It’s early on a Thursday morning in July and acclaimed bartender Lynnette Marrero is already at the airport in New York waiting for a flight to Miami for a cocktail consulting gig. Later this month she’ll head to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail. And the week after, she’ll head down under for the launch of Speed Rack Australia, the all female cocktail competition and fundraiser for breast cancer education and research that she co-founded.
That’s 25,038 miles of traveling — in about a month. For the record, that’s more than a full lap around the circumference of earth.
The milage is comically high for someone who didn’t want to spend her life traveling. In the early aughts she left a life of acting in musical theater for precisely that reason. It was an era when Broadway was struggling. There were strikes, she explains, and “a lot of the performances went out on the road. I didn’t want to travel that much, so I decided to get out of the business.”
She started working in bars, getting her start at a wine bar she talked her way into and switching to cocktails at Cibar, which at the time was making drinks like chocolate martinis, she says. After her shift, though, Marrero would head over to the Flatiron Lounge and admire the cocktails Julie Reiner was would turn out. “I stalked [the team] for about a year for a job,” Marrero says. Reiner ultimately hired and mentored her.
Marrero went on to be the senior bartender at Freemans, to collaborate on the menu at the now-shuttered Elettaria, work as a consultant, and finally found her way to Peruvian restaurant Llama Inn, where she’s currently the beverage director. Along the way, as she gained more experience behind the bar, she found herself in a community of heavy-hitting bartenders like Phil Ward and Toby Maloney, who encouraged her early in her career.
A dedication to community — particularly to nurturing women within it — has driven her work since the beginning. In 2008 a brand ambassador job pushed Marrero to broaden her bar circle and she formed the New York chapter of LUPEC or Ladies United for the Protection of Endangered Cocktails through which she met Ivy Mix, another mentee of Reiner, who would go on to win the Spirited Award for Best American Bartender of the Year in 2015. At the time, Mix “was having a hard time getting into the top tier cocktail bars,” says Marrero. She had the experience, but there were “some barriers there.”
“What I realized is that there weren’t as many women around, so I wanted to broaden that,” she adds. The pair went on to form Speed Rack, which now operates competitions for women in the bar industry in the U.S., UK, Canada, Singapore, and Australia, and the team is in talks for competitions in other countries. “The women I meet through Speed Rack are incredibly motivated and have a lot to give,” she says. “They just need more opportunities.”
Marrero hopes to provide some at Tales this year. In addition to speaking on panels entitled “A Seat at the Bar: Social Justice through Cocktails” and “Using Our Power for Good,” Marrero’s helping revamp the Dame Hall of Fame. The annual luncheon, celebrates women in the industry, honoring four dames and one pioneer. “It’s an opportunity to hear their stories,” she says, and be inspired by other women. For the first time, she’s helping orchestrate a formal mentor program for the group, and is constantly thinking about to push the needle further on a variety of issues.
Marrero is hoping the group will tackle the lack of capital available to women in the industry and how to support women who want to have children and remain in the industry. Marrero even has her eye on changing legislation, which is why she’s particularly excited to have female representatives of local government attending the lunch.
But before she can get to the lunch, Marrero says she’s busy “packing every light dress I can find,” and making sure her “Speed Rack girls” are on the lists for the best events, like J. Hernandez & Sons Bodega, a bodega take over hosted by Altos Tequila and an alcohol free welcome party hosted by William Grant & Son.
“My job is to keep being a champion for the next generation of women.”
We grilled Marrero with a round of quick fire questions from her hangover cure in New Orleans to her dream drink date. Here’s what she had to say:
You’ve just landed in New Orleans. What’s the first drink you have to have and where are you drinking it?
It’s a frozen Irish coffee at Erin Rose.
What’s your hangover cure in New Orleans?
Oh man, lots and lots of water and a green juice from Green Goddess.
What was your first drink?
A Midori Sour.
Do you sing while you’re making drinks? What’s your favorite thing to sing along to?
I definitely like to sing along. I like to shake to the music. Right now I’m into a lot of Cardi B. It’s bar fabulous.
Who’s the person you’d most like to have a drink with dead or alive?
George Clooney. He’s smart and fun and I hear he’s really a nice guy, so I figure he’ll be good conversation.