OUT caught up with Asilex Rodriguez from Bar Le Lab - the recently named Montreal 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 Asilex had to say about the competition.
OUT: Congrats on being named the Montreal Champion in the 2018 Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic! How does it feel to win in the 5th Annual Competition in your hometown?
Asilex Rodriguez: It feels pretty amazing. I was floating on a cloud for a couple of days! Like every competition I sign up for, I tried to visualize winning all while keeping in mind that my main goal was to have fun, be better than I was at my last competition, and make new friends. Honnestly, there is so much talent in this city that I think any one of us could have taken it home. Congrats to all the other participants, I had a blast with them and feel like we created a special bond that night!
You were truly #RaisingTheBar with a super creative cocktail, "Freedom Mule." Can you tell us a little bit about the drink, and your inspiration behind it?
Freedom is something that has always been very important to me. Especially freedom of expression. The freedom to just be yourself without worrying about what others will think. Freedom of mind to think outside the box and not let society tell you how to think. A mule is a very smart animal that will not let itself be overworked. It will carry a huge load on its back, and when it's had enough, it will take the time to rest up and self-preserve. If someone says a mule is stubborn, it's probably because he or she has been outsmarted by one.
The freedom mule is a twist on a Moscow Mule, a modern classic made with vodka and ginger beer. Now, I'm not a big fan or ginger beer. It's often a bit too spicy and strong for my liking, even the commercial ones. Last year at Bar Le Lab, we had a Strawberry Mule on the menu, it was one of the most popular drinks, and I actually loved it. I realized that if you cut the spiciness of the ginger a little bit, ginger beer can be a thing that most people will love. I chose to make a homemade cucumber and grapefruit ginger beer mixed with delicious Stoli Vodka. It's the type of drink that will not leave you feeling guilty about having a few drinks on a sunny afternoon because it is filled with so many fresh and healthy ingredients!
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.
My first bartending job was at a place called the Drugstore in Montreal. It was the only lesbian bar in the city, and where all the girls would meet religiously every Friday until it closed down a few years ago. I used to think I would only feel comfortable working in gay bars because anytime I tried to do otherwise, I didn't really feel welcomed. I eventually felt confident enough to wonder out of the village. Ever since, I feel that it is part of my role to create these safe spaces wherever I go. It took me a long time to be able to have the guts to speak up when I see something wrong, and to have the patience and energy to walk into any space and make sure that everyone is on the right page about what is means to have a safe space where everyone can have a good time while being respected.
For the last 3 years, I have had the pleasure of helping my friend Gitsy Milette host an event called the L Nights! Once a month, we take over a straight bar, and turn it into a lesbian bar for one night. The beauty about it is that all kinds of people show up (straight, gay, bi, cis, trans, women, men) and there are rarely any incidents. People make new friends, they dance like no one is watching, they take care of each other. Lesbians know... that once a month, if you want to be surrounded by lesbians, that's one of the spots where you can go.
I think it is important for those who can, to create those safe spaces and give people the opportunity to be free and express themselves.
As you know, part of your prize for winning the Montreal 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?
No, I have not! This will be my first time. OMG, the beach, the sun, the warmth. It has been cold for the past couple of months over here, so I'm excited to soak it all in. I'm specifically looking forward to bringing my flair bottles and flairing at the beach!
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 have never been Grand Marshall, but I am sure it involves wearing an awesome outfit and having lots of fun!
What importance have Pride celebrations had on your life?
I'll always remember my first pride (and Mom, if you're reading this, I'm sorry). I lied to my mom and told her I was going to work, but I went to pride instead. I think I was like sixteen or seventeen years old. I was mind-blown. I felt like I walked into this dream land that was designed for me. Everyone looked so free and liberated and colorful!
In Key West, you'll be competing for a chance to win a portion of $20,000 for your hand-picked charity, Heads and Hands Montreal. Anything you want to mention on your relationship to that organization, or why you picked it to represent?
Head and Hands Montreal works for youth health and empowerment. We should focus on investing in our youth any chance we get. They are the future. If we give kids the tools to get inspired and grow to be free, we give them the opportunity to skip some of the hardships we had to go through. We allow them to get inspired at a younger age and put their energy into creating and changing the world, instead of having to put all that energy into surviving.
Is there anything you want to say to your competitors as you head into the Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic Finale - June 5th - 12th in Key West, FL?
I can't wait to meet all of you; this is going to be fun. Cheers Queers!
Amazing. Well we can't wait to see what innovative cocktails you stir up this June. Good luck, and know that all of Montreal will be rooting for you to keep #RaisingTheBar!