You can raise a glass and raise up the women in your community at the speed-bartending bonanza coming to Denver on February 17.
Founded nine years ago, Speed Rack is an international competition by and for female bartenders—and 100 percent of the ticket sales go toward breast cancer research, awareness, and prevention. Denver will mark the fourth stop on the tour for Speed Rack’s ninth season (it came through the Mile High City last year, as well), as 24 local ladies will go head-to-head at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom for a spot at nationals in May, where all of the top mixologists from around the country will convene in Chicago to duke it out for the title of Miss Speed Rack USA 2020.
Ivy Mix, Speed Rack’s co-founder and owner of Brooklyn-based bar Leyenda, describes the energy of the competition as “equal parts roller derby and prom party,” and she says it’s definitely not just for industry folks. The rambunctious event will also feature live music from local DJ CYN and plenty of sponsor booths for sampling booze and grabbing a drink before the main event.
To crown this year’s Colorado cocktail queen, the bartenders will face off in a high-speed, round-robin style tournament, where judges will select four classic cocktails at random for them to concoct—whether it’s something simple like a Manhattan or more unusual like a Suffering Bastard, a tiki drink typically made with bourbon and gin. Speed is important, but so is taste and presentation, and the local panel of expert judges—including Kendra Anderson (owner of Bar Helix), Caroline Glover (owner of Annette), Mary Wright (wine director at Morin), and Jason Patz (bartender at Williams and Graham)—can add time penalties as they see fit. So if a drink is too hot, unbalanced, or the garnish is a mess, it won’t matter if the contestant slammed the buzzer first.
“The entertainment that is happening is women shaking their hearts out to make these beautiful cocktails and then putting them out on the line to be criticized directly,” co-founder and industry veteran Lynnette Marrero says. “It’s that intensity of competition, but it’s supportive.”
And support is exactly what they were aiming for. After experiencing her own frustrations early in her career, Mix admits that Speed Rack began as a means to make a bold statement, but it’s grown to become to a platform for women to stand on in a male-dominated industry and showcase their skills—all while celebrating the art of classic cocktails. The chance to bring attention to a cause close to the heart is the icing on the cake (or maybe, salt on the rim).
“At first, Speed Rack was supposed to be a joke,” says Mix, mentioning the lack of representation in the world of bartending. “I wanted to make these video series of women double-shaking cocktails in bikinis without any heads because our identities weren’t important—it was just that we had boobs and we were women.”
But after some time, Mix says she realized she could use the same platform to make an impact. She toyed with the idea of a fundraiser event for breast cancer research, which folded right in with the mission to support women, and the double entendre of the name was too fitting. After a chance meeting with Marrero 10 years ago, Speed Rack was born.
Speed Rack is partnering with charities such as Bright Pink, a nonprofit focused on prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women, as well as Pink Agenda, a nonprofit dedicated to helping young professionals spearhead their own breast cancer fundraising efforts. “You can go to [this] event and know that every single penny you’re giving goes directly to the charity, and you had fun, and you get to support women from from both angles,” Marrero says.
While Marrero has a personal connection to the cause (her mother-in-law is a breast cancer survivor), Mix points out that breast cancer is so prominent it affects more people than many folks realize. “It may not be you, your mom, your sister, aunt, or grandmother who had breast cancer, but certainly your best friend’s mother, sister, brother, best friend, and so on will have had breast cancer,” Mix says. “It’s less than a degree of separation.” They knew that by bringing women together through Speed Rack, they could try to make a change for women’s health, too. “There’s nothing fun about breast cancer—it sucks,” Mix says. “But this event is very uplifting.”
If you go: Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom, 2637 Welton St.; Monday, February 17, 6 p.m.; $25–$30; Find ticket information online. Pony Up is also hosting a brunch time Speed Rack practice event on Sunday, February 16, from 11 a.m.–3 p.m.; 1808 Blake St.