OUT caught up with Alejandro Ocasio from Valanni Philadelphia - the recently named Pennsylvania Champion in the 5th Annual Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic - fresh off his win. The Cocktail Classic is Stoli’s annual competition recognizing North America’s brightest Bar Stars. LGBT bartenders and allies across the U.S. and Canada compete to represent their home city during the Key West Pride Week Finale, June 5-11th, 2018. Here's what Alejandro had to say about the competition.
OUT: Congrats on being named the Philadelphia Champion in the 2018 Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic! How does it feel to win in the 5th Annual Competition in your hometown?
Alejandro Ocasio: Winning the Stoli competition in Philadelphia was an awesome experience. It was great to have a lot of my former peers from the Pennsylvania Ballet and current coworkers from Valanni there to support me and help us get the win.
You were truly #RaisingTheBar with a super creative cocktail, “Black Swan”. Can you tell us a little bit about the drink, and your inspiration behind it?
The name for the drink "The Black Swan" was really just the most obvious reference I could think of to the ballet world. As a former dancer, I know the hardships of growing up and having other kids call you degrading and derogatory names aimed to defile the LGBT community. Although I myself am not LGBT, I know all too well what some of the difficulties can be. As a result of being a ballet dancer, for all male dancers for that matter, we naturally become very strong allies for the LGBT community. They are not only individuals with whom we are familiar with their experiences with bigotry, but being in the ballet world, which is so open to the LGBT community, we all become like a big family in the ballet company.
The Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic honors the unique legacy of gay bars as original safe spaces and community centers and the role our bartenders have played as hosts and caretakers throughout history. Tell us about what your role as a nightlife professional means to you.
At Valanni, we get such a broad range of clientele and guests, the majority of that being LGBT individuals. Being the bar-manager at Valanni is even more special being able to coordinate events and create a welcoming environment where anyone can feel comfortable, accepted, and have a good time. It's a place to cut loose and not have to worry about what others may think.
As you know, part of your prize for winning the Philadelphia competition is an all-expense-paid trip to Key West, FL this June. Have you ever been to Key West before? What are you most looking forward to as part of this trip?
I've never been to key west, or Florida for that matter. Excited to have some time to cut loose and ditch the miserable and cold weather of the North East.
And if you take home the title, you’ll be named Grand Marshall of the Key West Pride Parade. Have you ever been the Grand Marshall of a parade before?
Never been any kind of Grand Marshal, maybe at my own birthday party... Either way, there's a first time for everything!
What importance have Pride celebrations had on your life?
I think they serve as really important events that display the proud nature of the LGBT community. Even further, it's an event to celebrate the LGBT community and how far our nation has come in accepting LGBT individuals. Even though we have so much work left to do in our current socio-political landscape, pride celebrations serve as an opportunity to celebrate the past, and present, and advocate even further for the future.
In Key West, you’ll be competing for a chance to win a portion of $20,000 for your hand-picked charity, the American Civil Liberties Union. Anything you want to mention on your relationship to that organization, or why you picked it to represent?
Like I mentioned, so much work I believe must be done in terms of social justice in our nation. I would donate the money to the ACLU with the wish for the money to be directed towards causes for social equality and justice. Especially for individuals who have been wrongly convicted and imprisoned who require a voice when often none are present.
Is there anything you want to say to your competitors as you head into the Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic Finale - June 5th - 11th in Key West, FL?
Please no one call themselves a star-tender or mixologist. We're bartenders... plus people can tell how good you are at your job by the drink you put in their hand.
Amazing. Well we can’t wait to see what innovative cocktails you stir up this June. Good luck, and know that all of Philadelphia will be rooting for you to keep #RaisingTheBar!
To keep up with Jaime and the rest of the action in the 4th Annual Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic, visit OUT.com/KeyWestCocktailClassic.