Lynnette Marrero’s presence behind the bar is captivating. She’s dressed in a black and mothy green printed dress paired with Frida Kahlo earrings. Her grey hair is down, showing the variety of curl patterns in her mane. Marrero is preparing a Llama Del Rey, one of the most iconic drinks she’s made for Williamsburg-based Peruvian restaurant Llama Inn. She shakes the mix forcefully and says, “This is a workout.”
As a veteran mixologist and bartender, Marrero is an expert at drink making and styling. She serves as Beverage Director at Llama Inn and Llama San and the co-founder of Speed Rack, a female-focused bartending competition that supports breast cancer research. More recently, she launched the mixology platform of MasterClass, the online course program that’s featured iconic teachers like Anna Wintour, Natalie Portman, and RuPaul.
“I found that I had a talent for mixing things together and flavors and um, so I just started really going on this path,” she says. “Restaurant bars were where I found my passion because I loved the idea of how you could complete a meal with the beverage and how that whole situation works out.”
But even before she set foot behind a bar, it was her Puerto Rican household that inspired her foray into the food and drinks industry. Marrero grew up between New York City, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico, where she and her three sisters would be sent every summer. She recalls her grandmother cooking hot soup in the hottest month of the summer and her mom making arroz con gandules with her homemade sofrito. “That was the thing that my parents really kept the most with our culture, which is why I love it so much,” she tells Emperifollá.
At home, she wasn’t just cooking. Marrero’s family is also big on musical theater; she and her three sisters are singers. She grew up loving musicals and eventually, when she moved to New York City for college, started seeing Broadway shows regularly. “I was lucky enough to see the original cast of Rent a few times,” she recalls. “I even have a program signed by the entire cast.”
Around that time, she also started bartending to pay the bills, eventually landing a job at Flatiron Room. There, she says, she started learning about mixology in the midst of a cultural transition in the city that moved the social scene from clubs to restaurants and bars. At Flatiron Room, Marrero also started playing with her look behind the bar, exploring 1920s pin-up style. “I think there was kind of a great sense of how you’re presenting yourself,” she says. “It’s like the one thing you’re in control of.”
Today, she says she mostly wears dresses to work for very practical reasons. One, it’s really hot behind the bar. And two, they have comfortable pockets. But Marrero is also making a statement in a male-dominated world, where mustaches, beards, and suspenders are the items mostly associated with bartending. “I always found that embracing my femininity was more powerful to me than trying to be what I wasn’t,” she says.
Her makeup is also quite feminine. She keeps it vibrant and simple with CC cream and mascara on a daily basis, adding a bold lip for night events, work, or special occasions. Some of her favorite pinta labios include NARS lipstick, which she’s wearing today in the shade Roman Holiday, and Vincent Longo duo lip liners, which have been discontinued. “I love when I’m going to really dress up, it’s always a pop of red because red really, that’s a good color for me,” she says.
But Marrero’s signature beauty look wouldn’t be complete without her gray hair, which she started letting grow at 30. She says she began getting grays as a 15-year-old and dyed it with coloring washes for years. Until, an unexpected ally encouraged her last push to embrace her gray hair. “My husband was very supportive,” she says. “He was a creative director and he said to me, ‘Your hair is really beautiful like that.” Since then, she’s stopped dying her locks and focuses on conditioning – mainly Davines and Philip B products – to keep her hair undamaged.
“There’s so much pressure on us as women to be perfect,” Marrero says. “So why not just do things that are unique about me and not conform to what you think I should be doing.”