There are tough nights behind the stick, and then there’s the finals of the annual Speed Rack competition, in which 16 of the best female bartenders in the country go head-to-head to make a set of cocktails as quickly and accurately as possible.
While the drinks may be craft, the judges famous and the event charitable (all money raised goes to support the fight against breast cancer), the atmosphere is raucous, with hundreds of screaming and poster-waving spectators, and even a DJ blasting music.
None of it seemed to faze New York mixologist Eryn Reece late last month. In round after round, she meticulously fixed classics like the Sidecar and the Negroni. At the end of the evening, she was awarded the title of Miss Speed Rack 2013 for her stellar performance.
But watching her compete, it’s hard to believe that she originally moved from the Pacific Northwest to the Big Apple (with just a basic understanding of bartending) in 2007 to intern at a gallery with the goal of finishing her undergraduate degree in art history.
After a brief stint as a cocktail waitress at MercBar in SoHo, she was lucky enough to be hired at the now-closed Bar Milano, whose beverage program was set up by master Las Vegas barman and author Tony Abou-Ganim. The legend took her under his wing. “I remember sitting down with Tony and he was like, ‘name four types of gin.’ I thought, ‘there are four different gins?’” Reece recalls. “Bar Milano was the most eye-opening experience of my life.”
That job led to gigs at some well-known establishments, including Louis 649, Rye House, The Hideout and Dressler, as well as a revelation. “I realized how awesome it could be making art in a different way,” she remembers.
Reece now splits her time between East Village institutions Mayahuel and Death & Company, which are actually located on the same street. “It’s nice to break up the routine a bit,” she says. “But it means memorizing 50 different cocktails on menus that are always changing.”
It also sounds like the perfect training regimen for competing at Speed Rack. So please join me in raising a glass to the champ!
Contributed by Eryn Reece
Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir, and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a slice of orange peel.
Alia Akkam is a New York-based writer and managing editor of Hospitality Design.
(Photo courtesy Gabi Porter)