Lynnette Marrero and Ivy Mix founded Speed Rack (www.speed-rack.com), an all-woman bartending competition that raises money for breast cancer treatment. The Southeast regional competition is at The Howlin' Wolf from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 29. Since 2011, the competition has raised more than $700,000 for breast cancer organizations. Marrero spoke with Gambit about the organization and the state of the bar industry for women.
How was Speed Rack conceived?
Marrero: Speed Rack started in 2011. At the time, (there was) a cocktail boom and the image of this new mixologist or bartender was the mustachioed guy with suspenders — this really masculine identity. I was leading an organization, a chapter called Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails (LUPEC), so I had seen so many women working in these bars. People didn't know who (the women bartenders) were, but they were fierce, and they just weren't getting attention.
(With the competition) we thought about how to raise the profile of women bartenders and raise money for a charity. We thought the best way to show how awesome these women are is to put them in a pressure situation similar to what they do every Friday and Saturday night.
The growth of the event has been big, so we pre-select competitors through an application. In New Orleans, we're holding the Southeast competition, so we're accepting women from Atlanta through Texas. We read their applications. We ask them what the state of their (bar) community is, and what they're passionate about in their careers. We try to identify women who are looking for an outlet to shine. We usually pick between 22 and 25 women. They come to the competition for a preliminary round. We take the top eight, and those women compete onstage in a live portion. Then we do four drink rounds focused on classic drinks, and one girl gets eliminated (each round), from eight to four to two and then to a winner.
What charities does the competition support?
M: We vet several charities. We're working with SHARE Cancer Support. ... We also do some research-based charities, and some of the other charities involve very tactical work. One of them, the Breast Cancer Task Force, sends a van around to underserved communities to perform mammograms. A lot of people in the hospitality industry are underinsured, because of the nature of our work, and so they can get tested.
How have you seen the bar industry improve for women?
M: I think what's been great is that the bar industry in general — and I don't mean all of hospitality, because I think we're very different — has always moved a bit more progressively with equality. In the 1980s, bartending was actually the field in which women gained the most equality. ... What we've managed to see in the last seven years are just so many more women in leadership positions. ... The amount of women out there is changing. There still is some discrepancy when it comes to pay between men and women, and no one talks about it. But I think there is some progress happening.
With the #MeToo movement, we've had a few really big disappointments with sexual harassment and sexual assault, and the women behind those incidents came together and released their stories. This happened over a year ago in the bar industry. Several big leaders in our industry were forced to leave their positions because of their actions. We're trying to work on mentoring and having these conversations in our establishments and finding productive ways of improving things not only for ourselves but for guests in our bars.