were very few women bartenders. The pre-Prohibition cocktail bar scene was very hip at the time, and being a woman didn't fit that aesthetic. There was this idea that if you were a lady, you should be a cocktail waitress, and I thought that was kind of silly. I was a member of LUPEC -- Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails, a ginormous sorority of women that started in Pittsburgh -- and I thought, wouldn't it be great if I started a platform for lady bartenders, like a competition?
All I had was the basic idea, then three years ago during the Super Bowl, I was sitting at Mulholland's in Williamsburg with my sister, and Lynnette sat down next to us -- she was the president of LUPEC at the time -- and I was like, "Hey, you know every lady bartender in New York." I explained Speed Rack to her -- a competition for female bartenders that also raised money for breast cancer -- and she was like, "That's a great idea." So the next day we had a conference call and the ball started rolling. This tiny nugget of an idea grew into this massive project.
We're in our third year now. We went international this past June in London. We've raised $160,000 for breast cancer and met 450 female bartenders across the country. Plus, and I wouldn't say this is entirely because of us, but now having a woman in your bar is not, like, a rarity.
Why do you think the concept has taken off?
Marrero: There are all these amazing women doing kickass things. But they're not blogging every one of their achievements. It was a great moment in time to give them a platform, to show people who these women are. Jill Webster is probably one of the best bartenders I know; she's just a steady rock and people know she's amazing and Speed Rack is giving women like her an opportunity to showcase that.
What to expect at the competition on the next page.