Key West may be renowned for its beautiful beaches and lively nightlife with many bars, nightclubs and entertainment venues. However, it’s also a city that is always finding new ways to celebrate life with passion and also give back to the community. And one fabulous example of that is the Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic.

Stoli Key West Classic 2018 winner

Bartender Jo McDaniel crafts libations for a celebrity judging panel at the 2018 Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic. She took top honors for her concoction titled #UpgradeYa. (Photo by Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

I mentioned in my last blog that the classic would be held once again in conjunction with Key West Pride, set for June 5-9 this year. The mixology competition been a great addition to our Pride festivities and has substantially increased attendance.

When I read the event’s mission statement, crafted by event producer and Stoli USA’s national LGBTQ ambassador Patrik Gallineaux, it became obvious why it’s such an excellent fit for our island’s Pride festivities.

“To celebrate the legacy of gay bars as original community centers and safe spaces and honor the Bar Stars who best represent that legacy and continue to Raise the Bar today. Also to build awareness for non-profits and charities doing amazing work to support diversity and their mission to bring assistance and support to those in need.”

To date, the Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic has awarded an amazing $55,000 to first- and second-place North American winners to hand off to their chosen hometown charities, as well as partnered non-profits in Key West. I would like to thank Patrik and his staff for all their remarkable work for the LGBTQ community and the city of Key West.

The mixology competition’s grand finale week features regional winners from LGBTQ bars in 14 North American cities from the U.S. and Canada. Key West Pride and the Stoli Cocktail Classic will hold a joint kick-off gala at 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 5, at the Island House Resort.

The world-renowned male-only resort becomes all-welcome for two hours of free-flowing libations (Stoli of course), scrumptious hors d’oeuvres and unrivaled entertainment. It’s the resort’s only co-ed event of the year and a chance for the ladies to join in on some poolside revelry.

Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic finale

Jo McDaniel, left, is named the winner of the 2018 Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic. Cocktails were judged on factors including concept or theme, showmanship and appearance, aroma, taste and originality. (Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Now in its sixth year, the cocktail classic is presented in partnership with the Key West Business Guild and has become a huge favorite of our Pride attendees. And no wonder! The jam-packed schedule features the regional winners, all competing to create an original Key West cocktail that personifies the island’s ingenuity and diverse culture. The first-prize mixologist will receive $12,500 for charity — $5,000 for a Key West organization and $7,500 for his or her favorite hometown charity.

Two elimination rounds are planned, with the first held Thursday, June 6, at Aqua Bar and Night Club. The second round is Friday, June 7, at the 801 Bourbon Bar. Both events feature multiple bartenders battling for spots in the final round. Be sure to arrive a bit before 5 p.m. for both, when the consumer blind sampling round and audience voting commence.

Then Saturday evening, after a long power nap (highly recommended by me!), it will be time to gather for the pièce de résistance of the Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic. The final round begins at 7:30 p.m. on an outdoor stage located in front of the Bourbon St. Complex. Hosts are Stoli USA’s Patrik Gallineaux and “Real Housewives of Dallas” star LeeAnne Locken.

Celebrity performers and contest judges will include renowned comedy writer and actor Bruce Vilanch, recording artist Debby Holiday, former “American Idol” finalist LaToya London and Key West female impersonator Sushi.

The winning bartender will be the honorary grand marshal of the Pride Parade on Sunday, June 9. It should start around 5 p.m. and proceed up Duval Street from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. Afterward, attend Stoli’s official post-parade party at La Te Da, home of the legendary Sunday Tea Dance. There will also be a check presentation where the first- and second-place champions will each give $5,000 to representatives of their designated Key West charities.

Come celebrate with us this June, cheer on your favorite mixologists and maybe discover your new favorite go-to libation!

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