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Meet Joe Lewis: The Chicago Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic 2018 Champion

Joe Lewis

This local champion lets his geek flag fly with his 'Sharkbite' signature cocktail. 

OUT caught up with Joe Lewis from Berlin - the recently named Chicago 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 Joe had to say about the competition.

OUT: Congrats on being named the Chicago Champion in the 2018 Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic! How does it feel to win in the 5th Annual Competition in your hometown?

Joe Lewis: Oh my goodness, so awesome, so surreal, and so validating!

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You were truly #RaisingTheBar with a super creative cocktail, "Sharkbite". Can you tell us a little bit about the drink, and your inspiration behind it?

Thank you! Sharkbite is a fresh cocktail that centers around Stoli Crushed Grapefruit, Stoli Ginger Beer, a splash of Grenadine, a lightly salted rim, and chunks of fresh grapefruit flesh as a garnish. When creating this refreshing drink I knew I wanted to start with Stoli crushed grapefruit and while shopping that day I found this awesome shark attack shirt and also found inspiration! Thinking of the movie Jaws, of that fashion moment, the Stoli Sharkbite was born: the drink that bites back.

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.

I've been a nightlife professional for almost 10 years now and it has been such a journey! I'm proud to play my part by connecting and welcoming people throughout the city, hosting community building events, like the quarterly drag swap, book club, bake-offs, and upcoming talent showcase to help new performers shine. I'm always here to help, and I feel grateful to be empowered to help others reach their goals and to provide a safe space through GeekHaus. It's an inclusive monthly show I help produce at Berlin nightclub that lets all geeks (gay straight, questioning, queer...) come together and just let their geek flag fly! It's such a privilege to be so involved and I'm grateful.

As you know, part of your prize for winning the Chicago 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'm so excited for this trip! I have never been to Key West before, but I had an aunt who lived there and has told me all about the colorful community. I can't wait to experience it for myself! I'm most looking forward to meeting new people, enjoying some time off (I'm a busy little bee), and presenting my Stoli cocktail!

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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?

I've only been the Grand Marshall of parades in my head, and when I was a little gay boy having pretend pride parades in my living room to Celine Dion tracks.

What importance have Pride celebrations had on your life?

I was lucky enough to have a mother who never shied away from the gay community. I got to see Pride parades from a young age. Even when I was in the closet, just knowing they existed, and that one day I could be a part of them, meant a great deal to me in the pre- "It Gets Better" world I grew up in. I feel visibility is still just as important today as it was then, and I'm happy to stand proud so that others can too.

In Key West, you'll be competing for a chance to win a portion of $20,000 for your hand-picked charity, Vital Bridges. Anything you want to mention on your relationship to that organization, or why you picked it to represent?

I have chosen Vital Bridges, a local Chicago based organization that provides food and other assistance to HIV/AIDS-affected individuals who need the help to get back on their feet, either after a hospital stay or just from general need. It is a top-shelf organization that I have volunteered with and have gotten to see first-hand the good they do.

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 can't wait to meet all of you, and spend some time in the sun together. But also, get ready for a Sharkbite!

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Amazing. Well we can't wait to see what innovative cocktails you stir up this June. Good luck, and know that all of Chicago will be rooting for you to keep #RaisingTheBar!

To keep up with Joe and the rest of the action in the 5th Annual Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic, visit OUT.com/KeyWestCocktailClassic.

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