OUT caught up with Jo McDaniel from Cobalt - the recently named Washington, D.C. Champion in the 5th Annual Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic - fresh off her 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 Jo had to say about the competition.
OUT: Congrats on being named the Washington, D.C. Champion in the 2018 Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic! How does it feel to win in the 5th Annual Competition in your hometown?
Jo McDaniel: Thank you so much! I am absolutely honored to represent DC. This incredible city has been my home for 13 years, and I couldn’t ask for anything better.
You were truly #RaisingTheBar with a super creative cocktail, “#upgradeya”. Can you tell us a little bit about the drink, and your inspiration behind it?
In DC, the drink of choice is a vodka soda, far and wide. I decided to create the #upgradeya as an offshoot of that, using Stoli Blueberi and some starfruit infused simple syrup as a shout out to Florida! I also made the drink blue as a nod to my amazing bar, Cobalt.
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.
In 2005, I began bartending at a club called Apex. We had a weekly college party, and I got to see brand new DC transplants experience being out for the first time. All these years later, I am still so proud to play a role in our community; to be a part of creating a safe and welcoming space. It’s an extraordinary honor, for me.
The club I work for, Cobalt, has an incredible management team. I’ve learned more in two years with them than at any other point in my life. I couldn’t be prouder to be showing up for our Cobalt family and want nothing more than to make them SO proud.
As you know, part of your prize for winning the DC 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 have never been, and I’m so thrilled to go. I’m most looking forward to spending time with other service industry professionals, enjoying some R&R, and representing my city and my bar.
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?
While I’ve been lucky to march in most of DC’s Capital Pride parades since the early 2000’s, I’ve never before been a Grand Marshall - what a once in a lifetime opportunity!!
What importance have Pride celebrations had on your life?
I’m a single mom, and my daughter walked in her first parade when she was 4. It’s been a true blessing in my life to show her our community with such an incredible and inclusive celebration. It never fails to bring a sense of awe to me, to see our community, our family, show up in that way.
In Key West, you’ll be competing for a chance to win a portion of $20,000 for your hand-picked charity, Casa Ruby. Anything you want to mention on your relationship to that organization, or why you picked it to represent?
I’ve chosen to represent Casa Ruby, an organization that works tirelessly to provide a safe space, housing, and necessary training for people across the queer spectrum in our vastly diverse city. I’m so happy to be working to support them.
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?
I hope you’re all bringing the A game you didn’t even know you had - because I certainly will be!!
Amazing. Well we can’t wait to see what innovative cocktails you stir up this June. Good luck, and know that all of DC will be rooting for you to keep #RaisingTheBar!
To keep up with Jo and the rest of the action in the 5th Annual Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic, visit OUT.com/KeyWestCocktailClassic.