Monday, June 10, 2019

Travel: Cocktail Contest, Underwater Rainbow Flag Highlight Key West Pride Activities

A parade down Duval Street Sunday culminated activities for the annual Key West Pride celebration that attracted thousands of revelers to the southernmost city in the continental U.S.

At the Saturday evening finale of the Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic, a New York City bartender created a cocktail inspired by the Florida Keys signature Key lime pie to take top honors.

Sam Benedict won with a vodka concoction he dubbed the "Key Key." Flavored with juice from tiny yellow Key limes, it also contained other ingredients including coconut milk, pineapple juice, simple syrup, egg whites and bitters.

“Never having been to Key West, I had to do a lot of homework, and Key lime pie was my first stop,” said Benedict. “I started messing around with Key lime flavors and this is what I came up with.”

Benedict and other finalists, chosen during two elimination rounds that featured 14 regional champions, competed on an outdoor stage on Key West’s Duval Street.

A panel of judges including former NSYNC singer Lance Bass evaluated contestants’ cocktails on their appearance, aroma, balance and taste, as well as the bartender's showmanship.

“I'm excited to crown a winner tonight,” Bass said. “We brought incredible bartenders from all around the country and it’s led to this moment today.”

As well as Bass, judges included former “American Idol” finalist LaToya London, comedy writer/actor Bruce Vilanch and Key West drag queen Sushi.

Benedict’s prizes include $15,000 in charitable donations to be made in his name.

On Friday, divers unfurled a rainbow flag, an internationally recognized LGBTQ symbol, underwater on an artificial reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

The installation of the banner on the 523-foot-long Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg took place about seven miles south of Key West.

The Vandenberg's flag, however, doesn't just feature the traditional rainbow stripes. It also incorporates the blue flag of the Florida Keys’ “alter ego,” the Conch Republic. The island chain symbolically "seceded" from the United States and proclaimed itself the independent Conch Republic in 1982 to protest the establishment of a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint at the entry to the Florida Keys.

The Vandenberg, a former missile tracking ship that monitored Soviet launches during the Cold War, was purposely scuttled 10 years ago to create an artificial reef. It is the world’s second-largest vessel intentionally sunk for that purpose.

The artificial reef was created to relieve human pressure from natural coral reefs, provide additional habitat for marine life and create recreational fishing and scuba diving opportunities.

The flag is to remain on the Vandenberg throughout the summer.

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