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The bar scene is a huge part of queer social culture, but so often, we go grab a drink without a second thought as to where it came from, who made it, or why it’s so damn good. Today we celebrate all the LGBTQ drink slingers who are facing off in Stoli Vodka’s Sixth Annual Key West Cocktail Classic.

This year, the event gets a little deeper, putting an emphasis on queer history. Not only do bartenders need to be able to make great drinks quickly, they need to be able to showcase their knowledge of LGBTQ issues by making specially themed drinks.

While the event is sadly skipping Denver this year, we chatted with event ambassador Patrik Gallineaux about the challenge. So, if you’re planning to travel, or you’d like to compete next year or in another local challenge, read on for some tips and tricks. 

Can I get your full name, pronouns, and position with the company?
Patrik Gallineaux, LGBTQ manager and ambassador, Stoli Group. My preferred pronouns are he and they.

Why is this event such a big deal and a hit with the queer community?
Creativity is something special to our LGBTQ community, as it has buoyed so many of us through difficult times, particularly in the times and places when the gay bar was the only place to find a sense of belonging and community.

The Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic (SKWCC) celebrates all the above unlike any other LGBTQ nightlife program in the world. I feel our community appreciates programs that are purposeful while also remaining interactive and engaging. The SKWCC gives our bartending stars an incredible platform onstage at each event, and the audience gets to sample the incredible Stoli cocktail creation and vote for their favorite. They remain involved throughout the entire experience and truly help determine who goes to Key West. The competition is also unique in that the competitor is judged equally on his/her/their cocktail as well as their creativity and knowledge of LGBTQ history and the community.

The most important part of the event is the camaraderie that we’re able to create for the audiences and bartenders, alike. We’re also able to donate money to some very important charitable causes – both to the winners’ hometown charities and partner charities in the Key West area.

What are some of your favorite memories from years past?
In 2017, at the Key West Pride Week Finale, our Atlanta Champion, Quinton, proposed to his fiancée, Lance, on our Sunset Cruise of Champions, one of my favorite events each year. To be part of such a joyful moment is truly a blessing.

Only a year earlier, Quinton had competed for the first time, and, while he did not win, he had tears of joy in his eye at the end of the evening because, as he told me, it was the first time he had really felt like his family had seen him proudly front and center in the LGBTQ community. His mother attended both his Atlanta competitions and even came to Key West with him!

Just this year, at our D.C. event, I met a woman whom I saw in the audience during the entire event having a wonderful time. After the show, she approached me to tell me that she happened to discover the D.C. event by chance, and it was the first LGBTQ event she had been to that made her feel included and accepted. Seeing how both consumers and bartenders are positively impacted by the message of the SKWCC is amazing.

Have you all seen any really creative ideas so far in terms of the queer visibility-inspired drinks?
Oh my, yes! So many! Our most recent winner, Tyler Booth in Los Angeles, (our “Susan Lucci” of the program, having competed every year since 2014 and finally winning after six tries), won with his “Strawberry Riot” celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.  

We have seen “Wizard of Oz” presentations as a nod to being a “friend of Dorothy” (which was code used a long time ago to indicate being gay, for those of you under 40) including ruby slippers and all-emerald props. We’ve also had wonderful presentations celebrating trans visibility and pride with amazing, color-changing cocktails and trans flags galore.  

What do you hope people take away from doing and being involved in this event?
I hope our bartenders embrace the idea that, every day, their bar station can be their stage, and that even a simple, positive interaction can affect a person’s day, or even their life.

For our guests, we hope that by celebrating what makes us special, including recognizing the important role our gay bars have played, we continue to create communities of beautiful, positive energy that can change the world for the better.  That is what I hope most for the community that we call the Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic.

How do you make sure you’re promoting safe drinking and consumption at this event?
We have experienced staff who have been working our Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic events since the start in 2014 and some who have been with us even longer. They work with the employees at the venues in each city to manage and monitor our guests’ experience from start to finish. The environment we foster at these events is one of celebration, and our bartenders thrive on the positive energy and happiness that the crowd exudes by partaking in an event that supports the LGBTQ community.

What are your plans for the future? Any big announcements?
There is definitely a lot of Stoli fabulousness to come! Of course, the Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic Pride Week finale, June 4-10, is always a highlight for me. It’s a great culmination of the program and the chance to see all our winning bartenders compete.

Fans of Real Housewives can look for the Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic and SKWCC co-host LeeAnne Locken to be featured on a Season 4 episode of “The Real Housewives of Dallas,” as well as on the final episode of the current season of “Don’t Be Tardy.”

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Our theme this year is “Visibility: Make It Loud & Clear.” I just want to thank all the Stoli friends and fans who continue to proudly keep being the most powerful version of themselves. By burning bright together, we create the visibility that can be neither ignored nor denied for the good of all people.